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Κύκλωπες). A fabulous race, of gigantic size, having but one eye, large and round, placed in the centre of their forehead, whence, according to the common account, their name was derived—from κύκλος, “a circular opening,” and ὤψ, “an eye.” Homer makes Odysseus, after having left the country of the Lotus-eaters (Lotophagi), to have sailed on westward, and to have come to that of the Cyclopes, who are described by him as a rude and lawless race, who neither planted nor sowed, but whose land was so fertile as to produce of itself wheat, barley, and vines. They had no social institutions, neither assemblies nor laws, but dwelt separately, each in his cave, on the tops of lofty mountains, and each, without regard to others, governed his own wife and children. The adventure of Odysseus with Polyphemus, one of this race, will be found under the latter title. Nothing is said by Homer respecting the size of the Cyclopes in general, but every effort is made to give an exaggerated idea of that of Polyphemus. Hence some have imagined that, according to the Homeric idea, the Cyclopes were not in general of such huge dimensions or cannibal habits as the poet assigns to Polyphemus himself; for the latter does not appear to have been of the ordinary Cyclops-race, but the son of Poseidon and a seanymph; and he is also said to have been the

Section of the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae.

strongest of the Cyclopes ( Od. i. 70). Later poets, however, lost no time in supplying whatever the fable wanted in this respect, and hence Vergil describes the whole race as of gigantic stature and compares them to so many tall forest-trees ( Aen. iii. 680). It is not a little remarkable that neither in the description of the Cyclopes in general, nor of Polyphemus in particular, is there any notice taken of their being one-eyed; yet in the account of the blinding of the latter, it seems to be assumed as a thing well known. We may hence, perhaps, infer that Homer followed the usual derivation.

Such is the Homeric account of the Cyclopes. In Hesiod, on the other hand (Theog. 139 foll.), we have what appears to be the earlier legend respecting these fabled beings, a circumstance which may tend to show that the Odyssey was composed by a poet later than Hesiod, and not by the author of the Iliad. In the Theogony of Hesiod the Cyclopes are only three in number—Brontes, Steropes, and Arges. They are the sons of Uranus and Gaea (Caelus and Terra), and their employment is to forge the thunderbolts for Zeus. They are said to be in every other respect like gods, excepting the one single eye in the middle of their foreheads, a circumstance from which Hesiod also, like Homer, deduces their general name (Theog. 144 foll.). In the individual names given by Hesiod we have evidently the germ of the whole fable. The Cyclopes are the energies of the sky—the thunder, the lightning, and the rapid march of the latter (Brontes, from βροντή, “thunder”; Steropes, from στεροπή, “the lightning”; Arges, from

Cyclopean Pyramid at Cenchreae.

ἀργής, “rapid”). In accordance with this idea the term Κύκλωψ (Cyclops) itself may be regarded as a simple, not a compound term, of the same class with μώλωψ, Κέρκωψ, Κέκροψ, Πέλοψ; and the word κύκλος being the root, we may make the Cyclopes to be “the Whirlers,” or, to designate them by a Latin name, Volvuli.

When the thunder, the lightning, and the flame had been converted by poetry into oneeyed giants, and localized in the neighbourhood of volcanoes, it was an easy process to convert them into smiths, the assistants of Hephaestus (Callim. H. in Artem. 46 foll.; Georg. iv. 173; Aen. viii. 416 foll.). As they were now artists in one line, it gave no surprise to find them engaged in a task adapted to their huge strength—namely, that of rearing the massive walls of Tiryns, for which purpose they were brought by Proetus from Lycia (Schol. ad Eurip. Orest. 955). Hence, too, the name “Cyclopean” is applied to this species of architecture, just as in Germany the remains of ancient Roman walls are popularly called “Riesenmauer” and “Tenfelsmauer.” One theory refers the name Cyclops to the circular buildings constructed by the Pelasgi, of which we have so remarkable a specimen in what is called the Treasury of Atreus, at Mycenae. From the form of these buildings, resembling within a hollow cone or beehive, and the round opening at the top, the individuals who constructed them are thought to have derived their appellation. (Cf. Gell's Argolis, p. 34.) Those who make them to have dwelt in Sicily blend an old tradition with one of more recent date. This last probably took its rise when Aetna and the Lipari Islands were assigned to Hephaestus, by the popular belief of the day, as his workshops; which could only have happened when Aetna had become better known, and Mount Moschylus, in the isle of Lemnos, had ceased to be volcanic.

A few remarks may fittingly be added here on the subject of the Cyclopean architecture. This style of building is frequently alluded to by the ancient writers. In fact, every architectural work of extraordinary magnitude, to the execution of which human labour appeared inadequate, was ascribed to the Cyclopes (Eurip. Iph. in Aul. 534; id. Herc. Fur. 15; id. Troad. 108; Strab. 373; Herc. Fur. 996; Theb. iv. 151; Pausan. ii. 25). The general character of the Cyclopean style is immense blocks of stone, without cement, placed upon each other, sometimes irregularly and with smaller stones filling up the interstices, sometimes in regular and horizontal rows. The Cyclopean style is commonly divided into four eras. The first, or oldest, is that employed at Tiryns and Mycenae, consisting of blocks of various sizes, some of them very large, the interstices of which are, or were once, filled up with small stones. The second era is marked by polygonal stones, which nevertheless fit into each other with great nicety. Specimens exist at Delphi, Iulis, and at Cosa in Etruria. In this style there are no courses. The third era appears in the Phocian cities, and in some of Boeotia and Argolis. It is distinguished by the work being made in courses, and by the stones, though of unequal size, being of the same height. The fourth and youngest style presents horizontal courses of masonry, not always of the same height, but formed of stones which are all rectangular. This style is chiefly confined to Attica. The most reasonable opinion relative to the Cyclopean walls of antiquity is that which ascribes their erection to the ancient Pelasgi (q.v.). See Reber, History of Ancient Art, pp. 178-194 (Eng. trans. N. Y. 1882); and W. Gell, Walls of Ancient Greece.

hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Euripides, Orestes, 955
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.70
    • Strabo, Geography, 13.1
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.680
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.416
    • Vergil, Georgics, 4.173
    • Statius, Thebias, 4
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