The Cyclops

cyclopsPolyphemus first appears in text in book nine of Homer’s Odyssey. The son of the god Poseidon and the sea nymph Thoosa, Polyphemus lives on a desolate island in a cave among a community of Cyclops. Polyphemus’ prominent features are his one eye and staggering size. He torments and eats Odysseus’ crew. The Cyclops displays a blatant disregard for civility towards his guests. Homer, and later Virgil, emphasizes his size and bestial nature. Later Polyphemus appears in texts, including Ovid’s, to be in a loving relationship with the nymph Galatea. These stories show a fuzzier side to the Cyclops, who usually ends the stories with some act of brute. He is often compared to mountains and stones—descriptions that dilute his human tendencies. Polyphemus displays freakery in numerous ways, including his size, his geographical isolation, and his emotional ambiguity, which portrays him either as a thick-headed beast or a tender shepherd. The Cyclops is a complicated monster that makes him difficult to categorize.

 

The Cyclops is a classic freak because he casts off typical binary classifications. As Michael Hardin explains in Fundamentally Freaky: Collapsing the Freak/Norm Binary in Geek Love, freakery begins in the binary construction in the body. The Cyclops’ one eye immediately rejects the typical binary body. The Cyclops’ physical deformity turns into a spectacle, which Lillian Craton states in Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture, freaks are put on display for the public to view their own insecurities as a show. People are able to distance themselves from the deformed or diseased by dehumanizing their subjects. The Cyclops lives in isolation, in a class system without laws or customs, which is a major classical anxiety and fear. A reoccurring theme in the depiction of the Cyclops is pranks and tricks that defeat and degrade the freak. He is an object of ridicule. This layer of spectacle separates Polyphemus from classical civilians so that they can mock the monster, and in doing so, allows them to objectify him and condemn him to a life of freakery.

Bibliography

Glenn, Justin. “Virgil’s Polyphemus.” Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association (1972): 47-59. JSTOR. Web. 30 Nov. 2013

Hernández, Pura Nieto. “Back in the Cave of the Clyclops.” The Johns Hopkins University Press (2000): 345-366. JSTOR. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.

Craton, Lillian E. “Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture.” Victorian Studies: an Interdisciplinary Journal of Social, Political, and Cultural Studies (2011): 333-336. ProQuest. Web. 30. Nov. 2013.

Lamb, D.S.. “Mythical Monsters.” Wiley on behalf  of the American Anthropological Association (1990): 277-291. JSTOR. Web. 30. Nov. 2013

Hardin, Michael. “Fundamentally Freaky: Collapsing the Freak/Norm Binary in Geek Love.” Heldref Publications (2004): 337-347. Literature Online. Web. 30. Nov. 2013.

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2 responses to “The Cyclops

  1. I very much enjoyed your description of the cyclops, especially when you wrote how it rejects “the typical binary body”. Your knowledge of the cyclops being ridiculed could in some way pertain to my monster of kaiju, because of its otherworldliness. In most ways it represents a known animal in a strange fashion, constantly being fought against because of its mystery and difference. Yet, in some stories of the kaiju, it could have the same goals of humans and could become some sort of ally. Yet, the freakery associated with the kaiju could stop this from happening.

  2. Great post! You do an excellent job of tracking the various historical transformations of the cyclops across time. Your description of the cyclops’s loneliness also echoes our discussions throughout recitation regarding monstrosity’s relationship to community. In what ways might Polyphemus rupture emotional ties while also building them? How then might we theorize notions of reciprocity with monstrosity?

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