What Are Three Symbols for the Cyclops?

by Betsy Beacom
The presence of a single eye is the predominant characteristic of the figure of the Cyclops.

The presence of a single eye is the predominant characteristic of the figure of the Cyclops.

In Greek mythology, the Cyclopes -- the plural form of "Cyclops" -- were three giant, one-eyed sons of Uranus and Gaia, named Arges, Brontes and Steropes. Homer also wrote in his "Odyssey" of another Cyclops named Polyphemus, who was blinded by Odysseus. In mythology, Cronus, the son of Uranus, imprisoned the three original Cyclopes in Tartarus, from which they were eventually freed by Zeus, leader of the Olympians. They then helped Zeus defeat the Titans by giving him the weapons he would need, lightning and thunder. The Cyclopes became smiths in the god Hephaestus' forge and there created the three objects that came to stand as symbols for them.

Zeus' Thunderbolt

Zeus' thunderbolt represented his power as king of the Greek gods, and the Cyclopes forged it for him after he freed them from Tartarus. In Zeus' war against his father, Cronus, the Cyclopes kept him supplied with thunder and lightning. Zeus' thunderbolt became a symbol of the Cyclopes because it represents their coming to his aid as he fought to overthrow Cronus, and symbolizes the beginning of their ongoing service to Zeus in his role as the ruler of the Olympian deities.

Poseidon's Trident

Poseidon, along with Zeus and Hades, helped to free the Cyclopes from Tartarus, and to repay the god of the oceans, the one-eyed monsters fashioned a trident for him. Poseidon used the trident to strike the earth -- causing it to shake -- or to create stormy seas, and he was able to use his trident to battle Cronus and the Titans alongside Zeus. Thus, like the lightning bolt, this symbol of the Cyclopes represents their indirect role in establishing Zeus as king of the Olympic gods.

Hades' Helmet

The lord of the underworld and the god of the dead, Hades was the third of the Olympian brothers to battle and defeat Cronus, and his quest was aided by the Cyclopes' creation for him of an invisibility helmet, a third symbol of them and their powers. They fashioned this object for Hades in their forge, with their anvil and their hammers. In spite of their being social outcasts among the gods and other divine beings in Greek mythology, the Cyclopes' role in establishing Zeus, Poseidon and Hades as three important rulers, gives them a powerful role in Greek mythology.

Polyphemus, From Homer's "Odyssey"

In Homer's "Odyssey," Odysseus comes upon an island inhabited by Cyclopes, unrelated to the monsters from Greek mythology. Odysseus meets a giant wild man with one eye named Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and the nymph Thoosa. Polyphemus devours a few of Odysseus' comrades and threatens to devour him next, so Odysseus gives the Cyclops some wine, and when he falls asleep, Odysseus blinds him and escapes. Polyphemus remembers that an oracle had prophesied to him that a man named Odysseus would one day cause him to lose his sight.

About the Author

Betsy Beacom is a writer and editor with experience in education, marketing, Internet content, social media, the performing and visual arts, literature and more. She holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in literature, has taught English at Yale University and has more than 20 years' experience writing and editing.

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