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The Cyclops is an Ancient Greek satyr play by Euripides, the only complete satyr play that has survived. It is a comical burlesque-like play on the same story depicted in book nine of The Odyssey by Homer.

Background

Odysseus has lost his way on the voyage home from the Trojan War. He and his hungry crew make a stop in Sicily at Mount Aetna, which is inhabited by Cyclopes. They come upon the Satyrs and their father Silenus, who have been separated from their god Dionysus and enslaved by a Cyclops (named Polyphemus in the Odyssey). These characters are not contained in the Odyssey's version of the event. The addition of them provides much of the humor due to their cowardly and drunk behavior.

Story

When Odysseus arrives he meets Silenus and offers to trade food for his wine. Being a servant of Dionysus, Silenus can't resist obtaining the wine despite the fact that the food is not his to trade. The Cyclops soon arrives and Silenus is quick to accuse Odysseus of stealing the food, swearing to a slew of gods and the Satyrs' lives (who are standing right beside him) that he is telling the truth. After an argument, the Cyclops brings Odysseus and his crew inside his cave and eats some of them. Odysseus manages to sneak out and is stunned by what he's witnessed. He hatches a scheme to get the Cyclops drunk, and when he's unconscious he'll burn out his eye with a giant poker.

The Cyclops and Silenus drink together, with Silenus attempting to hog the wineskin for himself. When the Cyclops is drunk, he says he is seeing gods and begins to call Silenus Ganymede (the beautiful prince Zeus made his immortal cup bearer). The Cyclops then steals Silenus away into his cave, with the implication that he is about do something sexual to him. Odysseus decides to execute the next phase of his plan. The Satyrs offer to help, but chicken-out with a variety of absurd excuses when the time actually comes. The annoyed Odysseus gets his crew to help instead, and they burn out the Cyclops' eye.

He had told the Cyclops earlier that his name was 'Noman'. So when the Cyclops yells out who was responsible for blinding him, it sounds like he's saying "No Man blinded me". In addition to this pun, there is a less easily translated joke on the fact that the form of "no man" used in the subjunctive mood is identical to the word for cleverness or art. The satyrs have some fun with him over it. They then make their escape, however the rest of the troubles Odysseus faces on his voyage home are due to this act (since the Cyclops was a child of Poseidon).

Translations

  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819 - verse
  • Edward P. Coleridge, 1891 - prose: full text
  • Arthur S. Way, 1912 - verse
  • J. T. Sheppard, 1923 - verse
  • Roger Lancelyn Green, 1957 - verse
  • David Kovacs, 1995? - prose: full text
  • Heather McHugh and David Konstan, 2001 - verse

Plays by Euripides

Ancient Greece

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Modern Greece

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