Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Metamorphosis of Polyphemus

The Cyclops Polyphemus from the Antonine period 2nd - 3rd century CE photographed at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy.
Depictions of the Cyclops Polyphemus have differed radically, depending on the literary genres in which he has appeared, and have given him an individual existence independent of the Homeric herdsman encountered by Odysseus. In the epic he was a man-eating monster dwelling in an unspecified land.

Some centuries later, a dithyramb by Philoxenus of Cythera, followed by several episodes by the Greek pastoral poets, created of him a comedic and generally unsuccessful lover of the water nymph Galatea. In the course of these he woos his love to the accompaniment of either a cithara or the pan-pipes. Such episodes take place on the island of Sicily, and it was here that the Latin poet Ovid also set the tragic love story of Polyphemus and Galatea recounted in the Metamorphoses.

Still later tradition made him the eventually successful husband of Galatea. According to some accounts, the Celts (Galati in Latin) were descended from their son Galatos, while Appian credited them with three children, Celtus, Illyrius and Galas, from whom descended the Celts, the Illyrians and the Gauls.  That their conjunction was fruitful is also implied in a later Greek epic from the turn of the 5th century CE. In the course of his Dionysiaca, Nonnus gives an account of the wedding of Poseidon and Beroe, at which the Nereid "Galatea twangled a marriage dance and restlessly twirled in capering step, and she sang the marriage verses, for she had learnt well how to sing, being taught by Polyphemos with a shepherd’s syrinx."

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