Cyclopean walls and the Cyclops who built them
The following is a result of reading I have been doing about the walls of Mycenae. I began to wonder who it was exactly who first thought, or at least recorded the idea, that the Cyclops had built the walls of Mycenae and Tiryns. The following, essentially a stand-alone footnote, traces some of the sources. I hope that you will find it useful as a start. (There are a few more references in LSJ under Κυκλώπειον.)
|Cyclopean construction inside the entrance to Mycenae. Argolid, Greece.|
Courtesy of Squinchpix.com
In the Odyssey (ix.105-115, and cp. Arist., Nic Eth, x.11.13-14.) we learn that the Cyclops are rough and uncivilized folk, arrogant and lawless (ὑπερφιάλων ἀθεμίστων, 106). Agriculture is unknown to them but Zeus has ordained that, in their land, everything grow naturally without being cultivated. Nor do the Cyclops meet in assembly (τοῖσιν δ᾿ οὔτ᾿ ἀγοραὶ βουληφόροι οὔτε θέμιστες, 112) but each lives with his own wives and children; for them he is the only lawgiver (θεμιστεύει δὲ ἕκαστος παίδων ἠδ᾿ ἀλόχων 114-115). Beyond that the Cyclops have no regard for each other (οὐδ᾿ ἀλλήλων ἀλέγουσιν., 115).
As a result the earliest implication of the word ‘Cyclopean’ (Κυκλώπειος) is 'savage', 'uncivilized', 'rough', or 'wild'. (Cyclops libel!) The apparent roughness and irregularity of the outer works of Mycenae and Tiryns seems to have invoked this sense in the minds of observers. Early on the word came to be applied to the Mycenaean walling in the Argolid and from there it was only a short step to the idea that the Cyclops actually built them. So Pindar has “ἐπεὶ Γηρυόνα βόας ἐπὶ πρόθυρον Εὐρυσθ̣έος”, “for he drove Geryon’s cattle to the Cyclopean portal of Eurystheus..”. (Eurystheus - King of Tiryns).
This sense of ‘Cyclops-built’ is continued in the Electra where Euripides describes the homecoming of Agamemnon to Mycenae, “..εἰς οἴκους Κυκλώπειά τ᾽ οὐράνια..”, "..when he came at last to his home and to the towering Cyclopeian walls; ..."
In the Heracles we have this: "But he, as though he really were at the Cyclopean walls, prized open the doors with levers, and, hurling down their posts", "ὁ δ᾿ ὡς ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς δὴ Κυκλωπίοισιν ὢν σκάπτει μοχλεύει θύρετρα" to describe the madness of Heracles breaking down the door of his home in order to murder his wife and son.
To sense of 'uncivilized' is added the sense of 'gigantic' as in the 1C BC use in the Greek Anthology, “πῶμα Κυκλωπείην πλησομένη κύλικα·”, "about to fill a cup of Cyclopean size"
Strabo appears to use the word in both senses. When describing the east coast of the Peloponnese he travels northwards to the Gulf of Argos, then to Lerna and Nauplio. Then he says "Next after Nauplia one comes to the caverns and the labyrinths built in them, which are called Cyclopeian.", "ἐφεξῆς δὲ τῇ Ναυπλίᾳ τὰ σπήλαια καὶ οἱ ἐν αὐτοῖς οἰκοδομητοὶ λαβύρινθοι, Κυκλώπεια δ᾿ ὀνομάζουσιν." Since, after Nauplio, one comes to Tiryns I take this to be Strabo's meaning. The 'caverns' I suppose - but I do not know - are probably the several openings in the Tiryns curtain wall.
In viii.6.11 Strabo tells the actual story of the Cyclops and how they built the walls of Tiryns. He says that a King of Tiryns, Proetus, had the city walled with the help of the Cyclops. "..Προῖτος καὶ τειχίσαι διὰ Κυκλώπων, οὓς ἑπτὰ μὲν εἶναι, καλεῖσθαι δὲ γαστερόχειρας, τρεφομένους ἐκ τῆς τέχνης,.." There were seven of them and they were called 'Bellyhands' (γαστερόχειρας) because they fed themselves by working their handicraft which implies that there are other stories of the Cyclops as builders. An interesting story, hardly a myth, but more an etiological narrative which cannot date to before the walls themselves but which most likely emerges during the period that followed the Catastrophe.
Later in the Geography Strabo uses the word to mean 'rough', 'uncivilized' when talking about the mode of life of the Albanians. "those who have made expeditions there, who describe the mode of life there as 'Cyclopeian.'", "καθάπερ οἱ στρατεύσαντές φασι, Κυκλώπειόν τινα διηγούμενοι βίον.."
By the time of Pliny the Elder (1C) the expertise of the Cyclops has been extended to towers although he attributes the building of walls to Thrason (not otherwise known to me): "walls were introduced by Thrason, towers by the Cyclopes according to Aristotle but according to Theophrastus by the Tirynthians", "Thrason muros, turres ut Aristoteles Cyclopes, Tirynthii ut Theophrastus;"  He repeats here an unattested (?) version of the story from Aristotle (4CBC).
In the second century AD Pausanias seems to pick up the story from Strabo and extends it to Mycenae. It is not clear to me that Pausanias himself thought that these walls were built by the Cyclops. At one point he uses ‘they say’ (λέγουσιν) and at another he says ‘is the work of’ (Κυκλώπων μέν ἐστιν ἔργον). In a third passage 'is the work of the ones called Cyclops' (τῶν Κυκλώπων καλουμένων).
Regarding the walls of Mycenae and the lion gate he says this: “These, too, are said to be the work of the Cyclopes, (“Κυκλώπων δὲ καὶ ταῦτα ἔργα εἶναι λέγουσιν”) who made for Proetus the wall at Tiryns”.
As for the walls of Tiryns he says: “The wall, which is the only part of the ruins still remaining, is a work of the Cyclopes (“τὸ δὲ τεῖχος, ὃ δὴ μόνον τῶν ἐρειπίων λείπεται, Κυκλώπων μέν ἐστιν ἔργον”) made of unwrought stones”
In describing the conquest of Mycenae by the Argives in the 5C BC: “Μυκηναίοις γὰρ τὸ μὲν τεῖχος ἁλῶναι κατὰ τὸ ἰσχυρὸν οὐκ ἐδύνατο ὑπὸ Ἀργείων, ἐτετείχιστο γὰρ κατὰ ταὐτὰ τῷ ἐν Τίρυνθι ὑπὸ τῶν Κυκλώπων καλουμένων…” "Though the Argives could not take the wall of Mycenae by storm, built as it was like the wall of Tiryns by the Cyclopes, as they are called, yet the Mycenaeans were forced to leave their city through lack of provisions."
Finally, an anonymous poet from the Greek Anthology refers to "Cyclops-built Mycenae", "κυκλωπείη τε Μυκήνη”.
 In Frag. 169a . Race (1997) 402-3. And see the informative note on p. 400.
 Electra, 1155.
 Kovacs (1998) 404-5, Heracles, ll. 998-999. This translation from Coleridge (1938).
 Paton (1917) 248-249. A sepulchral poem by Aristo, vii.457.
 Strabo, Geography, viii.6.3. Jones (1927) 152-3.
 Strabo, Geography, viii.6.11. Jones (1927) 168-9.
 Geography, xi.4.3 in Jones (1928) 224-5.
 Rackham (1942) 638-9.
 Jones (1918) 330-331. Corinthxvi.5. See fn. 5a, above. And see Thomas and Conant (1999) 5.
 'Unwrought' is not entirely accurate because the stones around the Lion Gate (part of the 13th C extension) are ashlars or conglomerate sawed into regular rectangular shapes with bronze (presumably) saws. The same is true of the 'Treasury of Atreus' which is entirely of conglomerate ashlars. For the quotation see Jones (1918) 382-3. In the Corinth of Pausanias xxv, 8.
 This was in the fifth century BC. Jones (1933) 322-3. Achaia xxv, 6. Levy (1971) 297 and fn. 139.
 Probably 1C BC but I cannot establish the date. Paton (1918). 336-7.
Coleridge (1938): Coleridge, E.P. trans., Whitney J. Oates, and Eugene O'Neill Jr. (edd.). Euripides. The Complete Greek Drama, Vol.1. Heracles, New York. Random House. 1938.
Jones (1918): Jones, W.H.S., trans. Pausanias. Description of Greece, Volume I: Books 1-2 (Attica and Corinth). Loeb Classical Library 93. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918.
Jones (1927): Jones, Horace Leonard, trans., Strabo. Geography, Volume IV: Books 8-9. Loeb Classical Library 196. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927.
Jones (1928): Jones, Horace Leonard, trans., Strabo. Geography, Volume V: Books 10-12. Loeb Classical Library 211. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928.
Jones (1933): Jones, W.H.S., trans. Pausanias. Description of Greece, Volume III: Books 6-8.21 (Elis 2, Achaia, Arcadia). Loeb Classical Library 272. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933.
Kovacs (1998): Euripides. Suppliant Women. Electra. Heracles. Edited and translated by David Kovacs. Loeb Classical Library 9. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Levy (1971): Levi, Peter, trans., Pausanias: Guide to Greece 1: Central Greece. Penguin Books. London, England. 1971.
Paton (1917): Paton, W.R. trans., The Greek Anthology, Volume II: Book 7: Sepulchral Epigrams. Book 8: The Epigrams of St. Gregory the Theologian. Loeb Classical Library 68. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1917.
Paton (1918): Paton, W.R. trans., The Greek Anthology, Volume V: Book 13: Epigrams in Various Metres. Book 14: Arithmetical Problems, Riddles, Oracles. Book 15: Miscellanea. Book 16: Epigrams of the Planudean Anthology Not in the Palatine Manuscript. Loeb Classical Library 86. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918.
Race (1997): Pindar. Nemean Odes. Isthmian Odes. Fragments. Edited and translated by William H. Race. Loeb Classical Library 485. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Rackham (1942): Rackham, H. trans., Pliny. Natural History, Volume II: Books 3-7. Loeb Classical Library 352. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942.
Thomas and Conant (1999): Thomas, Carol G. and Craig Conant. Citadel to City-State: The Transformation of Greece, 1200-700 B.C.E. Indiana University Press, 1999.