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Basic Information

In Greek Mythology, the Cyclops (plural: Cyclopes) are one-eyed giants. There are at least two groups of Cyclops in that body of myths, and they may be two different species.

The first group of Cyclops were the 4th, 5th, and 6th sons of Gaia and Ouranos. This puts them on roughly the Titan level of power and importance, as they predate the Gods. They're the younger brothers of the Hekatoncheires (the hundred-handed giants) and they are the older brothers of the Titans. These three Cyclops were named Brontes, Steropes and Arges. These massive and powerful creatures were the size of mountains. Mountains. That's big. They're fantastic smiths. They built the thunderbolt weapon of Zeus. Later myths made them the servants or coworkers of Hephaestus, and associate them with Sicily or the volcanic Aeolian Isles. They also built the Aegis, and in Roman Mythology a chariot for Mars. With such great skill, these are probably the Cyclops for whom Cyclopean Masonry is named. In some versions of the myths, these Cyclops are locked in Tartarus along with the Titans.

The second group of Cyclops include just one named character, Polyphemus, and an unspecified number of off-camera island-dwelling kinsmen. He was the son of Poseidon. While he was big and strong, he doesn't seem nearly so mountainous. Odysseus interacts with him. Polyphemus is big enough to pick up a man with 1 hand, or bite off your head, but we're not as small as fleas in comparison to him. Odysseus burns Polyphemus eye out with a big flaming log, so his eye might at most be as big as a man. Not as big as a mountain, if you ask me, especially since Polyphemus lived in a cave in a mountain. He's not shown doing any smithing, and he's easily duped by Odysseus identifying himself as "No-one". He does have a big old stone that he uses as a door, so maybe Cyclopean Masonry is his handiwork, but he definitely doesn't seem to be nearly so big, nor so skilled as that first generation of Cyclopes.

Cyclops in general, or Polyphemus in particular, may be an Anthropomorphic Personification of a Volcano. Work in a fiery environment, melting metal. Check. One large round eye in the middle of their head. Check. Said eye gets blasted with fire. Check. Afterwords, Polyphemus hurls rocks and causes big waves (some literal from the rocks, and some metaphorical since he calls on Poppa Poseidon). Check. Hmm… I take back what I was saying earlier about Polyphemus not being the size of a mountain. Dude's totally a volcano.

Curiously, their name means "round eyed", not "one-eyed". (Think about: "Cycl" as in bicycle and Cyclone, and "Ops" as in optical.) I don't claim to understand how the Ancient Greek poets thought, but it does seem a little weird that they named this species for the least interesting thing one could notice about their eye(s). Make of that what you will.

In his book Where Troy Once Stood, Iman Wilkens suggests that all of the Odyssey is a Coded Myth that encodes a navigational chart to get to a tin mine, and the Polyphemus story indicates a particular volcanic island on that route.1

One possible origin for the notion of the cyclops is elephant skulls. While elephants are not currently native to Greece or Italy, their prehistoric brethern once were. The skull of an elephant, or woolly mammoth, or
pleistocene dwarf elephant, has a big hollowed area right in the upper middle portion of the face. This is the sinus cavity that the trunk connects to. If you've never seen an elephant, but have seen their skulls, you might think that trunk-pit is a single big eye socket. fossils of such beasts could be found in caves in the area.


1. Book: Mythology for Dummies by Dr. Christopher W. Blackwell and Amy Hackney Blackwell
2. Book: Where Troy Once Stood by Iman Wilkens

Game and Story Use

  • Cyclops can be the ultimate source/creators of any artifact, treasure or magic item, especially those made of metal, stone, fire or lightning. If you want an item to have an epic pedigree, look no further.
  • If you have a massive and impenetrable wall anywhere in your campaign (on a border, around a city, holding the barbarian hordes at bay, dividing the earth from the underworld, etc) it may have been built by Cyclopes from massive angular stones that fit together perfectly with no need for mortar to bind them.
  • The PCs find a treasure map full of monstrous doodles, marked in one part with a scrawled "here be Cyclops" and a sketch of an ugly one-eyed beast, but an unhelpful lack of geographic details. Turns out it's all in code. The Cyclops is a well-known volcano, and other monsters or mythological characters on the map are similarly encoded locations and landmarks. You have to figure out the puzzle of metaphors to make use of the map.
  • Here's some cyclopes variant ideas:
    • The potential two-for-the-price-of-one species is a great option for games with a class and level system. You've got Poseidon's sons for low or mid-level PCs, and then Gaia's children for when your level progression gets you up to epic play.
    • Volcanic Cyclopes would be fun! Your players won't be expecting lava armor, earthquake smash attacks, clouds of toxic ash and smoke, and pelting with good ol' fireballs. Put the fear of the Titans back in your party!
    • Based on the skull origin idea, some sort of vaguely elephantine cyclops, with big tusks would be an interesting variation. Other elephant traits worthy borrowing might be the stocky body shape, thick grey skin, and huge ears.
    • That "round eye" thing is the sort of technicality that lets you surprise your players with a two-eyed cyclops. They won't see it coming, but they may facepalm at the ridiculousness when it's explained later.
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