The Double Vision of Euripides' Cyclops: An Ethnographic Odyssey on the Satyr Stage


Carol Dougherty


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Theater-the very word means to be a spectator-is all about looking, wondering, and watching the action on stage, and this visual experience transports the audience temporarily to new worlds and places.1 Euripides' satyr play, the Cyclops, for example, offers its fifth-century BCE Athenian viewers the slightly skewed vision of a hybrid world-part contemporary, part Homeric, part fantastic. The play blends the ribald conventions of satyr drama with a contemporary, late fifth-century setting; it combines the myth of Dionysus' capture by satyrs with the famous Odyssean episode of Polyphemus, the man-eating Cyclops. In fact, as many scholars have noted, the plot of Euripides' satyr play is unexpectedly faithful to its Homeric model-the shipwreck, Maron's wine, the blinding of Polyphemus, and the "Nobody" pun all appear in Euripides' play just as in they do in Book 9 of the Odyssey.2 In other words, the play transports the audience to the long-ago and far-away world of Odysseus. While scholars have paid a great deal of attention to the relationship of Euripides' play to its Homeric predecessor, the question of why Euripides would invoke Homer so carefully has not been addressed. Euripides, after all, is a poet known for his mythographic creativity. Why take such pains to present a clearly recognizable epic version of the story on a satyr stage? What is it that epic in general or the Odyssey specifically brings to the late fifth-century Athenian audience?

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