One-eyed giants. Cyclopes are giants who mostly resemble humans but with one massive eye in the middle of their forehead. The lesser races usually stand between 8 and 12 feet tall, with some of the largest growing as tall as 25 feet. Ancient races of Cyclopes were more god-like and could change their size, making themselves colossal when necessary.
"Strength and force and contrivances were in their works."
Many have told the tale of the hero Odysseus's encounter with the brutish cyclops Polyphemus. In the tale, Odysseus comes to a land of lawless, man-eating savages without craft or agriculture. There he and his crew become trapped by Polyphemus, the most monstrous of the one-eyed giants. They manage to escape by fooling and blinding the monster, but not before Polyphemus murders and devours several of Odysseus's men.
That famous story has lead many to think of the Cyclopes as a one-dimensional race of monsters. When you think of a cyclops, you think of Polyphemus. The truth is that the race of the Cyclopes has a much more sophisticated tradition. Yes they are one-eyed giants. But they are also legendary blacksmiths and builders; companions to the gods of Olympus and many heroes of old.
Crafters of legendary magic artifacts
Hesiod tells the origins of the Cyclopes. At the beginning of time, the Sky god Uranus and the Earth goddess Gaia gave birth to the Titans and the Cyclopes. These original three Cyclopes were equal to the Titans. Their names were Brontes (Thunder), Steropes (Lightning), and Arges (Bright).
At their birth, their father Uranus imprisoned them deep within the abyssal prison Tartarus. He would suffer no challenge to his power whatsoever. Eventually, the titan Cronus overthrew his father Uranus and became the new ruler of the cosmos. Repeating the pattern, Cronus devoured all his own children as they were born. All except for one: the god named Zeus.
Zeus went on to free his siblings from the belly of Cronus. Those gods waged war against the Titans. Knowing the immense power of the enemy, Zeus wisely released the Cyclopes from their prison in Tartarus. Without their help, he would never have defeated the Titans and become the final ruler of the cosmos.
These Cyclopes, the brothers Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, were craftsman without equal. While the war against the Titans raged on, they crafted the legendary Thunderbolt and gave it to Zeus. With the aid of this powerful weapon, Zeus prevailed.
The Cyclopes went on to fashion many important magic artifacts for the gods. Any one of these items would be enough to arm an adventurer against any foe, even the gods themselves. Some of the most notable include:
- The bows and arrows of Apollo and Artemis
- The Aegis of Pallas
- The weapons of Aeneas
- Mars's Chariot
So perfect was their craft, that they went on to become the assistants of the smith god Hephaestus at his forge underneath Mount Etna. They were born before the smith god and may have even taught him some of his craft – though you must never mention that in his presence.
At night, turn your eyes toward the stars. The constellation Ara (the Altar) resides in the third quadrant of the southern hemisphere. It was the Cyclopes who constructed that Altar upon which the gods of Olympus sword allegiance before going to war against the Titans. That moment is echoed today every time someone swears their allegiance upon an altar.
Builders of the cyclopean walls
At Minos, Tiryns, and Argos there are steadfast walls constructed of blocks of stone too large for mortal man to move. Ancient kings such as Proetus knew of the size, strength, and skill of the Cyclopes, and brought them to their kingdoms to construct what are now called "the cyclopean walls".
Pliny the Elder tells us that these giants were the inventors of the masonry tower, and the very first to work with iron and bronze. Some others have attributed them with building other monuments, such as the stone head of Medusa at Argos.
This type of cyclops is a direct descendant of the god-like race of Cyclopes who served the gods of Olympus. They are smaller in size, and live a more humble lifestyle trading their excellent masonry skills for food and board.
So we return to the common depiction of the Cyclopes: a race of one-eyed giants who murder and devour any humans they can get their hands on. These cyclopes are uncivilized shepherds with no social order and no knowledge of agriculture. They are famously depicted by the giant Polyphemus who attacked the crew of Odysseus, and the lumbering Hinox who slumbers in the remote regions of Hyrule.
Their first impulse will be to attack you and eat you. The story of Odysseus shows us that they can be communicated with. In that story Odysseus escapes by getting the cyclops drunk on wine and then stabbing out it's massive eye with a burning piece of timber. When the silent knight Link faces them, he again demonstrates that the single, massive eye is a weak point.
My main question: Are these brutes the descendants of the legendary craftsmen who helped the gods of Olympus defeat the Titans? What could have lead to their isolation and degredation into lawless monsters? On the surface it appears they are a completely separate race. But the size, strength, and prominent single eye physically places them in the same family.
Even while Polyphemus smashes and eats the crew of Odysseus, and generally behaves as a true monster, he demonstrates a primitive intellgence by trapping them in the cave. Could it be that his is not a story of the wild beast encountering the hero, but a story of the pitiable orphan son of the once-noble Cyclopes?
Written by Giles Ravensong.