Holoprosencephaly (HPE) has captivated the imagination of Man for millennia because its most extreme manifestation, the single-eyed cyclopic newborn infant, brings to mind the fantastical creature Cyclops from Greek mythology. Attempting to understand this common malformation of the forebrain in modern medical terms requires a systematic synthesis of genetic, cytogenetic, and environmental information typical for studies of a complex disorder. However, even with the advances in our understanding of HPE in recent years, there are significant obstacles remaining to fully understand its heterogeneity and extensive variability in phenotype. General lessons learned from HPE will likely be applicable to other malformation syndromes. Here we outline the common, and rare, genetic and environmental influences on this conserved developmental program of forebrain development and illustrate the similarities and differences between these malformations in humans and those of animal models. Published 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.