A Cyclops (plural Cyclopes) is any of several one-eyed giants in Greek and Roman mythology. The word cyclops means “round-eye.” Traditions relating to the Cyclopes vary from source to source. In Homer’s Odyssey, the Cyclops Polyphemus, son of the sea-god Poseidon, captures Odysseus and his crew when they wander into his cave. The giant devours some of the crew and promises to do Odysseus a great “favor” by eating him last. However, the hero cleverly tricks the Cyclops into drinking an excessive amount of wine. The giant becomes drunk and Odysseus drives a hot stake into his only eye. While the blinded Polyphemus rages, Odysseus and his remaining men escape by clinging to the bellies of the giant’s woolly sheep.

The poet Hesiod relates that Uranus and Gaia (the gods of Heaven and Earth) gave birth to three Cyclopes: Arges (Bright), Brontes (Thunderer), and Steropes (Lightning Maker). Uranus and his son Cronos confined the Cyclopes in Tartarus, the lowest part of the underworld*. However, Zeusreleased the trio, and they became the makers of his thunderbolts. In other accounts, Apollo slays the Cyclopes in revenge after his son Asclepius is killed by a thunderbolt they had crafted. The Roman poet Vergil places the Cyclopes in the workshop of Vulcan, the god of fire (whom the Greeks called Hephaestus). There they forge the spectacular armor of the hero Aeneas.

The Cyclopes are said to have built the citadel, or fortress, of Mycenae and the mighty walls around Tiryns, birthplace of Heracles. In fact, the word Cyclopean still refers to such walls made of massive stones with no mortar— and so colossal that supposedly only giants could have constructed them. (See also Aeneid; Homer; Myths, Greek; Myths, Roman; Odyssey.)

* underworld kingdom of the dead; also called Hades

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