The giants are a big part of the myths and folk tales around the world. From the Bible’s Goliath to the Old Norse poems – giants are the controversial figures. Let’s take a closer look at these mighty mythical creatures.
Appearance & character
The giants are one of the most consistently featured creatures throughout various mythologies. In most of them, giants share one common trait – immense height and strength. Their height may vary from three until hundreds of meters tall. There are some other differences as well. Giant may be a lone creature that hides in the mountains and does not want to be discovered or the opposite; a king or a nation-founding figure, like Bendigeidfran in the Welsh mythology or Hayk in the Armenian legends.
In Norse mythology, giant Ymir is an important figure in the process of creation of the mythological universe. After gods killed him, his body was used in the creation of the oceans, mountains and different creatures, like elves and dwarfs. Old Norse poems also describe the eternal conflict and hate between the giant race and gods.
While some mythologies might describe giants as hostile beings against the humans, Basque folk tales depict them as more friendly beings that live in the hills and have a specific skill set. Strength remains their main attribute, but they also are good builders and possesses knowledge in farming, woodworks, and metallurgy. Basques call them jentilaks and mairuaks. Similar human-friendly characteristics can be found in the Estonian mythology, where giant Toell the Great lived on the Saaremaa island and protected the humans from their enemies.
English fairy tales portray giants as creatures that share some similarities with trolls from the Norse folklore. In particular, giants are often portrayed as dumb beings and this is their main weakness. Humans can outsmart them to avoid danger. However, in some mythologies giants have different vulnerabilities. Bulgarian mythological giants ispolini were afraid of blackberry bushes because they could trip them and lead to death.
Myths vs. Reality
Were the giants real creatures or are they simply fantasy characters? This question remains open. The world has seen documented examples of a giant-sized people, like Robert Wadlow, who is recognized as the tallest person in history and he was 272 cm tall. Considering the fact that various species of animals were much larger in the past, theoretically – the same logic could be applied to mankind.
There are also many extraordinary ancient buildings around the World that are linked to the giant myths. One of such can be found on the Maltese island Gozo, where the megalithic Ggantija temple is located. It was built about 5500 years ago and local folk tales associate them with the giants. The name Ggantija itself means «giants tower» in the Maltese language. It is easy to understand why this building is believed by locals to be built by giants. Some of the stones are up to 5 meters tall and weighs about 50 tons.
Similar megalithic buildings made of huge stone blocks are located in different continents. Baalbek in Lebanon, Ollantaytambo in Peru, Dolmens of Antequera in Spain and many more. All of them are surrounded by mysteries and giants play their role in the folk tales that have been carried by locals throughout history. It would take a creature of extraordinary size and strength or a high number of ordinary people and a solid amount of time to move such massive stones and create such impressive buildings.
Giants in the literary and artworks
Famous Spanish painter Francisco Goya created a painting The Colossus that features a giant of immense size as a central figure – walking behind the mountains. In the same time, people and animals showed in the artwork are terrified and they flee in different directions.
Swedish artist Marten Eskil Winge finished his painting Thor’s Fight with the Giants in 1872 and it displays the motifs from the Old Norse poems. The name of the painting itself explains its meaning. Norse god Thor constantly had encounters with the giant race and Eskil Winge depicted one of Thor’s glorious victories.
Another famous piece of art depicting giants can be found in the Italian palace Palazzo Te that was built back in the 16th century. Giulio Romano – an Italian painter made a fresco Fall of The Giants. The fresco depicts giants desperately fighting the gods of Olympus and eventually losing to Jupiter, who strikes them with lightning.
There are also some notable literary works featuring giants as one of the main characters. Jack the Giant Killer – a fairy tale as a part of English Fairy Tales (1890) by Joseph Jacobs. The Kalevala (1835) national epic by Elias Lonnrot – one of the most famous and important literary works in the history of Finland. Giants are also part of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1728). In the second part of this story, the main protagonist travels to Brobdingnag – the land of giants.
Sources | Abbie Farwell Brown. In the Days of Giants A Book of Norse Tales (1902) | Flora Annie Steel. English Fairy Tales (1918) | John Martin Crawford. The Kalevala (1888) | Maud Isabel Ebbutt. Hero-Myths & Legends of the British Race (1910)