Earlier we posted about the ancient debate of whether or not the Kyklôpes only had a single eye. Here is a longer post about Homer’s depiction of their character and customs.
Homer, Odyssey 105–115
“From there we went on sailing, even though our hearts were pained,
To the land of the overbearing, lawless Kyklôpes
Who especially rely on the immortal gods
And do not grow plants or plow the land
But everything grows for them, unplanted and unplowed:
The grain, barley and vines which bear
Thick wine, and Zeus’ rain makes them grow.
They don’t have council-bringing assemblies nor laws,
But they inhabit the peaks of high mountains
In their hollow caves, and each governs his
Children and wives—they do not care for one another.”
ἔνθεν δὲ προτέρω πλέομεν ἀκαχήμενοι ἦτορ.
Κυκλώπων δ’ ἐς γαῖαν ὑπερφιάλων ἀθεμίστων
ἱκόμεθ’, οἵ ῥα θεοῖσι πεποιθότες ἀθανάτοισιν
οὔτε φυτεύουσιν χερσὶν φυτὸν οὔτ’ ἀρόωσιν,
ἀλλὰ τά γ’ ἄσπαρτα καὶ ἀνήροτα πάντα φύονται,
πυροὶ καὶ κριθαὶ ἠδ’ ἄμπελοι, αἵ τε φέρουσιν
οἶνον ἐριστάφυλον, καί σφιν Διὸς ὄμβρος ἀέξει.
τοῖσιν δ’ οὔτ’ ἀγοραὶ βουληφόροι οὔτε θέμιστες,
ἀλλ’ οἵ γ’ ὑψηλῶν ὀρέων ναίουσι κάρηνα
ἐν σπέεσι γλαφυροῖσι, θεμιστεύει δὲ ἕκαστος
παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχων, οὐδ’ ἀλλήλων ἀλέγουσι.
Schol. ad Od. 9.106 31-58 (Some of which is attributed to Porphyry)
“Overbearing, lawless: The phrase has double significance: the great size of their bodies and the lawlessness of not following customs. For they say that “Each one governs his own children and wives”. For if they were lawless instead of unjust, how would he add “they rely on the gods”? But, then, someone might add how Polyphemos says “the Kyklôpes don’t care about aegis-bearing Zeus”. We should, of course, consider the proposal that it comes from Polyphemos, the flesh-eating, beast. Hesiod also says “[Zeus] made it right for fish, beast and birds to eat one another because they do not have justice. Justice he gave to men” [see below]. Thus he depicts only Polyphemos as arrogant and unjust, while the rest of the other Kyklôpes are righteous, just people who obey the gods. This is why the earth gives them crops of its own accord.”
ὑπερφιάλων ἀθεμίστων] ἢ τῶν μεγαλοφυῶν τῷ σώματι, τῶν δισήμων γὰρ ἡ λέξις, ἀθεμίστων δὲ τῶν νόμοις μὴ χρωμένων· φησὶ γὰρ “θεμιστεύει δὲ ἕκαστος παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχων.” εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀθεμίστων ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀδίκων, πῶς λέγει “οἵ ῥα θεοῖσι πεποιθότες;” εἰ δ’ εἴπῃ τις, καὶ πῶς ὁ Πολύφημός φησιν “οὐ Κύκλωπες Διὸς αἰγιόχου ἀλέγουσι,” (275.) σκοπείτω τὸ πρόσωπον, ὅτι Πολυφήμου ἐστὶ τοῦ ὠμοφάγου καὶ θηριώδους. καὶ ῾Ησίοδος “ἰχθύσι μὲν καὶ θηρσὶ καὶ οἰωνοῖσι πετεινοῖς ἔσθειν ἀλλήλους, ἐπεὶ οὐ δίκη ἐστὶν ἐν αὐτοῖς, ἀνθρώποισι δ’ ἔδωκε δίκην.” ὥστε Πολύφημον μόνον λέγει ὑπερήφανον καὶ ἄδικον, τοὺς δὲ λοιποὺς πάντας Κύκλωπας εὐσεβεῖς καὶ δικαίους καὶ πεποιθότας τοῖς θεοῖς, ὅθεν καὶ ἀνῆκεν αὐτοῖς αὐτομάτως ἡ γῆ τοὺς καρπούς. H.
“When he claims that the Kyklôpes are arrogant, lawless and abnormal, how can [the poet] claim that they have good things from the gods freely? We must concede that they are “overbearing” because of the excessive size of their bodies, that they are “lawless”, because that do now use an established law but govern through their individual private interest: “each governs his own children and wife”, which is a sign of lawlessness. And Antisthenes says that only Polyphemos is unjust. For this one is even dismissive of Zeus. Therefore, the rest are just. For this reason, the earth provides to them everything of its own accord. And it is their just task not to work it. But they face violence violently, for “they attacked them” just as the giants.” “and who ruled as king of the arrogant giants” and, the fact that Phaeacians were forced to move because they were harmed by them.”
πῶς ὑπερφιάλους καὶ ἀθεμίστους καὶ παρανόμους εἰπὼν τοὺς Κύκλωπας ἄφθονα παρὰ θεῶν αὐτοῖς ὑπάρχειν λέγει τὰ ἀγαθά; ῥητέον οὖν ὅτι ὑπερφιάλους μὲν διὰ τὴν ὑπεροχὴν τοῦ σώματος, ἀθεμίστους δὲ τοὺς μὴ νόμῳ χρωμένους ἐγγράφῳ διὰ τὸ ἕκαστον ἴδιον ἄρχεσθαι· “θεμιστεύει δὲ ἕκαστος παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχου” (115), ὅπερ ἀνομίας σημεῖον. ᾿Αντισθένης δέ φησιν ὅτι μόνον τὸν Πολύφημον εἶναι ἄδικον· καὶ γὰρ οὗτος τοῦ Διὸς ὑπερόπτης ἐστίν. οὐκοῦν οἱ λοιποὶ δίκαιοι· διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ τὴν γῆν αὐτοῖς τὰ πάντα ἀναδιδόναι αὐτόματον, καὶ τὸ μὴ ἐργάζεσθαι αὐτὴν δίκαιον ἔργον ἐστίν. ἀλλ’ ἔμπροσθεν βιαίως βιαίους, “οἵ σφεας σινέσκοντο” (Od. ζ, 6), ὥσπερ καὶ τοὺς Γίγαντας· “ὅσπερ ὑπερθύμοισι Γιγάντεσσιν βασίλευεν” (Od. η, 59), ὥσπερ καὶ τοὺς Φαίακας βλαπτομένους ὑπ’ αὐτῶν μεταναστῆναι. T.
“The Kyklôpes are just except for Polyphemos. The mention of their “overbearing” character is about their size; their “lawlessness” is due to the fact that they each privately govern their wives and children. How then did they also bring grief to the Phaeacians? It is because of the lawlessness of their state.”
δίκαιοι οὗτοι πλὴν Πολυφήμου. ὅθεν τὸ μὲν ὑπερφιάλων, νῦν μεγάλων, τὸ δὲ θεμίστων, μὴ ἐχόντων χρείαν νόμων διὰ τὸ θεμιστεύειν ἕκαστον παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχων. πῶς οὖν ἠδίκουν τοὺς Φαίακας καὶ ἐλύπουν (ζ, 5. 6.); διὰ τὸ ἀνόμοιον τῆς πολιτείας. V.
Hesiod, Works and Days 274-281
“Perses, put these thoughts in your mind
And heed justice, banish force altogether.
Kronos’ son assigned this right to human beings—
It is permitted for the fish, beasts and winged birds
To eat one another, since they don’t have justice.
But Kronos’ son gave humans, which is the best thing by far.
For if someone who understands argues cases publicly,
Wide-browed Zeus will grant him good fortune…”
῏Ω Πέρση, σὺ δὲ ταῦτα μετὰ φρεσὶ βάλλεο σῇσι
καί νυ δίκης ἐπάκουε, βίης δ’ ἐπιλήθεο πάμπαν.
τόνδε γὰρ ἀνθρώποισι νόμον διέταξε Κρονίων,
ἰχθύσι μὲν καὶ θηρσὶ καὶ οἰωνοῖς πετεηνοῖς
ἔσθειν ἀλλήλους, ἐπεὶ οὐ δίκη ἐστὶ μετ’ αὐτοῖς·
ἀνθρώποισι δ’ ἔδωκε δίκην, ἣ πολλὸν ἀρίστη
γίνεται· εἰ γάρ τίς κ’ ἐθέλῃ τὰ δίκαι’ ἀγορεῦσαι
γινώσκων, τῷ μέν τ’ ὄλβον διδοῖ εὐρύοπα Ζεύς·