AskDefine | Define cyclops

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1 (Greek mythology) one of a race of giants having a single eye in the middle of their forehead
2 minute free-swimming freshwater copepod having a large median eye and pear-shaped body and long antennae used in swimming; important in some food chains and as intermediate hosts of parasitic worms that affect man e.g. Guinea worms [syn: water flea]

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  1. A one-eyed giant from Greek and Roman mythology.
  2. A one-eyed creature of any species.

Derived terms


giant of mythology



Cyclōps, -ōpis m
  1. A Cyclops. A one-eyed giant from Greek and Roman mythology.

Extensive Definition

This page is about the mythical creature. For other uses, see Cyclops (disambiguation).
In Greek mythology a cyclops (), or kyklops (Greek ), is a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of its forehead. The plural is cyclopes (pronounced ) or kyklopes (Greek ). In English, the plural cyclopses is also (incorrectly) used. The name is widely thought to mean "round-" or "wheel-eyed".
Hesiod describes one group of cyclopes and Homer describes another. In Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus releases three Cyclopes, the sons of Uranus and Gaia, from the dark pit of Tartarus. They provide Zeus's thunderbolt, Hades' helmet of invisibility, and Poseidon's trident, and the gods use these weapons to defeat the Titans. In a famous episode of Homer's Odyssey, the hero Odysseus encounters the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and a nereid (Thoosa), who lives with his fellow Cyclopes in a distant country. The connection between the two groups has been debated in antiquity and by modern scholars.

Hesiod's Cyclops

In the Theogony, the Cyclopes—Arges, Brontes, and Steropes —were the primordial sons of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) and brothers of the Hecatonchires. They were giants with a single eye in the middle of their forehead and a foul disposition. According to Hesiod, they were strong, stubborn, and "abrupt of emotion". Collectively they eventually became synonyms for brute strength and power, and their name was invoked in connection with massive masonry. They were often pictured at their forge.
Uranus, fearing their strength, locked them in Tartarus. Cronus, another son of Uranus and Gaia, later freed the Cyclopes, along with the Hecatonchires, after he had overthrown Uranus. Cronus then placed them back in Tartarus, where they remained, guarded by the female dragon Campe, until freed by Zeus. They fashioned thunderbolts for Zeus to use as weapons, and helped him overthrow Cronus and the other Titans. The thunderbolts, which became Zeus' main weapons, were forged by all three Cyclopes, in that Arges added brightness, Brontes added thunder, and Steropes added lightning.
These Cyclopes also created Poseidon's trident, Artemis' bow and arrows of moonlight, Apollo's bow and arrows of sun rays, and the helmet of darkness that Hades gave to Perseus on his quest to kill Medusa. According to a hymn of Callimachus, they were Hephaestus' helpers at the forge. The Cyclopes were said to have built the "cyclopean" fortifications at Tiryns and Mycenae in the Peloponnese. The noises proceeding from the heart of volcanoes were attributed to their operations.
Apollo slew the Cyclopes in revenge when Zeus killed his son, Asclepius, with a Cyclopes-forged thunderbolt.

Homer's Cyclopes

The Cyclopes were huge one-eyed monsters that resided on an island with the same name. Commonly, the term "Cyclops" refers to a particular son of Poseidon and Thoosa named Polyphemus who was a Cyclops. Another member of this group of Cyclopes was Telemus, a seer.


In Book 9 of Homer's Odyssey, a scouting party led by Odysseus lands on the Island of the Cyclopes and discovers a large cave. They enter into the cave and feast on food they find there. This cave is the home of Polyphemus, who soon returns. Odysseus and his crew attempt to befriend him in the cave; but he traps them instead. He proceeds to eat several crew members, whereupon Odysseus devises a cunning plan for escape.
To make Polyphemus unwary, Odysseus gives him a skin of very strong, unwatered wine. When Polyphemus asks for Odysseus' name, he tells him that it is 'Outis', Greek for 'no man' or 'nobody'. Once the giant falls asleep as a result of being drunk, Odysseus and his men take the spit from the fire and drive it through Polyphemus' only eye. Polyphemus' cries of help are answered by the others of his race; however, they turn away from aiding him when they hear that "Nobody" is the cause of his woes.
In the morning, Odysseus ties his men and himself to the undersides of Polyphemus' sheep. When the Cyclops lets the sheep out to graze, the men are carried out. Since Polyphemus has been blinded, he cannot see the men, but feels the backs of his sheep to make himself sure that the men are not riding them. As he sails away, Odysseus shouts "Cyclops, when your father asks who took your eye, tell him that it was Odysseus, Sacker of Cities, Destroyer of Troy, son of Laertes, and King of Ithaca", which proves to be a catastrophic example of hubris. Knowing his attacker's name, Polyphemus asks his father Poseidon to prevent Odysseus from returning home to Ithaca, or to at least deprive him of his ship and crew.
This tale from the Odyssey is more humorously told in the only surviving satyr play, entitled Cyclops by Euripides.
The Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus wrote two poems circa 275 BC concerning Polyphemus' desire for Galatea, a sea nymph. When Galatea instead married Acis, a Sicilian mortal, a jealous Polyphemus killed him with a boulder. Galatea turned Acis' blood into a river of the same name in Sicily.


After the "Dark Age", when Hellenes looked with awe at the vast dressed blocks, known as Cyclopean structures that had been used in Mycenaean masonry, at sites like Mycenae and Tiryns or on Cyprus, they concluded that only the Cyclopes had the combination of skill and strength to build in such a monumental manner.
Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft frequently used the adjective "cyclopean" to describe weird, massive architecture.

See also

  • Cyclopean vision, the ability to see with two eyes information that is hidden from each eye alone.
  • Cyclopia, a birth defect that results in a single enlarged eye and other facial abnormalities.

In popular culture

  • In the fantasy film The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, a colony of cyclopes inhabit the island of Colosa. They feature prominently, and are one of the major antagonists. One is blinded and tricked off a cliff, while a second fights a dragon to the death. The special effects were created by Ray Harryhausen. The cyclopes in this movie are less human-like, having horns (one or two), furry legs with cloven hooves and no human speech.
  • Based upon the Cyclops concept: In the Masters of the Universe toy franchise, a second wave figure is called Tri-Klops. The figure has a helmet with three large eyes on, one of which faces forwards. The helmet can be rotated for the other eyes to face forwards in turn, and each eye is said to have a different ability. Although standard sized as opposed to being a giant, Tri-Klops is sometimes displayed to have advanced strength. The character also appears in the Filmation cartoon series, although is one of the lesser used characters, only appearing in a handful of episodes.
  • In the second series of the original Garbage Pail Kids sticker sets, card 44a is of a giant one-eyed baby named 'Sy Clops'. His "alias" card (cards which give different names but otherwise use the same artwork), 44b, is called 'One-Eyed Jack'. The sticker also was adapted for a number of spin-off and overseas releases.
  • The loosely Greek myth-based television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and its spin-off series Xena: Warrior Princess, occasionally feature Cyclops characters. One of the most notable instances is in the second regular episode of Hercules, "Eye of the Beholder", where Hercules must stop a Cyclops who is being manipulated into terrorizing a village. "Sins of the Past", the first episode of Xena, also features a Cyclops, whom Xena blinded in a previous (unseen) encounter. In these series, the Cyclops are portrayed as having a standard-sized eye located slightly above the human location of eyes, as well as protruding foreheads.
  • In the animated series Futurama, the character of Leela has one large eye instead of two normal eyes. At the beginning of the series, she believes she is the last member of an unknown alien race; later on she learns that she was born to mutants who live in the sewers.
  • In the popular Playstation 2 game God of War II, Cyclops are common enemies, resembling large troll-like creatures, with very little evidence of intelligence, being easily manipulated and summoned by more advanced enemies. They attack with clubs and bats made from damaged tree trunks. Those found in the Swamp can be blinded and can have their single eye torn out; the player must collect 20 of these eyes to unlock a secret gift.
  • Cyclops is the name of one of the popular X-Men characters, who wears a visor that covers both of his eyes, giving him the appearance of a single eye.
  • In The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Cyclops is portrayed as a small non-humanoid creature with hooves for legs.
  • A robotic take on a cyclops is featured in the cult 80's cartoon series Ulysses 31. The hero destroys it and is punished by the gods of olympus
  • Mike Wazowski from the movie Monsters, Inc. is a Cyclops monster in the shape of a tennis ball.
  • In the 1983 movie Krull, Bernard Bresslaw plays the character of Rell the Cyclops. In the Krull story world the Cyclops race has traded their second eye for the ability to see the future. But Rell says the gods tricked them. Instead of the ability to see the future, the Cyclops were given the ability to see the moment of their own death.

Further reading

  • Robert Mondi, "The Homeric Cyclopes: Folktale, Tradition, and Theme" Transactions of the American Philological Association 113 Vol. 113 (1983), pp. 17-38.
cyclops in Arabic: صقلوب
cyclops in Bosnian: Kiklop (mitologija)
cyclops in Bulgarian: Циклоп
cyclops in Catalan: Ciclop
cyclops in Czech: Kyklop
cyclops in Danish: Kyklop
cyclops in German: Kyklop
cyclops in Estonian: Kükloobid
cyclops in Modern Greek (1453-): Κύκλωπες
cyclops in Spanish: Cíclope
cyclops in Esperanto: Ciklopo
cyclops in Basque: Ziklope
cyclops in French: Cyclope
cyclops in Galician: Ciclope
cyclops in Croatian: Kiklop
cyclops in Italian: Ciclope (mitologia)
cyclops in Hebrew: קיקלופ
cyclops in Georgian: ციკლოპები
cyclops in Latin: Cyclops
cyclops in Luxembourgish: Kyklop
cyclops in Lithuanian: Kiklopai
cyclops in Hungarian: Küklopszok
cyclops in Dutch: Cycloop
cyclops in Japanese: キュクロープス
cyclops in Norwegian: Kyklop
cyclops in Polish: Cyklop
cyclops in Portuguese: Ciclope
cyclops in Russian: Циклопы
cyclops in Simple English: Cyclops
cyclops in Slovenian: Kiklop
cyclops in Serbian: Киклопи
cyclops in Serbo-Croatian: Kiklop
cyclops in Finnish: Kyklooppi (mytologia)
cyclops in Swedish: Cykloper
cyclops in Thai: ไซคลอปส์
cyclops in Turkish: Kiklop
cyclops in Ukrainian: Кіклопи
cyclops in Chinese: 独眼巨人
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