Cyclops (mythology)

   In Greek mythology, Cyclops was a giant with a single circular eye in the middle of his forehead. The word Cy­clops means "round-eyed." There seem, to be several distinct legends. According to one account, there were three Titanic Cyclops, sons of Heaven and Earth. They labored in Mt. Etna under the direction of Vulcan, forging the thunderbolts of Zeus, the helmet of Pluto, and the trident of Poseidon.

   In the adventures of Ulysses, Homer de­scribes a race of one-eyed Cyclops, who lived solitarily in the caves of Sicily, rear­ing sheep and goats. When Ulysses and a number of his companions applied to one of them, Polyphemus, for aid, the Cyclops shut them up in his cave with his flocks, closing the entrance at night with a huge rock that twenty men could not have rolled away from the door. In the morning he sent his flocks out to feed, but guarded the doorway, so that his prisoners might not escape. At each meal he devoured two of them. Ulysses tried to pacify the giant by giving him a bottle of wine which he had hoarded for an emergency. The only satisfaction he obtained, however, was a promise that he should not be eaten until the last. Becoming desperate, he laid plans with his companions; and that night, while Polyphemus lay asleep, he placed the end of his staff in the fire until it was a glowing coal. This he thrust into the gi­ant's only eye, depriving him of sight, and causing him to howl with pain. Polyphe­mus groped around the cavern in vain, try­ing to capture the Greeks, who skillfully evaded him by keeping among the sheep. In the morning they tied rams together, three and three, and by clinging to the wool on the bellies of the central rams they made their escape through the doorway, though the Cyclops felt the sheep as they passed that his prisoners might not escape. As soon as they passed beyond his reach, Ulysses and the remaining companions dropped to the ground. They bore the sheep aboard their boat and made off. When a short distance from the shore Ulysses could not refrain from taunting the Cyclops, who broke off a huge fragment of rock and threw it toward the sound of Ulysses' voice, almost swamping the ship.

   Still another account represents the Cy­clops as a race of giants from Thrace, who, being expelled from their own country, wandered under their king, Cyclops, throughout Greece, building tremendous stone walls, remains of which may be seen to this day at Mycenae and elsewhere. The stones are of such size that it seems incred­ible that ordinary people ever could have laid them in place, whence the term Cy­clopean rocks, masonry, etc.

   In zoology, the cyclops is an energetic water flea that darts about with great vi­vacity, catching and devouring its minute neighbors. It depends on agility, rather than strength. It derives its name from an apparently single black eye in the middle of its head.