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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Gigantes

In Greek and Roman Mythology, the Giants, also called Gigantes, were a race of great strength and aggression, though not necessarily of great size. They were known for the Gigantomachy (Gigantomachia), their battle with the Olympian gods for supremacy of the cosmos. Historically, the myth of the Gigantomachy (not to be confused with the Titanomachy) may reflect the "triumph" of the new imported gods of the invading Greek speaking peoples from the north (c. 2000 BCE) over the old gods of the existing peoples of the Greek peninsula. For the Greeks, the Gigantomachy represented a victory for order over chaos—the victory of the divine order and rationalism of the Olympian gods over the discord and excessive violence of the earth-born chthonic Giants. More specifically, for sixth and fifth century BCE Greeks, it represented a victory for civilization over barbarism. 

Archaic and Classical representations show Gigantes as man-sized hoplites (heavily armed ancient Greek foot soldiers) fully human in form. According to Hesiod in his Theogony, the Giants were the offspring of Gaia (Earth), born from the blood that fell when Uranus (Sky) was castrated by his Titan son Cronus. Later representations (after c. 380 BCE) show Gigantes with snakes for legs. In later traditions, the Giants were often confused with other opponents of the Olympians, particularly the Titans, an earlier generation of large and powerful children of Gaia and Uranus. 

In the Odyssey, Homer has Giants among the ancestors of the Phaiakians, a race of men encountered by Odysseus,  Their ruler, Alcinous, compares the Giants to the Cyclopes, saying they are "near kin" to the gods. Homer compares them to the Laestrygonians, who "hurled...rocks huge as a man could lift." Surprisingly, however, Homer does not mention anything about the famous Gigantomachy.

Bacchylides portrays the giants as arrogant and victims of their own hubris.  Pindar describes the Giants as excessively violent and provides some of the earliest details of the Gigantomachy. He says it took place on the plain of Phlegra (the ancient name for Pallene -modern Kassandra) and has the legendary seer Teiresias prophesying that the Giants would be killed by Heracles "beneath his rushing arrows." He tells us that Porphyrion, the king of the Giants is overcome by the bow of Apollo. These events are recalled in Euripedes play "Heracles." In the play, Heracles' son Ion has the chorus describe seeing a depiction of the Gigantomachy on the late sixth century BCE Temple of Apollo at Delphi, with Athena fighting the Giant Enceladus with her "gorgon shield", Zeus burning the Giant Mimas with his "mighty thunderbolt, blazing at both ends", and Dionysus killing an unnamed Giant with his "ivy staff". Apollonius of Rhodes describes how  the sun god Helios takes up Hephaestus, exhausted from the fight in Phlegra, on his chariot.

Apollodorus provides the reason for the war between the giants and the Olympians. Although he mentions the theft of Helios' cattle, he suggests a mother's revenge as the actual motive for the war, saying that Gaia bore the Giants because of her anger over the Titans defeat and imprisonment. 

The vanquished Giants were said to be buried under volcanoes and to be the cause of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In his Metamorphoses, Ovid says from the blood of the Giants came a new race of beings in human form. According to Ovid, Earth [Gaia] did not want the Giants to perish without a trace, so "reeking with the copious blood of her gigantic sons", she gave life to the "steaming gore" of the blood soaked battleground. These new offspring, like their fathers the Giants, also hated the gods and possessed a bloodthirsty desire for "savage slaughter".

From the sixth century BCE onwards, the Gigantomachy was a popular and important theme in Greek art, with over six hundred representations cataloged.

Detail of Gigantomachy (the battle between the Greek gods and the Giants portrayed here as Tritons), Hellenistic art of the Roman period, 2nd century CE. From Aphrodisias in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Giovanni Dall'Orto.

Poseidon attacks Polybotes in the presence of Gaia, red-figure cup late fifth century BCE at the Antikensammlung  in Berlin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko.

Detail of the Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Te, Mantua, c. 1530, Giulio Romano courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Poseidon (left) holding a trident, with the island Nisyros on his shoulder, battling a Giant (probably Polybotes), red-figure cup c. 500–450 BCE in the Cabinet des Medailles in Paris courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Bibi Saint-Pol.

Scene from the Gigantomachy on the frieze of the Pergamon Altar depicting Athena and Nike fighting Alkyoneus, as Gaia rises up from the ground, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Mila Ranta.

Metope from the Temple of Hera in Paestum depicting Hercules killing the giant Alcyoneus, now in the National Archaeological Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Miguel Hermoso Cuesta.

Second century CE Roman sarcophagus depicting the Gigantomachy at the Vatican Pius Clementine Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor xiquinhosilva.

Statuette of a Giant Hurling a Rock, 200–175 BCE, Bronze, in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California.

Gigantomachy (the battle between the Greek gods and the Giants portrayed here as Tritons), Hellenistic art of the Roman period, 2nd century CE. From Aphrodisias in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Giovanni Dall'Orto.

Gigantomachy on the north frieze of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi, 525 BCE, with the gods facing right and the Giants facing left, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Bgabel.


A serpent-legged giant from a mosaic depicting the Gigantomachy at the Villa Romana del Casale courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Lasterketak.




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