Cyclops in Homer's The Odyssey  Term Paper

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Odysseus waits for the Cyclops to return home because he "wanted to see the owner himself, in the hope that he might give me a present." (Homer, Book IX) Odysseus introduces himself and his men to the Cyclops as essentially being mass murderers, and they expect that the Cyclops will present them with gifts and offerings for these deeds. "We therefore humbly pray you to show us some hospitality, and otherwise make us such presents as visitors may reasonably expect." (Homer, Book IX) it may appear ridiculous that Odysseus expects the Cyclops to show him hospitality and give him presents after he has broken into his home, stolen his food, and declared that they have caused widespread destruction and killed many people. However, keeping in mind the way in which Odysseus treated even the woman who was like a mother to him, it can be seen that this is the treatment the elite expected from the lower classes. The non-elite were supposed to serve the elite and make them comfortable, and any action that did not serve this purpose was considered to be monstrous. Odysseus was seeking glory through recognition of his importance by the Cyclops, however the Cyclops instead offered him only that he would eat him last for giving him the gift of wine. Because of the importance of glory, the Cyclops is also a monster, for Odysseus is the one who should do the mocking and tricking, and the limelight is meant for him as well. When the Cyclops tries to make jokes and ironic statements with Odysseus, in combination with the refusal to pay homage to Odysseus' greatness, this is a reference back to the physical description where he is shown to be a monster by standing boldly despite the fact that he is not a part of the elite or recognized members of society.

Furthermore, the Cyclopes are seen as monstrous because of their lifestyle, which is not consistent with the ideals of the elite. "Now the Cyclopes neither plant nor plough, but trust in providence, and live on such wheat, barley, and grapes as grow wild without any kind of tillage, and their wild grapes yield them wine as the sun and the rain may grow them. They have no laws nor assemblies of the people, but live in caves on the tops of high mountains; each is lord and master in his family, and they take no account of their neighbours." (Homer, Book IX) the Cyclopes are rural, not dwelling in a proper city. They are also loners, who do not have an advanced civilization of any kind and live like "savages." The Cyclopes tend sheep and gather from the land, however they do not have agriculture, for they only gather from the natural growth. Agriculture is considered to be one of the first definitions of civilization, and what separates what the Greeks considered to be advanced or primitive people. Additionally, the Cyclopes have no laws or government, which was held in high esteem by the ruling classes of Greece, in no small part because the "laws and assemblies of the people" are what kept the elite in power. Proper hierarchal structure of the family was also of great importance to the Greeks, where the father and husband would have domain over the rest of the household. The fact that the Cyclopes did not live by these standards, but instead lived in a kind of anarchist family structure where each individual was their own head of household, was further example of how monstrous these beings are. Interestingly, although in other versions of the tale of the Cyclops and Odysseus, Odysseus uses the stake on which his men were roasted before consumption to take out the creature's eye, Homer intentionally removed the culture of the Cyclopes from that of civilized people by having him eat the men alive rather than cooking them first. In yet another version, the satyr play "Cyclops" by Euripides, the Cyclops is even more blatantly shown to be monstrous, for Odysseus trades his wine with the Satyr companion of the Cyclops, while the Cyclops gorges himself on the wine, Odysseus' own food, and his men, living a life of gluttony rather than the simplicity described by Homer.

Homer presents many polarities in his narrative in order to heighten the monstrous and uncivilized nature of the Cyclops and the civilized, heroic nature of Odysseus and his men. For example, Odysseus and his men make offerings and pay homage to the gods, while the Cyclops defies the power of the gods and claims to be stronger than the gods themselves. Odysseus and his men live by the rules of elite society, while the Cyclops lives by savage, rural rules of life. Odysseus is shown to be cunning and intellectual (though some might argue that he does things that are just plain stupid!), while the Cyclops is shown to be simple in lifestyle and mind. In physical appearance, the Cyclops is giant and not similar to a human, while Odysseus is a man without great size, strength, or deformity. The polarities in Homer's narrative are representative in many ways of the opposing lifestyles and expectations of the elite upper-classes and the working lower-classes in Ancient Greece.


Euripides. "Cyclops."

Homer. "The Odyssey."

Kirk, G.S. The Nature of Greek Myth.

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