Wednesday, October 26, 2011

World of Symbols: Cyclops

By Michelle Snyder
The Symbologist
The White Knight Studio

      The legendary Cyclopes (plural of “Cyclops”) were a race of giants who created Poseidon’s trident, Artemis’s bow, Zeus’s lightning, and other hero weapons and tools. They were said to have brute size and strength, and are credited with massive masonry such as megalithic observatories.

      Despite their notorious size the single eye of the Cyclopes is their most defining characteristic. The function of ancient megalithic sites provides a clue as to the reason for the unusual image of the giant with an eye in its forehead: the huge stone observatories were built across the continent, to measure the movement of the heavens, and support agriculture and navigation. The Cyclopes association with megalithic observatories makes it reasonable to conclude that they were skilled in astronomy. Such expertise requires development of tools; if this is the case, then we can connect Cyclopes to the use of lenses, which dates back to circa 4200 BC. Lenses were not uncommon in antiquity; an excavation in ancient Troy uncovered many optical lenses. In the British Museum there are a collection of these and other lenses, one of which resembles a hand mirror. These artifacts give rise to speculation that many “sun disc” symbols depicted with gods and goddesses could actually represent reflective lenses.

      Other one-eye symbols are important to consider here. Images depicting one eye, sometimes surrounded by radiating rays as on the $1 bill, are often found accompanied by symbols of planets and stars. It is then not difficult to associate one-eye symbolism with astronomy. Why one eye? Imagine yourself looking through a telescope or spyglass. You must first close one eye to use these tools, leaving one eye open. Ancient astronomers used huge single standing-stones to  measure the movement of stars; in doing so they also had to close one eye. There are other mythological beings described as having one eye. According to ancient Norse legend, Odin sacrificed an eye for enlightenment, and he was given the runes; ancient rune patterns are very similar to the constellations that were over his kingdom of Asgard. Perhaps one-eyed images of Odin symbolize his mastery of astronomy.

      The Cyclopes were descendants of the Watchers and Giants of circa 14,000 BC. These ancient cultures were adept at astronomy, and were able to use the stars to navigate, and to travel the planet millennia ago. The Cyclopes inherited this knowledge from their elders through oral tradition and symbolism just as it had been shared for generations before them. Some legends surrounding these huge one-eyed creatures make them out to be raging primal beasts, as in the 1981 movie “The Clash of the Titans,” but this idea conflicts with the masonry and tools credited to their craftsmanship. Megalithic stones were hewn to perfection, and aligned according to the movement of the stars and planets. Zeus’s lightening and Poseidon’s trident were powerful weapons, and cleverly crafted. Could the precision of these constructs have been accomplished by raging, out of control beasts? More likely, the Cyclopes’ large, powerful image represents their position in society, just as the images of Egyptian Pharos and gods were larger than the regular people depicted in their hieroglyphic records. Greeks sculpted enormous statues of their gods. Even today we perceive our experts as being larger-than-life.  
Article and artwork © 2011 Michelle Snyder, author of Symbology: Decoding Classic Images, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online, and at The Book Rack Bookstore in Arlington. Post your questions on her blog at


  1. I never thought about Cyclopes that way before, but it makes sense, especially if you consider some of the really ancient peoples and the images they've left behind - that hint of technology beyond our ken. I think that there is probably a kernel of truth somewhere behind our legends, and that a lot of that information has been lost to the millennia. One can only hope that someday, we'll again understand ...

  2. Thanks for stopping by Katy. I agree with you about the kernel of truth. I love these symbol posts. I learn something new each time.


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