38 pages 1 hour read



Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 422

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The Uses of Language

Language and its uses is a prominent theme in many of the works of Euripides, who was known even in antiquity for his keen interest in rhetoric and sophistry. The ways characters in Cyclops—Odysseus, Silenus, and Polyphemus—use language over the course of the play contributes to their characterizations and comments on the role of communication in society more broadly.

Odysseus, as in other works of Greek literature, is a trickster figure noted for his cunning. He holds off on revealing his identity until the very end, showing that he is calculating and able to anticipate dangers that may arise from being too forthcoming (though the purpose of his concealing his name in the Odyssey is ultimately lost in Euripides’s adaptation of the story). He shows himself as rhetorically adept in his agon (debate scene) with the Cyclops, though his carefully crafted arguments about piety and virtue are doomed to fall flat with the impious and uncivilized Cyclops. This misjudgment of his audience is part of the play’s mockery of the elevated genre from which Odysseus hails—the juxtaposition of

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