Monday, March 15, 2010


The Cyclopes appear very early in Greek Mythology. They were deities that resembled human beings, differing due to their large size and the fact that they had one large eye in the middle of their forehead. While Cyclopes in some myths were feared as violent shepherd monsters said to feed on the flesh of men and each other, the first three Cyclopes, the Uranian Cyclopes, were not violent or dangerous. They were the Storm deities, giant beings with large hands and great dexterity. Their names were Brontis - known as Thunder or Thunderer, Arges - known as the Shiner or Thunderbolt and Steropes, - known as Lightning or maker of lightning.

These three Cyclopes were the second set of children born to Gaea (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Sky). Uranus was disgusted by their physical appearance and so frightened of them because of their size and strength that he imprisoned them in Tartarus, deep in the earth where he had also imprisoned Gaea’s first children, three one hundred handed giants. In mythological terms this means he returned them to the womb of Gaea where they would never see the light of day. Gaea gave birth to other children and while Uranus didn’t imprison these more beautiful children he hated them all. He was immortal and he felt threatened by his offspring, fearing one of them would take his place as ruler. He rejoiced in his evil doing and cruel treatment of his children.

Having her first six children in her womb was extremely painful for Gaea both physically and as a mother. Physically it was painful and as a mother she didn’t like seeing such punishment inflicted on them. Eventually Gaea enlisted the help of her other children to overthrow Uranus and free their brothers from her womb. Her youngest son, Cronos, was the only one brave enough to challenge his father. Furnished with a sickle made by Gaea he castrated Uranus in the middle of the night and threw his testicles into the sea. Then Cronos took over as ruler and, as promised, freed his six brothers. However Cronos too found he was afraid of them and it wasn’t long before he threw them all back into Tartarus.

It had been prophesied that Cronos would be overthrown by his children as he had overthrown his own father. It’s not known if this prophesy came from Gaea or was a curse placed on him by Uranus. Not wanting to lose his power Cronos swallowed all 5 children that his wife Rhea gave birth to. It upset Rhea to have given birth to these children and yet been denied motherhood. She enlisted the help of Gaea and when Zeus was born to her she gave Cronos a rock wrapped in a blanket. Thinking it was Zeus Cronos swallowed it. Meanwhile Zeus was raised in Crete by Nymphs and suckled by Amalthea. When Zeus was old enough he became the servant of Cronos and, urged on by Gaea and his mother, fed Cronos an elixir that made him throw up all the babies he had swallowed. With his brothers and sisters returned to him Zeus could now form an army, the Olympians, with which to fight against his father and the Titans. Zeus then once again freed the Cyclopes and the giants. During the ten years war between the Titans and the Olympians. the Cyclopes provided Zeus with thunder, lightning bolts and earthquakes as a thank you for releasing them. They also fashioned the Trident for Poseidon and the Helmet of Invisibility for Hades which allowed him to enter the enemy camp unseen.

Zeus was grateful to the Cyclopes and allowed them to stay in Olympus as assistants to Hepaestus, son of Hera and God of Fire, Smithing, Craftsmanship and Metalworking. They worked in workshops deep in the volcanoes, most notably Mount Aetna in Sicily and in Lemnos, where they made metal, armour, chains and arrows for the gods and heroes. The smoke that arises from the volcanoes is said to come from the forges used by the Cyclopes. They were also skilful architects and while Hepaestus built several of the halls and palaces on Mount Olympus, the Cyclopes built gigantic walls which still stand today. These are known as the Cyclopean Walls but were most likely built by an ancient race of men – perhaps the Pelasgians – who occupied the countries in their time. According to Aristotle towers were also the invention of Cyclopes.

Apollo, son of Zeus, had a son named Asclepius who was a famous healer. Feeling that Asclepius was creating an imbalance by going so far as to raise the dead, Zeus threw a lightning bolt at him and killed him. In retaliation for his son’s murder Apollo killed Thunderbolt. Another version of this myth says that it was not Thunderbolt who was slain but rather the sons of the original Cyclopes. These sons were named Euryalos, Elatreus, Trakhois and Halmedes.

Cyclopes were also born to a Sea Nymph named Loosa, daughter of Phorcys, son of Gaia. They were the result of a love affair she had with Posiden. This breed of Cyclopes, the Hypereian Cyclopes, were violent and savage. They were gigantic, lawless, flesh eating shepherds who lived in south-western Sicily. The most well known of these Cyclopes was Polyphemus.

While returning home after the Trojan wars Odyesus, not knowing it was the home of Polyphemus, decided to land on the island of Sicily to give his men rest and to gather food. He took twelve of his men with him to explore the island to look for food. They came across a cave holding a large store of food. The men were hungry and wanted to just help themselves to this food but Odyesus didn’t want to steal and insisted they wait for the owner of the cave to return so they could ask for it.

Polyphemus returned at dusk with his herd of sheep, drove them into the cave, and barred the entrance with a large boulder. When Odyesus asked for food Polyphemus’ answer was to grab two of the men and devour them. The men knew they couldn’t kill Polyphemus because he was the only one strong enough to remove the bolder that imprisoned them in the cave. In the morning Polyphemus ate two more men and then trapped the rest of them in the cave for the day. At dusk he again came back with his sheep and ate another two men. Odysesus had thought all day and had come up with a plan. That evening he fed Polyphemus all of the wine that they had brought with them to trade for food. Once the Cyclops had become drunk and passed out Odyseus drove a red hot stake to into his eye and blinded him. In the morning when it came time to release his sheep to graze Polyphemus, not being able to see, blocked the entrance with his huge body and petted each sheep as it passed to make sure it was only the sheep leaving the cave, not the men escaping. Odyseus had anticipated this and had his men tie themselves to the underside of the sheep during the night in order to make their escape.

From Encyclopaedia Mythica:
“Recent scholars have hypothesized about the origin of the Cyclopes' single eye. One possibility is that in ancient times, smiths could have worn an eye patch over one eye to prevent being blinded in both eyes from flying sparks. Also, smiths sometimes tattooed themselves with concentric circles which could have been in honor of the sun which provided the fire for their furnaces. Concentric rings were also part of the pattern for making bowls, helmets, masks, and other metal objects.” ~ Anna Baldwin~

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Apollo and Hyacinth

I'm taking a class in Greek Mythology. This is one of my assignments:

I’ve always wondered why plants and flowers have Latin names. Thanks to this myth I now have my answer.

Hyacinth, or Hyacinthus, was a beautiful young Spartan boy from the southwest of Sparta who was loved by many.

Apollo, Zephyr (the God of the West Wind) and Thamyies (Apollo’s grandson) all declared their love for Hyacinth. But Hyacinth chose Apollo. Apollo was the God of prophecy and oracles, healing, plague and disease, music, song and poetry, archery, and the protection of the young.

Apollo often neglected his own duties so he could spend time with Hyacinth. Apollo taught him to shoot with a bow and arrow, and they spent time together fishing, hunting and hiking in the mountains. Apollo also taught Hyacinth to play the lyre and to throw the discus.

One day Apollo and Hyacinth were having a friendly contest throwing the discus to see who could throw the farthest. Hyacinth was feeling playful and he ran to catch the discus Apollo had thrown even though it was obviously out of reach. The discus hit a rock, rebounded and hit Hyacinth in the head. Some versions of the myth say that Zephyr blew the discus off course and deliberately killed Hyacinth out of jealousy. Apollo tried to staunch the wound but it was too late, Hyacinth died in his arms.

Apollo wouldn’t allow Hades to claim Hyacinth. He transformed the spilled blood into a flower and named it Hyacinth in honor of his friend. This flower was not like the Hyacinths we know today but rather it was lily shaped and crimson… some say purple. Apollo was so grieved that he wrote the 2 Greek symbols for “Alas, alas” on its petals.

Hyacinth’s tomb was located at the feet of Apollo’s statue and every summer there was the Spartan Festival of Hyacinthia to honor his memory. There was one day of mourning followed by two days of rejoicing to celebrate his rebirth. Some believe that this was a celebration of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

I like the idea that I can go in my garden now and imagine it full of playful deities that were changed into flowers upon their death. There is a painting by Nicolas Poussin painted in 1631 entitled The Empire of Flora, the Goddess of Spring and Flowers, showing her surrounded by all those adults and children who were transformed into flowers on their death.