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How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

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How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby strnbrg » Sat Jan 13, 2018 7:27 pm

Does it ever say, explicitly, that the cyclops had just one eye? True, the word κύκλωψ refers to a singular eye, and Odysseus does gouge out a singular eye,
μοχλὸν ἀείρας τρῖψαι ἐν ὀφθαλμῷ

On the other hand, just before they all part company, the cyclops manages to heave two rocks at Odysseus' ship, with fair accuracy, despite the loss of his eye.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby mwh » Sat Jan 13, 2018 10:51 pm

Is that a joke? A cyclops has only one eye. (Hesiod says so explicitly, explaining the name, “round-eye,” and the Odyssey episode is premised on the fact.) If you’re suggesting that Polyphemus wouldn’t have been able to throw with such accuracy if he was no longer able to see I can only say that’s not the way to read Homer.

But hopefully you mean it as a reminder that this is a tale, like all Homer's tales, like all folktales, where everyday standards of realism and plausibility don’t necessarily apply. The narrative has a logic and a consistency of its own. It adds to the drama to have the missile only just miss.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jan 14, 2018 12:11 am

It is true that it’s never said explicitly in the Odyssey, so it must have been common knowledge when the story was told. The part where Odysseus slinks out of the cave hidden under sheep certainly requires that the Cyclops is blind. The story of a one-eyed evil giant who is blinded recurs in folktales in many countries.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby jeidsath » Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:40 am

Hesiod Theogony 142-146 describes the Cyclopes as one-eyed:

οἳ δή τοι τὰ μὲν ἄλλα θεοῖς ἐναλίγκιοι ἦσαν,
μοῦνος δ᾽ ὀφθαλμὸς μέσσῳ ἐνέκειτο μετώπῳ.
Κύκλωπες δ᾽ ὄνομ᾽ ἦσαν ἐπώνυμον, οὕνεκ᾽ ἄρα σφέων
κυκλοτερὴς ὀφθαλμὸς ἕεις ἐνέκειτο μετώπῳ:
ἰσχὺς δ᾽ ἠδὲ βίη καὶ μηχαναὶ ἦσαν ἐπ᾽ ἔργοις.

And does Od. 9.512 refer to Polyphemus' power of sight, or to his eyeball?

χειρῶν ἐξ Ὀδυσῆος ἁμαρτήσεσθαι ὀπωπῆς.

Polyphemus obviously has to be blind for the sheep trick to make any sense. And it seems clear to me that he throws the rock based on sound, responding to a speech of Odysseus.

However, I'm interested in what came into the folklore first: the one-eyed race of monsters, or the story of Odysseus tricking a savage/giant? Hesiod would suggest the first, but the complaint in Od. 9.513-516 makes me think that the Odysseus of this story is a little different from the conception of him elsewhere.

ἀλλ᾽ αἰεί τινα φῶτα μέγαν καὶ καλὸν ἐδέγμην
ἐνθάδ᾽ ἐλεύσεσθαι, μεγάλην ἐπιειμένον ἀλκήν:
νῦν δέ μ᾽ ἐὼν ὀλίγος τε καὶ οὐτιδανὸς καὶ ἄκικυς
ὀφθαλμοῦ ἀλάωσεν, ἐπεί μ᾽ ἐδαμάσσατο οἴνῳ.

But in Od. 6.243, Nausicaa says that he "θεοῖσιν ἔοικε." This makes me think that the Cyclops story may be a pre-existing popular folk story about a trickster figure (perhaps Odysseus) that Homer has incorporated into his epic (along with other stories). It's easy to see how a blinding story would lead to a race of one-eyed monsters. Or the opposite could as easily be true. If you have a trickster figure and a race of one-eyed monsters, eventually someone is going to tell the story of the trickster putting out an eye. Or both could have appeared at once in the original version.
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μὴ δ’ οὕτως ἀγαθός περ ἐὼν θεοείκελ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ
κλέπτε νόῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐ παρελεύσεαι οὐδέ με πείσεις.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby mwh » Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:38 am

This makes me think that the Cyclops story may be a pre-existing popular folk story about a trickster figure (perhaps Odysseus) that Homer has incorporated into his epic (along with other stories).
I think that’s agreed in all discussions, which are multitudinous. There’s much evidence that the poet is using and probably amalgamating existing tales. But it’s a tricky business when we don’t know just what the Odyssey poet inherited and what he invented. Stith Thompson’s work on folktales can still be useful for taxonomy and comparativism.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby Timothée » Sun Jan 14, 2018 11:09 am

Unfortunately I don’t have the West, but at least my OCT by Solmsen brackets the line 143 of the Theogony.

mwh wrote:Stith Thompson’s work on folktales can still be useful for taxonomy and comparativism.

You should mention Antti Aarne, too. Thompson continued and extended Aarne’s work, which is why it’s called the Aarne—Thompson index.


Scholars have seen similarities between Sindbād from Alf laylā-wa laylā and Ulysses and indeed the Cyclopes reflected in the story of Sindbād (if so, probably has to be thought transmitted someway via the Byzantine empire), but I think Paul may be of the opinion that the similarities are relatively general. It is true that many (all?) folklore traditions have figures roughly like the Cyclopes, probably reflecting the untamed nature from which man has become estranged.

And is Ulysses actually Gilgāmeš (West 1997: 402ff.)? Not impossible of course, but the topos of an adventurer-wanderer is again ubiquitous.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:06 pm

The folk-tale is so widespread that it's unlikely that all of them are derived from the Odyssey. A short treatment can conveniently be found in West's Making of the Odyssey. (It's a bit lame though to refer to West all the time, since here at least he is basically summarizing what others have found long before him.) Page treats the question in his book about the Odyssey, although I can't share all his conclusions (he's a very stern old school analyst) and he has also written a book on folktales in Homer, which I've read but don't remember much about. An important work that compares the different versions in different traditions was written over 100 hundred years by Hackman (also a Finn, more or less, despite his name), but I haven't read it.

jeidsath wrote:However, I'm interested in what came into the folklore first: the one-eyed race of monsters, or the story of Odysseus tricking a savage/giant? Hesiod would suggest the first, but the complaint in Od. 9.513-516 makes me think that the Odysseus of this story is a little different from the conception of him elsewhere.

The giant being one-eyed is an integral part of the international folk tale, as is the trickster escaping by blinding him. I suspect that the Hesiodic Cyclopes were part of wholly different myth altogether; they have little in common with the Odyssey story except their name and the fact that they are one-eyed.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby Timothée » Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:57 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:I suspect that the Hesiodic Cyclopes were part of wholly different myth altogether; they have little in common with the Odyssey story except their name and the fact that they are one-eyed.

Can’t speak for him, of course, but isn’t this more or less what Joel was on about?
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby Hylander » Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:33 pm

ὦ Κύκλωψ Κύκλωψ, πᾷ τὰς φρένας ἐκπεπότασαι;

Hesiod's Cyclopes are the children of Heaven and Earth, not of Poseidon, unlike Homer's Polyphemus. They manufacture thunderbolts for Zeus; they're not shepherds.

Doesn't this strongly suggest that "Homer" appropriated pre-existing legends about one-eyed monsters, and shaped it to the story-line of the Odyssey (motivating Poseidon's nearly implacable opposition to Odysseus)? If that's the case, then perhaps the blinding is "Homer's" invention. And isn’t it possible, indeed likely, that the stories of the Odyssey themselves became the materials of folktales and spread throughout the world in that form?

West doesn't bracket Theogony 143 or 144-5. He notes that some have suspected 144-5, but he defends those lines.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jan 14, 2018 9:50 pm

Hylander wrote:Doesn't this strongly suggest that "Homer" appropriated pre-existing legends about one-eyed monsters, and shaped it to the story-line of the Odyssey (motivating Poseidon's nearly implacable opposition to Odysseus)? If that's the case, then perhaps the blinding is "Homer's" invention. And isn’t it possible, indeed likely, that the stories of the Odyssey themselves became the materials of folktales and spread throughout the world in that form?

That's possible, yes. But the scholars who have looked into this generally seem to think that all the trickster-blinds-one-eyed-ogre legends can't be derived from the Odyssey. West isn't the first to say this, but he's the only one I have close at hand (Making of the Odyssey, p. 11-13):
It has long been recognized that the story is a folk-tale, one recorded in numerous versions from all over Europe as well as Syria, Turkey, Armenia, the Caucasus, Turkestan, Mongolia, and north Africa. The essence of it is that a small group of men enter the dwelling of a one-eyed giant. He seizes, cooks, and eats them one after the another. When he falls asleep the last survivor drives a spit or a stake into his eye and blinds him. But escape is problematic, as the exit is blocked by a massive stone. The giant opens it a little to let his sheep out.[etc.]

Some of the versions undoubtedly derive from the Odyssey or have been modified under its influence, but that cannot be true of them all. This was not a story invented by a Greek epic poet, nor can it have originated in Greece; it is of a quite different character from the normal run of Greek myths. It must have been imported from abroad.

Denys Page argued (perhaps following others like Hackman, I don't remember) that the Odyssey version looked like it was a merger from two different legends, and had some untypical features compared with other Cyclops stories; that, according to Page, clearly showed that Homer's version was derivative. It's interesting reading if otherwise you can stand Page's rhetoric.

What does Cyclops "round-eye" mean anyway? It's not a very good description for a one-eyed giant. Perhaps a Cyclops was originally altogether another sort of monster (closer to those described by Hesiod?), and was assimilated with the one-eyed shepherd ogre only later and gradually? (In which case Hesiod would have derived monophthalmia from an account resembling our Odyssey and the rest from whatever Cyclopes originally were in Greek myth)
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby Hylander » Sun Jan 14, 2018 10:10 pm

There’s no need to assume a Byzantine literary source for the transmission of the Cyclops story to the Middle East and beyond. A Greek element was a major component of the cultural mix of the Parthian empire after the death of Alexander. More or less Hellenized populations existed not only in Persia but also in parts of what are now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, even Arabia, and some elements of Greek civilization made their way into India. Non-literary cultural diffusion could account for the spread of the Cyclops tale.
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Re: How many eyes did the Cyclops have?

Postby Timothée » Sun Jan 14, 2018 11:34 pm

Good point on (non-literary) cultural diffusion, seems perfectly plausible.

I thought that Κύκλωψ may well be a paretymology (= Volksetymologie) and see now that this has indeed been suggested (neither Frisk, Chantraine nor Beekes [editorially missing?] put it under κύκλος). The suggestion (by Thieme) shows once again that etymologists’ imagination knows no boundaries: that it were originally *Πκυ-κλωψ ‘cattle-thief’, a zero-grade from a non-attested *πεκυ! Hypothèse fantaisiste forsooth, weakened even more if the shepherdness of the Cyclopes may be considered a relatively new aspect in them.

If the story is of foreign origin, there’s a good chance the name is as well. What it originally then was may be unrecoverable.
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