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Cyclops and Cyclopia - 

A lethal human birth-defect related to Greek mythology

Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD     

 

Many medical terms originate from fascinating Greek mythology. Today's post is about a congenital malformation Cyclopia.

Cyclops appear for the first time in literature in Homer's Odyssey (8th-7th century BC).

Greek Mythology: Cyclops

In the beautiful poem called the Odyssey the Greek poet Homer describes how the hero Odysseus while returning home from Troy to his own kingdom of Ithaca, landed on an island of the Cyclopes.

Cyclopes are giants who had one eye, placed in the centre of their foreheads. They were shepherds and looked after their sheep by day, returning at night to sleep in caves. 

Odyssey and some other sailors came to one of these caves which belonged to a giant called Polyphemus. The giant captured the Greeks and started to eat  them for dinner.

At last Odysseus found a long pole and while Polyphemus slept, he thrust it into the eye of the giant and blinded him. Smart Odysseus told Polyphemus that his name was "Nobody".

Brilliant idea and something to keep in mind in the modern age.

When the giant screamed out in pain other Cyclopes came running out to help him.Polyphemus cried out that "Nobody" had hurt him. To this the Cyclopes replied that if no man had hurt him then it must be one of the gods and, telling Polyphemus to bear the pain as best as he could, they went away again.

Blind Polyphemus tried in vain to catch his prisoners by feeling the back of each sheep. Odysseus and his men escaped by clinging on to the wool underneath the sheep.

In many ancient Greek stories there is evidence that one eyed Cyclopes had built great walls. The word Cyclopean is still sometimes applied to massive stone structures.

Congenital Disease - Cyclopia

Holoprosencephaly are a group of disorders arising from failure of normal forebrain development during embryonic life. There are three forms of holoprosencephaly: alobar, semilobar, and lobar varieties.

Cyclopia (alobar holoprosencephaly) is a rare and lethal human malformation, resulting from incomplete cleavage of prosencephalon into right and left hemispheres. Approximately 1 in 100,000 births are identified as infants with cyclopia.

Cyclopia typically presents with a median single eye or a partially divided eye in a single orbit, absent nose, proboscis (nose of a mammal, usually long and flexible) like structure on forehead above the eye.

Extracranial malformations described in stillbirths with cyclopia include polydactyl, renal dysplasia, and an omphalocele.

The etiology of this rare syndrome is not clear. Possible risk factors include: maternal diabetes , infections during pregnancy (TORCHs), drugs during pregnancy (alcohol, aspirin and many other teratogenic drugs), exposure to ultraviolet light, and chromosomal anomaly like trisomy 13  and genetic cause.

No one knows whether one eyed Cyclops actually existed or not, but the congenital ophthalmic disease, Cyclopia is certainly named after these mythical characters and we will never forget these giants.

 

Further reading:

Cyclopia: a rare condition with unusual presentation - a case report.

Odysseus versus the Cyclops

Cyclopia: from Greek antiquity to medical genetics.

 

 

 

Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant  Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)

          

 

 

 

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