"The Cyclops" - Week One, Play One - January 1-7

The first play of the new year is under my belt: Euripides' "The Cyclops," which I read in a delightfully tiny and cost-efficient copy of Euripides: Ten Plays, translated by Paul Roche.

"The Cyclops" is the only complete satyr play that remains from the classical period. At Ancient Greek dramatic festivals, plays would be performed in groups of four, three tragedies and a satyr play (a sort of ancient burlesque), all by a single author. The Oresteia of Aeschylus, which tells the story of Agamemnon's murder and his son's revenge, is the only surviving trilogy of tragedies that was originally performed together. The more famous group of Oedipus plays by Sophocles, although thematically related, was not intended to be performed together, and was in fact written over several decades.

It isn't clear what tragedies Euripides intended to accompany his "Cyclops," but it is, as far as modern scholars can determine, representative of the genre. Sex, scatology and (above all) drinking are the subjects of the play, which unfolds in a mythological universe quite similar (if more brutally crass) to that of the tragedies. In the play, Odysseus and his crew are thrown ashore by storms on the island of the man-eating Cyclops. There they encounter Silenus the satyr and his sexually deprived sons (not all satyr plays contained actual satyrs, apparently, but this one does), and are captured by Polyphemus the Cyclops. Using wine and wit, they must engineer their escape.

As a unique theatre-historical artifact, the play holds considerable interest, but its humor is about on the level of a very, very bawdy sitcom of not particularly high quality, so I can't recommend it as a pleasurable read. I have to wonder whether it is ever performed on modern stages....

"The Cyclops"
Euripides (Greece, uncertain date in the mid-5th C BCE)

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