Giants are humanoid creatures of prodigious size and strength, a type of legendary monster that appear in the tales of many different races and cultures. They are often stupid or violent and are frequently said to eat humans, especially children; others, however, like Oscar Wilde's giants, are intelligent and friendly.
The Cyclopes of Homer's Odyssey were giants, as was Goliath who strove with King David in the Bible. The Bible also records a race of giants called "Nephilim". Genesis states that "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men and they bore children to them, the same became mighty men who were of old, men of renown." (Gen. 6:4 KJV); here "giants" is a translation of the Hebrew "Nephilim". Post-biblical tradition holds that Nimrod was a member of this race.
In Germanic mythologies (see Norse mythology), giants (Jotuns) are often opposed to the gods. In particular, the Wodin/Odin-derived mythologies of Northern Europe feature frost giants, who are eternally opposed to the Aesir. The Aesir themselves emerged from the race of giants, and in the eventual, apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok the frost giants will storm Asgard, home of the gods, and defeat the gods in war, bringing about the end of the world. In the mature form of this mythology recorded in the Edda poetry and prose, giants inter-marry with the gods and are the origin of most of the monsters in Nordic mythology (e.g., the Fenris Wolf), so relations between the Aesir and the giants are sometimes cordial and sometimes adversarial.
Tales of combat with giants were a common feature in the folklore of Wales and Ireland. From here, giants got into Breton and Arthurian romances, and from this source they spread into the heroic tales of Torquato Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, and their follower Edmund Spenser. The giant Despair appears in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythology are also rich in tales of giants, which seem there to be a separate race akin to the gods, and strove often with Thor. Ogres and trolls are giant-like humanoid creatures that occur in various sorts of European folklore.
In Basque mythology , giants appear as jentilak and mairuak (Moors). They are who made dolmens and menhirs. After Christianization, the giants were driven away. The only remaining one is Olentzero, a coalmaker that brings gifts on Christmas Eve.
Giants figure in a great many fairy tales and folklore stories, such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Paul Bunyan.
Examples of giants
Origin of the belief in giants
It is possible that tales of giants derive from the remains of previous civilizations. Saxo Grammaticus, for example, argues that giants had to exist, because nothing else would explain the large walls, stone monuments, and statues that we know were the remains of Roman construction. Similarly, the Old English poem "Seafarer " speaks of the high stone walls that were the work of giants. Giants provided the least complicated explanation for such artifacts. Cyclopes may be originated in antique elephant skulls found in Sicily. If one does not know what an elephant looks like, the place where the trunk is placed on the skull can be mistaken for a giant eyesocket.
"Giant" is also colloquially used for a human who is unusually tall, or afflicted with one of the several forms of gigantism.
Gigantes y cabezudos ("Giants and big-heads") are figures from street processions at Spanish fiestas.
Last updated: 07-30-2005 16:50:33