Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Cyclops, Brontës and Polyphemus

Polyphemus [one of the Cyclops] by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, also known as Goethe-Tischbein (15 February 1751  – 26 February 1828) was a German painter.

The Account of Chaos and the birth of the Cyclops from Hesiod's Theogony:

In truth then foremost sprang Chaos, and next broad-bosomed Earth, ever secure seat of all the immortals, who inhabit the peaks of snow-capt Olympus, and dark dim Tartarus in a recess of Earth having-broad-ways, and Love who is most beautiful among immortal gods, Love that relaxes the limbs, and in the breasts of all gods and all men, subdues their reason and prudent counsel. But from Chaos were born Erebus and black Night; and from Night again sprang forth Aether and Day, whom she bare after having conceived, by union with Erebus in love. And Earth, in sooth, bare first indeed like to herself (in size) starry Heaven, that he might shelter her around all sides, that so she might be ever a secure seat for the blessed gods: and she brought forth vast mountains, lovely haunts of deities, the Nymphs who dwell along the woodland hills. She too bare also the barren Sea, rushing with swollen stream, the Deep, I mean, without delightsome love: but afterward, having bedded with Heaven, she bare deep-eddying Ocean, Caeus and Crius, Hyperion and Iapetus, Thea and Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, and Phoebe with golden coronet, and lovely Tethys. And after these was born, youngest, wily Cronius, most savage of their children; and he hated his vigour-giving sire. Then brought she forth next the Cyclops, having an over-bearing spirit, Brontes, and Steropes, and stout-hearted Arges, who both gave to Jove his thunder, and forged his lightnings. Now these, in sooth, were in other respects, it is true, like to gods, but a single eye was fixed in their mid-foreheads. And they from immortals grew up speaking mortals, and Cyclops was their appropriate name, because, I wot, in their foreheads one circular eye was fixed. Strength, force, and contrivances were in their works. 

(Hesiod’s Theogony translated by Rev J. Banks London: Bohn’s Classical Library, 1856, pp. 7-10)

Other famous versions of the Cyclops monster myth occur in Homer, Ovid and Virgil. Modern version include Joyce's Ulysses and an episode in the Coen Brothers 2000 film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.

The Brontë family can be traced to the Irish Clan Ó Pronntaigh, which literally means 'grandson of Pronntach'. 

We can only speculate that Patrick Brontë was aware of the Cyclops "Thunder" Brontë connection.


Also entertaining was Castle Film's Doctor Cyclops which plays on Jonathan Swift's little people in Gulliver's Travels.

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