Cyclops by Euripides: Summary, Themes & Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer taught 9th grade ELA and AP Literature for over 8 years. She has a dual master's in English Literature and Teaching Secondary Ed from Simmons University and a BS in Psychology. She is also a contracted freelance writer and certified AP Test Reader.

Have you ever seen a one-eyed monster? What if you were stuck on an island full of them? Read on to learn about the play Cyclops by Euripides and analyze the theme. Updated: 01/03/2022

Same Story, Different Author

Most of us have heard of a cyclops: a one-eyed creature from mythology. Some of us even know the story as told by Homer in The Odyssey, the tale of Odysseus' journey home from war. In this lesson, we will learn about Euripides' version of the ''Cyclops'' and see how he portrays Odysseus' brave encounter.

The play opens with Silenus, the old servant of Polyphemus the cyclops, talking to himself as he completes his daily chores outside of the cyclops' cave. He laments about his fate, how he was stranded on this island and taken captive by the one-eyed beast. He is interrupted as a flock of goats and sheep are herded by shepherds and a chorus of satyrs - creatures that are half man half goat.

Silenus hushes the group and shoos them away, telling the chorus leader that he sees men advancing. Odysseus, King of Ithaca and Trojan war hero, approaches Silenus with his men asking for water. They talk and realize they are both in the same situation, having been cursed to this island by angry gods through bad weather.

Silenus explains that cyclopes have no rules, no cities, no structure, and that they are angry cannibals. He fears for their safety.

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  • 0:04 Same Story, Different Author
  • 1:17 Odysseus Meets Polyphemus
  • 3:15 Noman's Plan
  • 4:21 Analysis and Theme
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Odysseus Meets Polyphemus

Odysseus offers to trade a strong liquor he received from the son of a god for food; Silenus agrees. Silenus brings Odysseus some cheese and sheep but hurries him off to keep him safe. However, it's too late; Polyphemus returns. Silenus hurries the men into the back of the cave to hide them.

Polyphemus is angered at his servants' lack of work and demands breakfast. As he eats in his cave, he notices Odysseus and his men. Silenus comes out of the dark pretending to be injured. He tells the cyclops that Odysseus and his men beat him as he tried to stop Odysseus from stealing their food. Polyphemus tells Silenus to prepare them for his dinner, for he will eat the men as a wonderful treat.

Odysseus comes forward and tells Polyphemus that Silenus was selling his goods. The chorus leader backs up Odysseus' truth, but their words are ignored. Polyphemus asks Odysseus' name and origin. Odysseus explains his story and begs for hospitality as is the custom of Greek culture, however, he leaves out his name. It is here that Odysseus prepares his master plan to escape, and Polyphemus denies the custom of Greek tradition.

Polyphemus, son of the god Poseidon, refuses to heed Odysseus' warnings of tradition and says he fears no gods and will make no sacrifices. He chases Odysseus' men into the cave as Odysseus prays to the goddess Athena for help. As the chorus sings of the torment and violence, Polyphemus wreaks havoc on Odysseus' men, bashing out their brains and tearing them apart.

Odysseus sneaks out of the cave and describes to the chorus leader how he kept giving the cyclops the strong wine, and as he became drunker, he snuck out. Odysseus and the leader work out a plan to escape Polyphemus for good. Odysseus explains he wants to burn the eye of the cyclops by lighting a branch on fire and piercing his eye.

Noman's Plan

Odysseus returns to the cave. The cyclops asks Odysseus for more wine. Polyphemus and Silenus are both drunk; they sit in the cave and continue to drink. Polyphemus asks Odysseus' name. Odysseus replies ''Noman'' and pours him another glass.

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