“Monsters have probably always been with us. They are so good for exploring
the margins of civilization that they must have been invented in very early times” (Bremmer).
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Monsters’? Werewolves? Vampires? Frankenstein? Zombies? Cyclops? Sea Monsters? Those can all be classified as monst- Wait, Cyclops? Yes, Cyclops can be considered monsters. And no, I don’t mean that Marvel guy who shoots stuff out of his eyes. I’m talking about those one-eyed giants from Greek and Roman mythology. As a whole, the Cyclopes are not exactly the ‘scariest’ monsters around, but they do meet some of the requirements Jeffrey Cohen describes in his Monster Theory. If I had to rate them out of ten, I would just give them a 5. Average. They’re not nightmare inducing enough for a 10, but they’re not cringy enough for a 1.
Cyclops (pl. Cyclopes) means “circle eyed” or “round eyed” in Greek. The oldest mention of Cyclopes within history is from the Greek poet, Hesiod. In his “Theogony”, Hesiod claims that Cyclopes were the children of Ouranos and Gaia. He describes how after their birth, the Cyclopes were trapped by their father, Ouranos (the sky), beneath their mother, Gaia (the Earth), in what was known as Tartarus. There, they remained trapped until the Titans (other children of Ouranos and Gaia) decided to overthrow their father. The Titan Cronus succeeds along with the help of the Cyclopes. Cronus becomes the king of the heavens, and the Cyclopes……. are thrown right back into Tartarus. Well, as they say, “What goes around comes around”. They were later set free by Zeus and helped him overthrow Cronus. In appreciation, the Cyclopes “forged his [Zeus] thunder, flash and lightning-bolt, and in addition a helmet of invisibility for Hades and the trident for Poseidon.” (Bremmer). The Cyclopes were also known to work in the forges of Hephaestus.
However, when most people talk about Cyclops, they are referring to the one who fought Odysseus on his way home to Ithaca. In Homer’s representation, the Cyclopes were the sons of Poseidon, god of the sea, and were herdsman, rather than the blacksmiths Hesiod portrayed them as. Odysseus and his men stumble upon Polyphemus’s island, where they sneak in his cave with the sheep. Odysseus then tricks him and stabs his eye with a wooden stake, blinding him. In regards to the Cyclopes as a whole, Ed Sykes states that , “it seems that the Cyclopes seem to live independently from one another,and have very little, or no, organised social structure. Polyphemus, however, seems himself to be an anomaly within his own race, since he lives apart from the other Cyclops and shepherds his flocks separately” (Sykes). The Cyclopes were depicted as uncivilized creatures in a lawless society.
These concepts connect to Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Theory, in which he explains the seven theses he believes to classify monsters. In his first thesis, “The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body”, he writes that, “The monster is born as an embodiment of a certain cultural movement – of a time, a feeling and a place”(Cohen). It is speculated that the origin of Cyclopes as blacksmiths came from the idea that blacksmiths would wear an eye patch over one eye to prevent themselves from being blinded in both eyes from the flying sparks as they worked. Not only that, blacksmiths would also tattoo circles on their heads in honor of the sun.
Another less popular theory is connected to Cohen’s fourth thesis “The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference”, in which he explains that monsters are created in part to ostracize those who differ from others in society. He writes, “the monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us” (Cohen). It’s possible that the idea of Cyclopes was derived from people with physical deformities or injuries. To create a creature that embodies features not commonly seen within society and paint them as a ‘monster’ seems to solidify the idea that only people who are considered ‘normal’ can be accepted within society. It might make people with physical disabilities feel inferior to those who do not. Not to mention Odysseus actually stabbed Polyphemus’s eye and blinded him, a signal that these ‘monsters’ should not exist.
In modern times, Cyclopes are associated with Greek Mythology, so they are often included alongside their mythological counterparts. Some Cyclops help aid the protagonist in their quest, whereas other Cyclops are portrayed as ‘evil’ or ‘villainous’. For example, both Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and their film adaptations’ feature some ‘good’ Cyclopes and some ‘bad’ Cyclops.
Cyclopes are referenced throughout the Percy Jackson series, but it is in the second book (and movie) ‘The Sea of Monsters’ where the Cyclopes make their appearance. Of course, I can’t summarize all the details of the book, so I will try to only explain the parts where the Cyclopes are included and the context needed to understand them. Percy, the protagonist, is the demigod son of Poseidon. While he is at school, he is attacked by a group of giants with flaming dodge balls and is saved by his friend Tyson, who is immune to fire. He then takes him to Camp Half Blood, where he discovers that Tyson is a Cyclops and a son of Poseidon, which would technically make him Percy’s half brother. Percy actually denies this in the beginning out of embarrassment, which feeds into the ‘monsters are different’ narrative.
Tyson is described as being two meters tall with broad shoulders and massive strength. He is immune to fire and posses innate talent with metal works, a reference to the Cyclopes’ past with Hephaestus. Also, apparently he can grow up to 30 feet at will? The author probably added this to accommodate the situation, but it is still weird to think about. In the 2013 film adaptation of the movie, Tyson looks quite ‘normal’ and is commonly seen wearing sunglasses to hide the fact he only has one eye. Considering all the modifications required to fit this into a modern setting (ignoring his weird height growing skills), I think Riordan did a pretty accurate job of representing the Cyclopes. The idea of a Cyclops who was willing to help the protagonist seemed to be well received among audiences.
The other Cyclops included is Polyphemus, the one from the Odyssey. He is described by Percy to be “huge, so huge he couldn’t even fit into the room, and made Tyson look vertically challenged” (Riordan). He is estimated to be about fifteen feet tall and overweight from the over consumption of numerous things. Again, like most Cyclops, he is immune to fire and has enhanced strength. It is also important to mention that while he was stabbed with a stake, his vision is not completely gone. In the movie, Polyphemus is quite…ugly, at least in my opinion. If you haven’t already seen, I’d say to proceed with caution. I’m not entirely sure what his forehead tattoos relate to, but they’re there. Like Tyson, I think considering all the alterations needed to adapt the character into the situation, the author and the film did a fairly decent job in their depiction of Polyphemus.
In the 2012 film Wrath of Titans, Perseus (not to be confused with Percy Jackson) must defeat the Cyclopes in order to meet with Hephaestus. As for their appearance, these Cyclopes are probably the closest to what you would imagine the ancient Cyclopes to look like. Still ugly, actually more so than the one in Percy Jackson, but again, what you’d imagine a Cyclops to look like. According to the director, the Cyclopes in the movie are 30 feet tall. These Cyclopes are most likely those described by Hesiod, as it is revealed they had forged Zeus’ lightning bolts, as well as Hades’ helmet of invisibility and Poseidon’s trident. I’m not exactly sure if this related to Cyclops, but both the Sea of Monsters and the Wrath of Titans are known for doing worse than their respective prequels.
In Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s book Monster Culture, he explains the concept that “Monsters Always Escape”, as he writes, “We see the damage that the monster wreaks, the material remains, but the monster itself turns immaterial and vanishes, to reappear somewhere else” (Cohen). Even though a monster may “die” in one story, it will only reappear in another. For example, Polyphemus is one of the most famous Cyclopes in history, yet there are many other Cyclopes to be found in Greek Mythology. Polyphemus himself makes a reappearance in the Percy Jackson series.
And after that….is where things start going wrong. For the most part, Cyclopes are portrayed accurately only if the work they are in is related to mythology, specifically Greek mythology. As long as it only has one eye, the media likes to paint creatures as Cyclopes when the actual resemblance to their Greek counterparts is quite ridiculous. Or perhaps it’s because they are portrayed as cartoons and are targeted towards a younger audience. For example, in the Nintendo role playing game Dragon Quest, a Cyclops appears as one of the enemies players must battle. This Cyclops has blue skin, a horn on the top of its head and abnormally large ears. Its in-game description is “A one-eyed giant possessing incredible strength. Fond of splitting the skulls of enemies with a swing of its enormous club.” It seems like the creators of the game just got the stereotypical idea of what a Cyclops was and molded it to fit the game concept. A popular reference to Cyclopes you may not know of is Mike Wazowski from Disney Pixar’s 2001 film Monsters, Inc. Wazowski is a green monster with a ball-shaped body, a single big eyeball, two small horns, skinny arms and legs. He also has poor eyesight and wears contact lens. Like the character in Dragon Quest, it seems like only a few characteristics of Cyclopes were actually presented in order to fit the story concept. The general public seem to be quite accepting of these representations, possibly due to their younger target audience.
Overall, Cyclopes are not ‘bad’ monsters. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re evil. Sometimes they’re scary, sometimes they’re cute. The public seems to have quite a neutral opinion on them. Maybe it is because without their abnormal height and lack of a second eye, they are similar to humans. Or maybe it is because the fear of them is more so physical rather than mental. If they do not seem appealing to you, both from either appearance and/or concept, you can simply turn a blind eye. No? Let’s just pretend Nobody said that. 😉
Bremmer, Jan M. “Odysseus versus the Cyclops .” Myth and Symbol I, The Norwegian Institute, 2002, pp. 135–152.
In this chapter, Bremmer does an in depth analysis of Odysseus, Cyclopes, and the text they were mentioned in outside of Homeric works. I was able to see how the Cyclopes were portrayed in Hesiod’s Theogyny. I would say this is a credible source because it is a published book and cites the sources used.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture, University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 3–25.
In the first chapter of his book titled, “Monster Culture”, Jeffrey Cohen describes the Seven Theses of which he believes to apply to all monsters. I used this source as a reference as I evaluated the monster I chose. I would say this is a credible source because it is a published book and cites the sources used.
Dragon Quest. Nintendo DS version. Nintendo, 2001.
In this game, players control a young hero who sets out to defeat a being known as the Dragonlord. One of the enemies the player must face on the way is a Cyclops. I used this as an example to show how the monster I chose was represented in media. I would say this is credible, as it created by a well-known company.
Homerus, et al. The Odyssey. Penguin Books, 2006.
One of the earliest and most popular portrayals of the Cyclops, Homer’s Odyssey recounts the adventures of Odysseus as he attempts to return home to Ithaca from the Trojan War. On his way, he stumbles upon the island where Polyphemus lives, in which Odysseus escapes by blinding him with a wooden stake. This is a reliable text, as this translation comes from a published book.
Monsters, Inc. Directed by Pete Docter, Pixar Animation Studios, 2001.
In an alternate universe, a city inhabited by monsters is powered by children screaming. The top scarer, Sully, and his best friend, Mike Wazowski, must find a more efficient way to harvest energy. Mike Wazowski’s appearance is a reference to Cyclopes. I used this as an example to show how the monster I chose was represented in media. This is a reliable source, as it is a film distributed by a prominent company.
Percy Jackson:Sea of Monsters. Directed by Thor Freudenthal, 20th Century Fox, 2013.
Cyclopes appear as both the villain (as Polyphemus) and as an ally (as Percy’s half brother). I used this to compare the portrayal of Polyphemus to the one in the Odyssey, I also wanted to compare how a Cyclops would be portrayed as something other than a villain and as something friendly. I used this as an example to show how the monster I chose was represented in media. This is a reliable source, as it is a film distributed by a prominent company.
Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. 20th Century Fox, 2013.
Cyclopes appear as both the villain (as Polyphemus) and as an ally (as Percy’s half brother). I used this to compare the portrayal of Polyphemus to the one in the Odyssey, I also wanted to compare how a Cyclops would be portrayed as something other than a villain and as something friendly. I used this as an example to show how the monster I chose was represented in media. I would say this is a credible source, as it is a published source.
Sykes, Ed. ‘The Cyclops Story in the Odyssey Is an Exploration of What It Means to Be Civilised.’
Sykes analyzes how both Polyphemus and the Cyclopes (the race) as a whole are portrayed in Homer’s Odyssey and other mythological works. He examines the supposed lifestyle, appearance, and storyline of cyclops as described by various writers. I’m not entirely sure if this a reliable source, because it comes from a professor’s blog, but includes a large number of sources and endnotes
Wrath of Titans. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2012
In a sequel to Clash of Titans, this movie tells the story of Perseus, a son of Zeus, who must defeat the Titan Kronos and save the world. One of the enemies Perseus must face on his journey are Cyclopes. I used this as an example to show how the monster I chose was represented in media. This is a reliable source, as it is a film distributed by a prominent company.