Cyclops by Euripides is the only complete satyr play that has survived the ages. Satyr plays are short, often comedic plays that were performed after each trilogy of tragedies. It is speculated that satyr plays were a sort of emotional release from the build up of tension during the three tragedies.
A satyr, in case you have forgotten your Greek mythology, runs around with a bunch of other satyrs serving the god Dionysus, drinking and wenching. The head satyr is Silenus who is a minor deity himself and associated with fertility.
In Cyclops, Silenus and his merry band of satyrs shipwrecked and are trapped on the island of the cyclops Polyphemus working as his slaves, preparing his food and tending his flocks of sheep. The satyrs are miserable because there are no women on the island for them to chase around and have sex with, nor is there any wine.
Odysseus shows up, his ship blown off course as he is trying to make his way home after the Trojan War. He stops at the island for food and water. Polyphemus is out and about and Odysseus and Silenus and the chorus of satyrs get to have a nice chat about how things are going for all of them. The chorus is especially curious about how things went at Troy. Here is a little taste of the conversation:
Chorus: Did you Greeks capture Troy and take Helen prisoner?
Odysseus: Yes, and we sacked the entire house of Priam’s children.
Chorus: And after you’d captured the young woman, didn’t you all take turns to bonk her, since she enjoys having more than one sexual partner? The traitress! All it took was the sight of the pretty colours of the trousers on his [Paris] legs and the golden necklace he wore around his neck, and she was swept off her feet, and abandoned that excellent little man, Menelaus. I wish there were no women anywhere – except for my use.
Yes, it is a lewd play with lots of sexual gestures, slang and innuendos throughout. It is the kind of play that truly only a theatre full of men would find funny. And since women were not allowed to attend the plays or act in them, the theatre really was filled only with men.
The rest of the play goes along more or less like the same episode in the Odyssey with Polyphemus catching Odysseus and his men with plans to eat them for dinner. Odysseus and the satyrs get Polyphemus drunk and at one point the cyclops grabs Silenus who has been serving him the wine and, since there are no female cyclopes around, declares that he will take his relief with his “Ganymede”. The rape is averted by quick thinking from Odysseus. Odysseus then tells the cyclops his name is “Nobody,” Odysseus blinds the cyclops and he, his men and the satyrs all escape the island.
I didn’t like this play at all and there isn’t anything funny I can say about it. The misogyny was too much so even the priapic silliness was not amusing. Makes me glad we only have on complete satyr play.