Monday, March 9, 2015

The Single Eye of the Cyclopes

Polyphemus, M. Snyder

The legendary Cyclopes (plural of “Cyclops”) were a race of giants who gained the reputation as dangerous, huge, raging beasts.  According to myth and legend they 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 and the walls of Mycenea. 

Despite their notorious size, the single eye of the Cyclopes is their most defining characteristic. Their connection with the megaliths gives us a clue as to the reason for this unusual image. Huge stone observatories were built across continents to measure the movement of the heavens, and by doing so, support agriculture and navigation. The Cyclopes association with these Stone Age megalithic observatories makes it reasonable to conclude that these mythical giants were skilled in astronomy, and the geometry which developed from it. Both were necessary to design and build the megaliths. Such expertise requires development of tools, and as such 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 is a collection of 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.  
Cybele, M. Snyder
When looked at in context it is likely that the discs Cybele and Argus hold are c 700 BC reflecting telescope lenses.
One interesting question to ask is “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. It is also true that some ancient observers’ and surveyors’ tools could injure the open eye, leaving you with only one functioning. Prehistoric astronomers used huge single standing-stones to measure the movement of stars and by 4000 BC the Vanir used crossed-strings (resembling the cross-hairs in the scope of a gun or modern telescope), and in doing so they had to close one eye. Perhaps this is why, but we do note that using reflective lenses, like using binoculars, allows use of two eyes. 

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; interestingly, ancient rune patterns are very similar to the constellations that were over his kingdom of Asgard at the time (located at the Sea of Azov). Perhaps one-eyed images of Odin symbolize that he was given the gift of knowledge of the stars and had mastered astronomy; it is unlikely that he actually gave up an eye. The pool of water beneath the tree (Yggddrasil) could represent the trenches that were dug around megalithic sites and filled with water to provide a level horizon, and to reflect the stars (similar to moats). 

In decoding the meaning of the Cyclopes eye, we should also consider other one-eye symbols. Images depicting one eye are sometimes surrounded by radiating rays as found on the $1 bill, and are often accompanied by symbols of planets and stars, creating the association of  one-eye symbols to astronomy. This image is of a Masonic headstone. 

Duncan-Enzmann’s translation of a Masonic headstone in Castleton Churchyard, Derbyshire. The five-pointed star is a navigational Venus table for longitude from 4000 BC. The twelve-curved radiant depicts annual prevailing winds and tides, which were known and recorded 5000 BC. The six-pointed star represents the solar azimuth angles over a year, observed and noted from 14,000 BC. The single eye with twelve radiants in this image depicts three or four sailing seasons as a function of winds and currents, known at least by 4000 BC. The single eye symbol is repeatedly found in context with other astronomical images. Photographer unknown.
Cyclops Polyphemus was a son of sea god Poseidon, and Greek myths tell us he was killed by Odysseus with a flaming stick driven through his eye. Pictures of the event as depicted on pottery could easily be of the huge Cyclopes and a telescope. The image below is from a Amphora and depicts the story of Polyphemus. He is surrounded by symbols of astronomy – radiants (planets, stars, sun), lozenges (latitudinal location), solar Vs (solstices), and swastikas (movement, either atmospheric or the solar). Lines and patterns depicted are likely calendrics, and there are circumpuncts on the handle, symbols for accurate measurement of the movement and location of stars. 
Eleusis Amphora, photo by Rich Pianka 2005
The Cyclopes were descendants of the Watchers and Giants of circa 14,000 BC. Duncan-Enzmann's research shows that these ancient cultures were adept at astronomy, able to use the stars to navigate; calculating longitude millennia ago. The Cyclopes would have inherited this knowledge through oral tradition and symbolism just as it had been passed on for generations before them. 

Some legends surrounding these huge one-eyed creatures make them out to be raging primal beasts, as does 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 Pharaohs and gods were created larger than the regular people depicted in their hieroglyphic records. Greeks sculpted enormous statues of their gods and heroes, and sometimes they did not even closely resemble the actual person. Even today we perceive our experts as being larger-than-life and use symbols to designate specialties in skill and profession.   

Michelle Paula Snyder
Michelle Snyder is a professor of mythology, and an author, publisher, speaker, and artist. She  did her post-graduate research at the University of Wales, decoding ancient and prehistoric symbolism, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales.  Her artwork has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio.

Symbologist Michelle Snyder
Non-Fiction - Symbology:
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images
Symbology: Decoding Symbols through History
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered
Symbology: Art and Symbols
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: ReVision
Symbology: World of Symbols
Symbology: Secrets of the Mermaids

Michelle Paula Snyder
Fiction – Fantasy Wonder Tales:
The Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Time Lessons, First Book
Call of the Dragon and other Tales of Wonder
A Tale of Three Kingdoms, book one: The Lost Unicorn
 A Tale of Three Kingdoms, book two The Lost Mermaid 
A Tale of Three Kingdoms, book three The Lost Dragon

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