Talks Too Much: Poly+Phemus in Euripides' Cyclops

George W.M. Harrison

Concordia University, Montréal

University of Crete, Rethymnon

There are a considerable number of problems of characterization of Polyphemus in the Cyclops which become apparent when one tries to put him convincingly on the stage.  There are (1) inconsistencies of language, (2) illogical reversals in attitude to the gods, particularly Zeus,  (3) centering him as someone familiar to the audience yet odious, and (4) perhaps greatest of all, even at the end of the play he does not show any moral progress, unlike Oidipous blinded or Teiresias.  He does not become a blind prophet; he remains a lager lout, but one that cannot see.

This paper looks briefly at each of these four issues.  It does so in terms of discussions and script conferences with a producer and director for performances which took place in 2003.  How Polyphemus is envisioned can be drawn out by word choice and inflection, and that characterization can in turn be enhanced by costume, music and set design.  Reading Polyphemos is the first essential step.  In that process, one now derives considerable assistance from the contributors to Satyr Drama:  Tragedy at Play, the published proceedings of a conference on that topic.  This paper is greatly informed by observations on obscenity made by Willeon Slenders, absurd actions and statements collected and discussed by Hanna Roisman, and problems of audience identification demonstrated by Mark Griffith, following upon E. Hall's 1998 seminal article on 'Ithyphallic Males Behaving Badly'.  Most important, the positioning of Polyphemus in the 2003 production anticipated, and this paper incorporates, two important studies by C.W. Marshall and Patrick O'Sullivan which demolish the current communis opinio about who and what Polyphemos represents and ridicules.

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