Creature

Uranian Cyclopes

The Uranian Cyclopes—named Brontes, Steropes, and Arges—were children of Gaia and Uranus and loyal allies of the Olympians. Master craftsmen, they frequently fashioned weapons, armor, and ornaments for the gods—most famously, Zeus’ thunderbolts.

By Avi KapachLast updated on Nov. 15th, 2021
  • Was Polyphemus one of the Uranian Cyclopes?

    No. Polyphemus was a son of Poseidon (not Uranus) and one of the Sicilian Cyclopes (a different kind of Cyclops).

  • Were the Uranian Cyclopes Titans?

    No. The Uranian Cyclopes were siblings of the Titans but were not Titans themselves.

  • How did the Uranian Cyclopes die?

    In some traditions, Apollo killed the Uranian Cyclopes as punishment for forging the thunderbolt that killed his son Asclepius. In other traditions, however, they were immortal.

The Uranian Cyclopes, named Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, were sons of Gaia and Uranus. Like the rest of Uranus’ children, they were imprisoned beneath the earth for many years before being finally freed by the Olympians. After helping the Olympians defeat the Titans in the decade-long Titanomachy, the Cyclopes commanded a place of honor in the mythological cosmos.

The Uranian Cyclopes were highly skilled craftsmen. They fashioned weapons, armor, and ornaments for many heroes and gods, but their most famous creation by far was the thunderbolt of Zeus.

Etymology

The Uranian Cyclopes’ chief function was to make Zeus’ lightning bolts; unsurprisingly, then, each had a name corresponding to one aspect of lightning or thunder. The name “Brontes” comes from the Greek word brontē, meaning “thunder”; the name “Steropes” comes from the Greek word steropē, meaning “lightning bolt”; and the name “Arges” comes from the Greek word argē, meaning “flashing” (an adjective or epithet often applied to words for lightning). 

Ancient sources named a handful of other, lesser-known Cyclopes: Acamas, an able craftsman;1 Agriopus;2 Aortes;3 Elatrius, Euryalus, Halimedes, and Trachius, great warriors who helped the god Dionysus in his war against the Indians;4 and Geraestus, whose tomb had religious significance.5 It is unclear what relationship (if any) these Cyclopes had to Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, but they may have been sons of the original three Cyclopes.

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Arges, Brontes, Steropes

    Ἄργης, Βρόντης, Στερόπης

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [AR-jeez], [BRON-teez], [sterr-OH-peez]

    /ˈɑːr dʒiːz/, /ˈbrɒn tiːz/, /ˌstɛrˈoʊ piːz/

Alternate Names

The names Acmonides,6 Argilipus,7 and Pyragmon8 may have been alternate names for Arges, while the name Asteropaeus9 may have been used for Steropes.

Titles and Epithets

The Uranian Cyclopes boasted few epithets, perhaps because their names were already epithet-like (as discussed above, Brontes, Steropes, and Arges all have names that are evocative of thunder and lightning).

Attributes and Iconography

Like all Cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes, and Arges each had one large eye in the middle of their forehead. As sons of Uranus, the three were often called the Uranian Cyclopes so as to distinguish them from other mythological Cyclopes (such as the brutish Polyphemus).10

A detailed description of Brontes, Steropes, and Arges can be found in Hesiod’s Theogony:

And again, [Gaia] bore the Cyclopes, overbearing in spirit, Brontes, and Steropes and stubborn-hearted Arges, who gave Zeus the thunder and made the thunderbolt: in all else they were like the gods, but one eye only was set in the midst of their foreheads. And they were surnamed Cyclopes (Orb-eyed) because one orbed eye was set in their foreheads. Strength and might and craft were in their works.11

In art, Brontes, Steropes, and Arges were depicted like other Cyclopes, as giant anthropomorphic creatures with a single eye. They were sometimes represented in Hephaestus’ workshop or fashioning Zeus’ lightning bolts, but they were not as popular a subject as the more ferocious Polyphemus, the Cyclops of the Odysseus myth.12

Family

Brontes, Steropes, and Arges were sons of the primordial deities Gaia and Uranus. This made them siblings of the Twelve Titans and the Hecatoncheires.

Family Tree

Mythology

Origins

Seeking to secure his power against potential rivals, Uranus imprisoned the Cyclopes beneath the earth. There, they were joined by Uranus’ other offspring by Gaia: the Hecatoncheires (who had one hundred arms and fifty heads each) and the Titans. But Gaia pitied her children and helped them defeat Uranus: she gifted a scythe to Cronus, the youngest of the Titans, who used it to cut off Uranus’ genitals.

The Titanomachy

Following Uranus’ demise, Cronus and the other eleven Titans became the rulers of the cosmos, while the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires remained in their underground prison. Eventually, they were freed by Zeus and the other Olympians during their war against Cronus and the Titans—the so-called Titanomachy. Endlessly grateful, the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires were more than happy to help Zeus in his war.

Forge of the Cyclopes LACMA

The Forge of the Cyclopes by Cornelis Cort (1572). Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Their entrance proved to be the turning point in the Titanomachy. While the Hecatoncheires used their hundred arms to bury the Titans under a barrage of stones, the Cyclopes made invincible weapons and armor for the Olympians. To Zeus they gave “the glowing thunderbolt and lightning”;13 to Hades they gave a helmet (probably the helmet of invisibility, featured most famously in the myth of Perseus); and to Poseidon they gave his iconic trident.14

The Fate of the Uranian Cyclopes

After helping to defeat the Titans and establish the Olympians as rulers of the cosmos, the Uranian Cyclopes appear to have held a respected place in Greek mythology. They continued to fashion the lightning bolts of Zeus, and in some traditions, they helped the smith god Hephaestus in his workshop, producing armor, weapons, and ornaments for various gods and heroes.

There are different versions of what ultimately happened to the Cyclopes. In one well-known tradition, their fate was sealed after Zeus killed Apollo’s son Asclepius with a lightning bolt; in a rage, Apollo retaliated by killing the Cyclopes, who had made the weapon.15

However, this myth is difficult to reconcile with the supposed immortality of the Cyclopes. Perhaps to resolve this problem, some sources claimed that Apollo killed not the first three Uranian Cyclopes (Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, who were immortal), but their sons (who were mortal).16 The names of these sons are not specified in any surviving ancient works.

There is yet another version of the fate of the Cyclopes in which Zeus is named as their killer; he hoped to prevent them from making lightning and thunder for anyone else.17

Pop Culture

Though the Cyclopes in general have been prominent in modern pop culture, there have been few modern adaptations of the three Uranian Cyclopes. They do make some appearances, however—for example, as characters in the video game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and in the Canadian animated television series Class of the Titans.

Further Reading

Primary Sources

Greek

  • Hesiod: The Theogony (seventh or sixth century BCE) is the most complete source for the mythology and genealogy of the Uranian Cyclopes.

  • Apollonius of Rhodes: The epic Argonautica (third century BCE) contains descriptions of the din that arose as the Cyclopes forged Zeus’ lightning.

  • Callimachus: In the third Hymn (third century BCE), the Uranian Cyclopes help Hephaestus make weapons for Artemis.

  • Strabo, Geography: A first-century BCE work recording many local myths and customs of the ancient Greeks.

  • Pausanias, Description of Greece: A second-century CE travelogue and an important source for local myths and customs.

  • Apollodorus, Library: A mythological handbook from the first century BCE or the first few centuries CE with references to the Uranian Cyclopes.

  • Nonnus: In the Dionysiaca, a 48-book epic from the fifth century CE detailing the adventures of the young Dionysus, Brontes, Steropes, Arges, and several other Cyclopes fight alongside Dionysus in India.

Roman

  • Ovid: Ovid refers to the Cyclopes in a few of his works, including Fasti and Metamorphoses (both ca. 8 CE).

  • Hyginus, Fabulae: A mythological handbook (first or second century CE) that includes sections on the Uranian Cyclopes.

Secondary Sources

Aguirre, Mercedes, and Richard Buxton. Cyclops: The Myth and Its Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

Rautenbach, Susan. “Cyclopes (I).” Acta Classica 27 (1984): 41–55.

Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

Seaford, Richard. “Cyclopes.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 1032–33. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Smith, William. “Cyclopes.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed July 7, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DC%3Aentry+group%3D40%3Aentry%3Dcyclopes-bio-1

Theoi Project. “Kyklopes.” Published online 2000–2017. https://www.theoi.com/Titan/Kyklopes.html.

Touchefou-Meynier, Odette. “Kyklops, Kyklopes.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 6, 154–59. Zurich: Artemis, 1992.

Walde, Christine. “Cyclopes.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e625740.

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