One day, Scylla is combing a sea-nymph Galatea’s hair. Suddenly, Galatea cries that she wishes she could refuse her lovers without risking her life, as Scylla does. Scylla asks Galatea what is wrong. Galatea tells Scylla her story: Galatea is in love with Acis, the teenage son of a woodland nymph. Meanwhile, the Cyclops, a giant creature with one eye, falls in love with her and stubbornly pursues her. Galatea finds the Cyclops disgusting and barbaric, but he is so in love with her that he tries to trim his grizzly hair to look more attractive. He also ignores a visitor who prophesies that Ulysses will steal his eye and says his eye has already been stolen by Galatea.
While Scylla is brushing her hair, Galatea gives voice to what many of the female characters throughout the Metamorphoses feel: that declining a lover means risking their life in some way. In this way, unwanted lovers’ passion presents another threat to human life by being stubborn, forceful, and not taking no for an answer. Most of the destruction that love causes comes from a character attempting to refuse an offer of love, and being raped, killed, or transformed as a result.
The Cyclops climbs to a high cliff over the sea, neglecting his herd of sheep. He pulls out a pipe and begins to whistle. He sings a song about Galatea’s beauty, saying she is smoother than shells, brighter than ice, wilder than an untamed animal, and prouder than a peacock. He says that she should regret having shunned him, because he has grown huge orchards, stored huge harvests, and gathered huge flocks of sheep for her. He also stole her two bear cubs.
Although the Cyclops is crude and unattractive, his serenade is remarkably romantic. While other characters in love have pursued their love interests with the intention of having sex with them, the Cyclops sings about how he wants to provide for Galatea. Tragically, the Cyclops loves Galatea purely, but his bad looks prevent her from returning his affection.
The Cyclops calls to Galatea in his song, asking her to emerge from the water and live with him. He boasts that he is larger than Jupiter and that his hairiness is a sign of greatness. The Cyclops scorns the gods but worships Galatea. His heartbreak is made worse because Galatea has chosen Acis—a young and arrogant boy—as her lover. The Cyclops wants to dismember Acis and scatter him around the mountains.
The Cyclops is extremely jealous that Galatea wants to be with Acis, who is young, arrogant, and pretty. No matter how deeply the Cyclops loves Galatea, he will always lose to other lovers because his looks are not attractive. Fate, in the form of such mundane things as bad looks, can be an obstacle to love.
The Cyclops finishes his song, then lumbers away through the woods. Suddenly, he notices Galatea and Acis and gives out a roar. In her fright, Galatea dives into the sea. Acis flees, calling to Galatea for help. The Cyclops pursues Acis, tearing off a chunk of the mountain and hurling it at him, crushing him. Then Galatea transforms Acis into a river.
The Cyclops’s heartbreak causes him to fly into a rage, tear apart a mountain, and crush his rival. This reaction shows how unrequited love can lead a person to madness and violence and cause them to destroy others around them.