Giants


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Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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Legends of Giants can be found in most regions of the British Isles and in Ireland, but what are the origins of these legends.

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Daniel Parkinson
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Giants

Probably a number of origins - there are giants in Norse mythology and Celtic Mythology, plus a number of giant legends explain the origins of landscape features(the origin of the Wrekin in Shropshire for example), and ancient monuments (ones that would have been ancient when the stories grew up) and were probably a way to explain these features before people knew how they were created. Of course this is a quite simplistic view, and there are probably many other factors involved.

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Urisk
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Giants

Stories of giants are found as far back as written literature at least. In the sotry of Gilgamesh there is a giant/monster called Humbaba who guards a cedar forest. Titans, Cyclopses etc were all giants, Ymir was a giant, Goliath was a giant. Now, as I understand it giants seemed to be a collective term for a huge monster and not necessarily humanoid in shape. Perhaps the idea came from finding fossils.

There is the old theory that the ancient Greeks interpreted elephant or mammoth skulls as Cyclops skulls, the hole where the fleshy, muscular trunk is being mistaken for an eye orbit. I'm sure the ancient Greeks knew what an elephant looked like, but it may have been their distant ancestors who passed the stories down.

We have also had unusually tall humans throughout history, as we continue to do so today. Edward Longshanks was supposed to be in excess of six and a half feet if memory serves me. Besides, how do you remember a great warrior? Make them taller with each telling of the tale until they are huge in stature.

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Mauro
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"...and there were Giants in

"...and there were Giants in Earth in those days..."
Most civilized people have traditions of either giants or extraordinary tall beings.
Many know what the Holy Bible says: those "nephilim" which have been such an hot topic recently, the infamous Goliath of Gath and King Og of Bashan, an ancient enemy of Israelites of truly colossal size finally defeated by Moses. Moses himself was believed by Talmudic students to be of truly enormous proportions, fourteen feet at least. In fact all of their ancient Patriarchs were believed to be giants, diminishing in size as mankind moved away from the purity of the Creation. Adam was so tall that he could embrace the Earth with his arms: the Angels were so scared by him that they prostrated in front of God praying to shrink him to more acceptable proportions. After much haggling his stature was reduced to 330 feet. After he hate of the Forbidden Fruit he shrunk even more, to a mere 130 feet.
Curiously the Greeks held exactly the same belief: the heroes of yore were as tall as they were capable of truly astounding feats and in one of the Homeric hymns the author mourns that his contemporaries are too weak and feeble in frame to mimick those heroic deeds.
Virgil, a gifted writer and one of the first propagandists, assured that upon opening some graves dating to the early wars of Rome the remains therein were found to be of truly astounding proportions.
So whence the belief in Giants come? Sir Hans Sloane, the great anatomist and botanist, wrote a series of learned essays in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions in 1728 finally settling the matter. He examined as many discoveries of colossal bones in the previous two hundred years as he could find and concluded that the legends of giants had been inspired by the discovery of remains belonging to elephants and other large beasts. Sloane's knowledge of comparative anatomy was well ahead of the time and his opponents simply could not oppose him. Right now we think that he was pretty much right but the common belief that a great spirit needs to be housed in a great body also played a significant part.

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"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


Columbine
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 //the heroes of yore were

 //the heroes of yore were as tall as they were capable of truly astounding feats and in one of the Homeric hymns the author mourns that his contemporaries are too weak and feeble in frame to mimick those heroic deeds.//
 
That's especially odd as if you look at those who suffer from 'big' conditions such as pituitary gigantism, their muscles are stretched to such a degree as to render them disproportionately feeble. For some even walking is tiring. 

Cyclopia isn't generally related to height; most are born as infants and die young, and it's often associated with mental retardation (the forebrain isn't segmented as it should be). The elephant skulls referred to aren’t the modern elephant; they were fossils belonging to a species of extinct dwarf elephant. The skulls (without their tusks) do resemble roughly the shape of an enormous human skull with a single eye-socket, and considering the irregularity of elephants in greek art, it’s probable that the peasant farmers who unearthed them from the mountainsides might well have no idea what the living creature resembled.

On the other hand, cyclopia is relatively easy to cause in sheep- consumption of corn lilies can cause it. Some misinterpretations of fossil skulls or a vague memory of a similarly afflicted child and you’ve got a good yarn in the making right there.  

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Daniel Parkinson
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Columbine wrote: That's
Columbine wrote:


That's especially odd as if you look at those who suffer from 'big' conditions such as pituitary gigantism, their muscles are stretched to such a degree as to render them disproportionately feeble. For some even walking is tiring. 

There are some sufferers from giantism who are as strong as their size, anybody remember Andre the Giant, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9_the_Giant there must have been people with similar conditions in the past who were warriors and would have looked like giants. There is a story about a giant warrior holding back the Saxons at the battle of Stamford Bridge.

Mauro
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Consider the literary

Consider the literary "evidence".
Greeks considered Homer to have lived roughly around 850 BC. Even if he were a real character and truly authored every work credited to him there would still be a large time gap between his own time and the Troyan War sagas, which Greek authors unanimously put around 1200-1150 BC. Homer didn't see Achilles or Patroclus in flesh, nor their tombs (since he tells us they were both cremated...). He just assumed they were giants because they were capable of such incredible feats as routing whole hosts singlehandely and they had such gigantic "souls" or "spirits". The Greeks had some weird ideas by modern standards: for example they believed that a corrupt and wicked soul could only be housed in a corrupt body as much as a great spirit could only be housed in a great body. Athenians were shocked to discover that Alcybiades, considered a model of the kalos kai agathos (beautiful and viceless) idea was truly an unscrupolous and morally corrupt man. Plato tells us that Socrates (IF he ever existed) negated all proconcieved ideas since he was the wisest and most intelligent of all men but was as ugly as a Satyr, with a pug nose, a bald head and bent legs.
Goliath of Gath and King Og needed large bodies to house their enormously evil souls in the same way as Noah and Moses needed large bodies to house their enormously noble souls. Discovering the bones of some large animal, be it an archaic whale or an elephant, merely corroborated the idea that ancient heroes were giants.
Remind me to write something one of these days about the many pathological giants who exhibited themselves for money in XVIII century London, otherwise I'll forget about it as my usual.

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


Columbine
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//There are some sufferers

//There are some sufferers from giantism who are as strong as their size, anybody remember Andre the Giant//

That's interesting. I can only presume that constant physical work throughout his life overcame the 'over-stretched rubber band' affect. There are other types of giantism as well; so i could be confusing the weakness to the other causes; there's a form that stops the bone plates from closing over (happens as teenagers) so their bones don't get the message to stop. I think it happens to eunuchs because it has something to do with the conversion of estrogen in the testes. 

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Daniel Parkinson
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Found an interesting book

Found an good book (was buried under a pile of books) that has quite a bit in about Giant myths including an appendix with a list of all the historicallly authenticated giants from the 18thC onward. It covers a lot of the giant myths, legends and locations (although it is coloured a bit by the author's beliefs, and the time it was written) : Sowers of Thunder by Anthony Roberts, Rider and Company 1978. Probably out of print now

Seannachaidh (not verified)
William Wallace is said to

William Wallace is said to be a giant living under a hollow hill in some parts of Scotland. 

I think the "tall tale" is just a part of the storyteller's craft, perhaps come about from an assumption that if fossils of animals were all larger than "normal" the people that hunted them must have been huge too.  I imagine a storyteller being asked to explain such bones, and making up his story on the spot to explain these bones of stone. 

Mountains became the bones of giants, or the bodies of giantesses who laid down to sleep, sick of living an immortal life but unable to die as such.

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BaronIveagh
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Consider too the possibility

Consider too the possibility that comparitivly individuals from another region might be taller then those from the MIddle East or another region, in the case of mercenaries.  Add in a certain amount of 'tall tales' and exaggerations over the years and you have giants.

Summum Nec Metuam Diem Nec Optima



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