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The Overworked Playwright A Study in Euripides' Cyclops

  • Peter D. Arnott


TheCyclops is a neglected play. Although commending itself by its brevity to teachers as an easy introduction to Euripides, it has received little critical attention and is only rarely performed. Nevertheless the feeling persists that even this slight work, being by Euripides, must be treated with respect. A recent school edition comments, ‘The preservation of ancient literature does seem in some measure to have illustrated the principle of the survival of the fittest; and the Cyclops may have been one of the few satyric dramas which really deserve to be handed down to us.’ Similarly J. Duchemin, in his critical edition published a few years earlier, cautiously suggests that the characterization of Polyphemos embodies familiar themes in later fifth-century thought: ‘Son Cyclope est, semble-t-il, auprès des autres, une figure évoluée, et par certains côtés vraiment moderne: le materialisme intellectuel affiché dans l'⋯γών avec Ulysse, et où l'on a voulu retrouver les traces de la sophistique (v. 316 sqq.), marque de toute evidence une étape nouvelle dans le développement du personnage.’ The purpose of this article is to re-examine the status of the play, and inquire whether such tributes are really justified. I hope to gather together certain considerations, some already familiar, others perhaps less well known, which suggest that the value of the Cyclops, both as drama and as an illustration of Euripides' thought, is negligible, and that the illustrious name of its author has led us to look for merit where none exists.



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page 164 note 1 Euripides, Cyclops, ed. Simmonds, D. M. and Timberlake, R. R. (2nd ed., Cambridge, 1948), p. xxx.

page 164 note 2 Le Cyclope d'Euripide (Paris, 1945), pp. xiv f.

page 165 note 1 Duchemin, J., op. cit., pp. xvii f.

page 165 note 2 Lorenz, A. O. F., Leben und Schriften des Koers Epicharmos (Berlin, 1864), 243.

page 165 note 3 Kock, T., Comic. Att. Frag., Kratinos, , Frr. 135–50.

page 165 note 4 For his deme see Athen, xv. 686a; for his work as producer, Arg. Aesch. Seven against Thebes.

page 165 note 5 Steffen, V., Satyrographorum Graecorum Reliquiae (Poznan, 1935).

page 166 note 1 The quotations from Homer are given throughout in the translation by E. V. Rieu in the Penguin Classics (New York, 1946).

page 167 note 1 Reading Hermann's Πῡρ κα⋯ Πατρῷον τόδε, λέβητά θ'.

page 167 note 2 See Arnott, P. D., ‘Animals in the Greek Theatre’, Greece & Rome, Second Series, vi (1959), 177–9.

page 167 note 3 Fr. 144, mentioned above.

page 168 note 1 Op. cit., on v. 213.

The Overworked Playwright A Study in Euripides' Cyclops

  • Peter D. Arnott


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