The following interpretations of the myth of Odysseus and the Cyclops are based upon material found in Justin Glenn's "The Polyphemus Myth: Its Origin and Interpretation." Greece & Rome 25 (1978) 141-155. They were discussed in Classical Mythology class on Friday, August 29, 1997, at Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois. If you have any questions about this document, please contact the instructor, Prof. Tom Sienkewicz at

Interpretations of the Cyclops Myth

Leo Meyer (1857) solar interpretation of Polyphemus' eye

Grimm (1857) origin in nature symbolism

Nature struggle

Night vs. Day

Eye of Cyclops as solar symbol

Tylor (1870) rationalistic theory

The myth is the result of "early mariners' fabulous reports of some savage, perhaps actually cannibalistic tribe."

Mannhardt (1877) comparative approach

"Cyclops were originally Forest- and Montain-Spirits of ancient Greece...corresponding with nature spirits of northern European folklore who are also one-eyed, cave-dwelling, shepherds.

Laistner (1889) All monsters of myth originated in nightmares.

D. B. Cook (1914) discovery of the fire-drill as a source of the Cyclops myth.

Germain (1954) Cyclops myth as a very ancient initiation rite with ram cult as source

Robert (1950)

Dion (1969) Myth as political satire in which the Ionian Greeks ridicule the Phoenicians (Robert) or

Corinthians (Dion)

Psychoanalytical interpretations of the Cyclops myth:

Rascovsky (1957) "prenatal nucleus of Odysseus"

Conflict between Odysseus and Polyphemus is an "expression of the antagonism between the 'pre- and the post-natal nucleus of the ego...."

Wormkondt (1953)a sexual assault

Roheim (1952) disguised version of the Oedipus complex

Hostility between father and son

Castration complex

Glenn (1978) wish-fulfillment

The succession myth of Uranus-Cronus-Zeus "contains the key to the interpretation of the Polyphemus myth." Namely, hostility between father and son

Three essential elements of succession myth:

1.) Son imprisoned in earth by father-ogre

2.) Son threatened with cannibalism by father-ogre

3.) Son triumphs over father via castration

Cp. Polyphemus

1.) Hero imprisoned in cave by ogre

2.) Hero threatened with cannibalism by ogre

3.) Hero triumphs over ogre via blinding

Blinding as symbolic castration