©Damen, 2012

Classical Drama and Society


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SECTION 3: ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Reading 3: Satyr Plays


TEXT: Euripides, Cyclops 543-607


Questions to Ponder Concerning This Text:

• What are satyrs? Why did satyrs merit their own brand of drama? Why do you think plays about them were so successful and popular?

• How are satyr plays different from and similar to tragedy? Why would this sort of drama be regularly coupled with tragedy in production?

• What production elements (scenery, actors, special effects, costumes, etc.) do you imagine would have been required for staging satyr plays?

• Does this play uphold or undermine Aristotle's contention that tragedy arose from satyr plays? Can you see any clear, proto-tragic elements in The Cyclops? Or can this play which may have been written as late as 408 BCE be used at all to argue for the evolution of early Greek drama?


Introduction: Euripides' satyr play The Cyclops is a parody of a famous episode in Homer's The Odyssey in which the hero Odysseus is trapped in the cave of a man-eating monster, a so-called Cyclops ("round-eye") named Polyphemus ("Big-Talker"). Huge, he can clearly overwhelm any man or group of men with his strength, but he has two great weaknesses: first, he has only one eye which limits his vision; and second, because he is largely unskilled, he has no familiarity with the habits of civilization such as drinking and lying, and thus is easily duped.

The plot of the play follows the general contours of Homer's story. After Odysseus and his men are trapped in the Cyclops' cave, Polyphemus devours several of them. When the Cyclops asks Odysseus his name, he says it is "Nobody" and persuades Polyphemus to drink wine which he happens to have brought with him from his ship. The Cyclops does and falls into a drunken stupor. Odysseus and his remaining men put out the monster's single eye with a sharpened olive branch, the point hardened by fire, and escape by clinging underneath the bellies of the Cyclops' long-haired sheep. Finally, when Polyphemus screams for help from his fellow Cyclopes, they ask him who is hurting him. He answers, of course, "Nobody," so none of them comes to help him, assuming he is joking with them.

The play departs from Homer's narrative in only one major respect. Like all satyr-plays, it introduces into the story a chorus of lusty, tippling, bestial satyrs who interfere with the action, though not the outcome, of the story.

We join the drama at the point where Polyphemus is conducting a drinking party with Odysseus and the father of the satyrs, Silenus. The scene is a spoof of a traditional Greek banquet at which handsome boys customarily served wine to sophisticated, rich, older men who sought the pleasure of their company and lusted after them. Here the usual situation is upside-down: the old, pug-nosed, hairy, tumescent Silenus plays cup-bearer to the crude and rustic erastes ("lover") Polyphemus.


SILENUS
(to the Cyclops) Lie down now for me. Rest your side on the ground.

CYCLOPS
Okay! (Silenus slips the Cyclops' drinking cup behind him and takes a quick sip.) Hey, why did you put my drinking cup behind me?

SILENUS
Someone might walk by and knock it over.

CYCLOPS
You wanted to sneak a drink. Set it down in the middle. (to Odysseus) And you, stranger, tell me the name I should call you by.

ODYSSEUS
Call me . . . "Nobody." And in return what will I thank you for?

CYCLOPS
You, last of all your friends, will I eat.

(The Cyclops laughs, and Silenus laughs, too.)

SILENUS
That's a nice thing to do for the stranger, Cyclops.

(Silenus drains the Cyclops' cup.)

CYCLOPS
Hey you! What are you doing? You're drinking up my wine behind my back.

SILENUS
No, I'm not. The wine kissed me, because I'm so beautiful.

CYCLOPS
Be careful! You love the wine, but it doesn't love you.

SILENUS
Oh, but it does! It says it loves me for my looks.

CYCLOPS
Pour! (Silenus pours him some wine.) Give me a little more.

(The Cyclops drinks.)

SILENUS
Like the mixture? (reaching for the Cyclops' cup) Come on, let me try it.

(Silenus grabs the cup and drinks it down.)

CYCLOPS
You little . . . ! Give it here!

SILENUS
No, no! Not before I put this wreath of flowers on you . . . (Silenus hands the Cyclops a party garland, then says to himself.) . . . and have another drink on you.

(Silenus pours himself another drink.)

CYCLOPS
As a cupbearer, you stink.

SILENUS
(aristocratically) Not at all! (smelling the wine) The wine has an excellent bouquet. You know you really ought to wipe your mouth before you start drinking.

CYCLOPS
Okay! (wipes his mouth) My lips are clean, and so's my beard.

SILENUS
Now, hold your pinkie finger up politely and then drink, just as you see me doing . . . (he slurps the whole cup down, belches and smacks his lips) . . . NOT!

CYCLOPS
Hey, hey, what do you think you're doing?

SILENUS
Well-chugged, if I say so myself.

(The Cyclops snatches the cup and the wine from Silenus and hands them to Odysseus.)

CYCLOPS
(to Odysseus) You take this, stranger, and be my cup-bearer.

ODYSSEUS
(taking the cup and wine) The wine recognizes a familiar hand.

CYCLOPS
Come on, pour it! (yelling) NOW!

ODYSSEUS
(pouring) I'm pouring. Don't yell.

CYCLOPS
(still yelling) It's not so easy to stop yelling, when you drink too much!

ODYSSEUS
Fine then! Take it and drink it up! And leave nothing behind! One, Two, Three, Go! (aside) To hell and die!

(The Cyclops downs the whole cup.)

CYCLOPS
Yow! There's really something to this, this wine stuff!

ODYSSEUS
If you drink a lot and have a big dinner, stoke a full stomach, you'll fall fast asleep. But if you leave anything behind, Bacchus will drain you dry.

CYCLOPS
(staggering to his feet) Whoopee! (falling flat on his face) Whoops! I fell on my face. But I feel good. Really good! (rolling onto his back) The whole sky looks like it's (waving his hands in the air) commingling with the earth. I can see the throne of Zeus and the whole holy moly of the gods.

(The satyrs begin to dance around the Cyclops suggestively.)

CYCLOPS (con't.)
(to the satyrs) What do you want? ME to want YOU? The way you dance makes me think you do. (grabbing Silenus who is about to steal another cup of wine) NO! I don't want you. I'm saving myself for my little Ganymede here.

(Silenus gags and drops the cup. The Cyclops kisses him.)

CYCLOPS (con't.)
(to the satyrs) He's prettier than you. I find that I prefer boys to girls, anyway.

SILENUS
You think I am Zeus' boyfriend, you . . . Cyclops?

CYCLOPS
(aristocratically) Yes, by Jove, I do. (throwing Silenus over his shoulder) And I am snatching you from Troy.

SILENUS
(hanging over the Cyclops' shoulder) My children! It's your father's end! I'm going to suffer something awful.

CYCLOPS
(carrying Silenus off) Oh, you're just making fun of me because I've been drinking.

SILENUS
(as he disappears inside the Cyclops' cave) I'm the one who'll drink a most foul-tasting wine this time.

ODYSSEUS
(to the chorus of satyrs) Come now, sons of Dionysus, you noble breed! The man's inside his cave. Soon he'll succumb to sleep and from his bottomless maw chuck up his dinner. Look, a torch inside his cave sends up smoke. Everything's going according to plan. All that's left is to sear shut the Cyclops' eye with fire.

(The satyrs look around nervously and begin to whistle and walk away.)

ODYSSEUS
Come on! Act like a man!

CHORUS OF SATYRS
I'll show courage as strong as unbreakable stone. But first, you, go inside the cave before my father suffers something . . . hard to handle. Everything's ready out here.

ODYSSEUS
(praying) O Hephaestus, god of fire, lord of Etna, by burning out the shining eye of your evil neighbor here, free yourself once and for all. And you, black progeny of Night, come, Sleep, undiluted on the god-forsaken beast, and do not after those most wonderful Trojan toils sink both his sailors and himself, this Odysseus, at the hands of a man who cares nothing for gods or for men. Or else Chance is a deity, we must admit, and the matters of heaven lie lower than Luck.


[All goes according to plan. The Cyclops is blinded and the play ends happily as Odysseus and the satyrs escape Polyphemus' clutches unscathed.]


Course Description
Class Grading and Projects
Chapters
Syllabus
Slides
A Guide to Writing in History and Classics

 

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