61. The Cyclops by Euripides (408 BC)

61. The Cyclops by Euripides (408 BC)

Plot :

Odysseus on his way home from the War

seeking provisions and water comes ashore

But falls foul of the giant Cyclops,

who eats two of the crew but then stops

‘Cos  Odysseus on Greek wine gets him plastered

And once the situation he has mastered

Then blinds the giant with a  big burning stick,

and escapes back to his ship thanks to this trick

 

If you thought my poetic turn at the top of the blog was a bit pathetic, then you won’t think much of Cyclops, which is a light hearted retelling of this part of The Odyssey attended by satyrs and drunken giants.

And finally I am not reading from a Penguin classic paperback, but instead a volume from the Loeb Classical Library – Euripides Volume II, translated by Arthur S. Way.

Loeb Classics are published by Harvard University Press and come in two hardcover series  : green for Greek and red for Latin. These hand-sized books have the original text in Latin or Greek on the left hand page, and the English translation on the right. They are a bit more expensive than the paperback Penguins (I have borrowed this volume from my workplace library) but are more intended for the classics scholar than the casual reader, and the series are very rich in all the extant titles and fragments. The series is also available as ebooks, (which our library also subscribes to), so that is another way in which readers might gain access to all the classics.

The Loeb Classical Library started publishing in 1911. Euripides Volume II was one of the first, published in 1912 with many reprints including the one I am reading from 1953, hence there is no ISBN to record here.

My thoughts :

From my description of the plot, you might be checking the author’s name – this doesn’t sound much like a Euripidean tragedy.

It turns out that The Cyclops is the sole surviving intact example of a Satyr play – an essential fourth play to be included alongside the trilogy of plays that authors submitted for competition at the annual Dionysia. Designed for comic relief and much more in keeping with the original Bacchic celebration, satyr plays featured characters in drunken and amorous adventures more in keeping with Aristophanes’  style than the Tragedians.

The entire play in this translation is told in rhyme, often quite forced as one character finishes another’s sentence to ensure the continuing rhyme.

Cyclops :              I’ll teach you, if you make love to the wine

Which loves you not!

Silenus :                                                               It does : these charms of mine

It says, have won it’s heart

Cyclops :                                                                              Here, fill the cup.

Pour in – up to the brim. Now, hand it up!

 

which becomes a little tiresome to read, but I imagine would be good fun on stage, especially with a riot of satyrs dancing about.

Favourite lines/passages :

The Cyclops explains to Odysseus that he is the equal of Zeus himself

“And as for Zeus’s thunder – I’ve no fear

Of that, Sir stranger! It’s by no means clear

To me that he’s a mightier God than I ;

So I don’t care for him ; I’ll tell you why.

When he pours down his rain from yonder sky

I have snug lodgings in this cave of mine

On roasted veal or some wild game I dine

Then drench my belly, sprawling on my back,

With a whole butt of milk. His thunder-crack

I answer it, when he splits the clouds asunder

With boomings of my cavern-shaking thunder

……  And to no god beside – except that is,

My belly, greatest of all deities,

Eat plenty and drink plenty every day

And never worry – that is, so I say.”                                                        Cyclops, page 553.

 Personal rating: On stage I can imagine this might be at 6 or 7, on paper it is just a 3

Next: Orestes by Euripides

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