The Cyclops | Study Guide


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The Cyclops | Symbols



Wine represents the enticing but dangerous temptations of physical pleasure. Silenus and his fellow satyrs worship Dionysus—or Bacchus—the god of wine and revelry. Odysseus's wine comes from Maron, a son of Dionysus, and has strong, almost magical powers over the drinker. The wine makes Silenus feel joyful and amorous. The Chorus reminisces about the happiness of bacchanals—or drunken parties celebrating Dionysus.

Both Silenus and the Cyclops succumb to drunkenness at their own peril. Silenus loses his inhibitions and caution. After a single cup he feels bold enough to defeat the Cyclops singlehandedly. However, he feels stronger than he really is. In reality wine makes Silenus lethargic and unable to defend himself against the Cyclops—who nearly eats him as a result. When the Cyclops drinks he loses his fearsome persona and becomes a merrymaking buffoon. The Chorus members mock him, saying the graceless monster will never be cultured enough to follow Dionysus. Moreover, the Cyclops's pleasant drunken state leaves him vulnerable to defeat at the hands of the physically weaker human Odysseus.

Mount Aetna

Mount Aetna, the mountain on the coast of Sicily where the Cyclopes live, represents lawlessness and danger. Aetna is Europe's highest active volcano. To the ancient Greeks the threat of fire and destruction gave Mount Aetna an ominous significance. The Cyclops's one eye may be an allusion to the "eye" or center of the volcano, which, like the monstrous Cyclops, can be life-threatening. Hephaestus, the god of fire in Greek myth, was said to have his workshop or forge on Mount Aetna. In The Cyclops Odysseus calls the mountain "Aetna's fire-streaming rock." When he prepares to blind the Cyclops with a firebrand he prays to Hephaestus for help.

The pastoral atmosphere of green fields and grazing flocks hides the deadly nature of Aetna's caves. Odysseus is alarmed when he sees no man-made city structures, since this signals an absence of law and civilization. When Odysseus describes how the Cyclops cooked his shipmates in Episode 3 Euripides uses fire and flame to add to the gruesomeness of the scene. The Cyclops boils water and hardens the points of his spits in the fire inside his cave. The image of the Cyclops's bubbling cauldron resembles the steaming center of a volcano. Odysseus eventually uses the Cyclops's own tools against him, defeating the monster with fire.

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