Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Mythical Creatures: Giants of Greece and Rome - Part Three

Today is the final post on the Giants of Greece and Rome, which will cover the Cyclopes, the giant one-eyed beings born of Gain and Ouranos, the Gigantes, born of Gaia and the blood of Uranus, and Typhon, the offspring of Gain and Tartaros.

FENIX - Brontes by ZEBES

The Cyclopes, sometimes spelled Kyklopes which means ‘Round Eyes’, were the children of Gaia and Ouranos, or Uranus, with their siblings being the Hundred-Handed Giants.  The names of this first generation of Cyclopes were Brontes, meaning ‘Thunder,’ Steropes, meaning ‘Lightning’, and Arges, meaning ‘Thunderbolt’.  Hesiod’s Theogony tells us:

She further bore the Kyklopes with exceeding forceful hearts,
Brontes and Steropes and Arges mighty of spirit,
Who gave to Zeus the thunder sound and fashioned the thunderbolt.
They were like the gods in all respects except
The single eye that lay in the middle of their foreheads.
They are named Kyklopes from this feature,
Because one circular eye lay in the forehead of each.
Strong is their brute force, and designs are upon their deeds.

Cyclopes at the forge of Hephaestus
The Cyclopes, like the Hundred-Handed Giants, were imprisoned by the Titans inside Tartaros and were freed by Zeus before the battle between the gods and the Titans.  They repaid this kindness by giving Zeus the thunderbolt and its sound.  After the battle, they were given forges beneath Mount Etna, where they forged weapons for the gods.  They are mentioned again in Apollodorus’ Library, where they are killed by Apollo to avenge the death of his son, Aesculapius, at the hands of Zeus.

…Leucippus begat Arsinoe: with her Apollo had intercourse, and she bore Aesculapius…  And having become a surgeon, and carried the art to a great pitch, he not only prevented some from dying, but even raised up the dead; for he had received from Athena the blood that flowed from the veins of the Gorgon, and while he used the blood that flowed from the veins on the left side for the bane of mankind, he used the blood that flowed from the right side for salvation, and by that means he raised the dead.

Apollo killing the Cyclops by Domenichino and assistants
But Zeus, fearing that men might acquire the healing art from him and so come to the rescue of each other, smote him with a thunderbolt.  Angry on that account, Apollo slew the Cyclopes who had fashioned the thunderbolt for Zeus.  But Zeus would have hurled him to Tartaros; however, at the intercession of Latona he ordered him to serve as a thrall to a man for a year.  So he went to Admetus, son of Pheres, at Pherae, and served him as a herdsman, and caused all the cows to drop twins.

The Odyssey, an epic tale written by Homer, tells of the hero Odysseus as he journeys home after the Trojan War – a journey which takes him ten years to complete.  Within this myth we find Polyphemus – possibly the most well-known Cyclops of Greek mythology.  Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and the nymph Thousa, is of the second generation of Cyclops.

Odysseus and Polyphemus

The war at Troy was over.  The Achaeans had burnt the great city of Priam; and Odysseus and all the other princes set out in their ships to go home.  But the winds and storms carried them away to many lands.  Only a few reached the countries which they had left to go to Troy; and these were tossed about for a long time on the sea, and went through great toil and many dangers.
Odysseus and Poseidon by faolainIllustration
At first the ships of Odysseus went on merrily with a fresh breeze: and the men thought that they would soon come to rocky Ithaca, where their homes were.  But Athena was angry with Odysseus, and she asked Poseidon, the lord of the sea, to send a great storm and scatter his ships.  So the wind arose, and the waters of the sea began to heave and swell, and the sky was black with clouds and rain.  Many days and many nights the storm raged fiercely; and when it was over, Odysseus could only see four or five of all the ships which had sailed with him for Troy.  The ships were drenched with the waves which had broken over them, and the men were wet and cold and tired; and they were glad indeed when they saw an island far away.  So they sat down on the benches, and took the great oars and rowed the ships towards the shore: and as they came near, they saw that the island was very beautiful, with cliffs and rocks, and bays for ships to take shelter from the sea.  Then they rowed into one of these quiet bays, where the water was always calm, and where they was no need to let down an anchor, or to tie the ship by ropes to the ship by ropes to the sea shore, for the ship lay there quite still of itself.  At the head of the bay a stream of fresh water trickled down from the cliffs, and ran close to the opening of a large cave, and near the cave some willow trees drooped their branches over the stream, which ran down towards the sea.

Polyphemus, detail from fresco
So they made haste to go on shore; and when they had landed, they saw fine large plains on which the corn might grow, but no one had taken the trouble to sow the seed; and sloping hills for grapes to ripen on the vines, but none were planted on them.  And Odysseus thought that the people who lived there must be very strange, because they had no corn and no vines, and he could see no houses, but only sheep and goats feeding on the hill-sides.  So he took his bow and arrows, and shot many of the goats, and he and his men lay down on the ground and had a merry meal, and drank the rich red wine which they had brought with them from the ship.  And when they had finished eating and drinking they fell asleep, and did not wake up till the morning showed its bright rosy light in the eastern sky.

Then Odysseus said that he would take some of his men and go to see who lived on the island, while the others remained in the ship close to the sea-shore.  So they set out, and at last they came to the mouth of a great big cave, where many sheep and goats were penned up in large folds; but they could see no one in the cave or anywhere near it; and they waited a long while, but no one came.  So they lit a fire, and made themselves merry, as they ate the cheese and drank the milk which was stored up round the sides of the cave.
Presently they heard a great noise of heavy feet stamping on the ground, and they were so frightened that they ran inside the cave and crouched down at the end of it.  Nearer and nearer came the Cyclops, and his tread almost made the earth shake.  At last he came, with many dry logs of wood on his back; and in came all the sheep, which he milked every evening; but the rams and the goats stated outside.  But if Odysseus and his men were afraid when they saw Polyphemus the Cyclops come in, they were much more afraid when he took up a great stone, which was almost as big as the mouth of the cave, and set it up against it for a door.  Then the men whispered to Odysseus, and said, ‘Did we not beg and pray you not to come into the cave?  But would you listen to us; and now how are we to get out again?  Why, two-and-twenty waggons would not be able to take away that huge stone from t
The One-Eyed Polyphemus - artist unknown
he mouth of the cave.’  But they were shut in now, and there was no use in thinking of their folly for coming in. So there they lay, crouching in the corner of the cave, and trembling with fear lest Polyphemus should see them.  But the Cyclops went on milking all the sheep, and then he put the milk into the bowls round the sides of the cave, and lit the fire to cook his meal.  As the flame shot up from the burning wood to the roof of the cave, it showed him the forms of Odysseus and his companions, where they lay huddled together in the corner; and he cried out to them with a loud voice, ‘Who are you that dare to come into the cave of Polyphemus?  Are you come to rob me of my sheep, or my cheese and milk that I keep here?’
Then Odysseus said, ‘Oh! No, we are not come to do you any harm: we are Achaeans who have been fighting at Troy to bring back Helen, whom Paris stole away from Sparta, and we went there with the great King Agamemnon, who everybody knows.  We are on our way home to Ithaca, but Poseidon sent a great storm, because Athena was angry with me; and almost all our ships have been sunk in the sea, or broken to pieces on the rocks.’ When he had finished speaking, Polyphemus frowned savagely and said, ‘I know nothing of Agamemnon, or Paris, or Helen;’ and he seized two of the men, and broke their heads against the stones, and cooked them for his dinner.  That day Polyphemus ate a huge meal, and drank several bowls full of milk; and after that he fell fast asleep.  Then, as he lay there snoring in his heavy sleep, Odysseus thought how easy it would be to plunge his sword into his breast and kill him; and he was just going to do it when he thought of the great stone which 

Odysseus in the Cave of Polyphemus by Jacob Jordaens
Polyphemus had placed at the mouth of the cave; and he knew that if Polyphemus were killed no one else could move away the stone, so they would all die shut up in that dismal place. So the hours of the night went slowly son, but neither Odysseus nor his friends could seep, for they thought of the men whom Polyphemus had eater, and how they would very likely be eaten up themselves.  At last they could tell, from the dim light which came in between the top of the stone and the roof of the cave, that the morning was come: and soon Polyphemus awoke and milked all the sheep again; and when he had done this, he went to the end of the cave and took up two more men and killed and ate them.  Then he took down the great stone from the mouth of the cave, and drove all the cattle out to graze on the soft grass of the hills; and Odysseus began to hope that they might be able to get away before Polyphemus came back.  But the Cyclops was not so silly as to let them go, for, as soon as the cattle were gone out, he took up the big stone again as easily as if it had been a little pebble, and put it up against the mouth of the cave; and there were Odysseus and his friends shut up again as fast as ever.
Then Odysseus began to think more and more how they were to get away, for if they stayed there they would soon be all killed, if Polyphemus went on eating four of them every day.  At last, near the sheep-fold, he saw a club of Polyphemus, which Polyphemus was going to use as a walking stick.  It was the whole trunk of an olive tree, fresh and green, for he had only just cut it and left it to dry, that he might carry if about when it was fit for use.  There it lay like the mast of a ship, which twenty men could hardly have lifted; and Odysseus cut off a bit from the end, as much as a man could carry, and
Odysseus and Polyphemus by 2HeadedMonster
told the men to bring it to a very sharp point; and when they had done this he hardened it in the fire, and then hid it away till Polyphemus should come home.  By and by, when the sun was sinking down, they heard the terrible tramp of his feet, and felt the earth shake beneath his tread.  Then the great stone was taken down from the mouth of the cave, and in he came, driving the sheep and goats and the great rams before him, for this time he let nothing stay outside.  So he milked the sheep and the goats, as he had done the day before; and then he killed two more men, and began to eat them for his supper.  Then Odysseus went toward him with a bottle full of wine, and said, ‘Drink this wine, Polyphemus; it will make your supper taste much nicer; I have brought it to you, because I want you to do me some kindness in return.’  So the Cyclops stretched out his hand to take the wine, and he drank it off greedily and asked for more.  ‘Give me more of this honey-sweet wine,’ he said; ‘surely no grapes on this earth could ever give such wine as this: tell me your name, for I should like to do you a kindness for giving me such wine as this.’  Then Odysseus said, ‘O Cyclops, I hope you will not forget to give me what you have promised: my name is Nobody.’  And Polyphemus said, ‘Very well, I shall eat up Nobody last of all, when I have eaten up all his companions; and this is the kindness which I mean to do for him.’  But by this time he was so stupid with all that he had been eating and drinking that he could say no more, but fell on his back fast asleep; and his heavy snoring sounded through the whole cave.  Then Odysseus cried to his friends, ‘Now is the time; come and help me, and we will punish this Cyclops for all that he has done.’  So he took the piece of the o
Polyphemus blinded by Odysseus and His Men - artist unknown
live tree, which had been made sharp, and put it into the fire, till it almost burst into a flame; and then he and two of his men went and stood over Polyphemus, and pushed the burning wood into his great eye as hard and as far down as they could.  It was a terrible sight to see; but the Cyclops was so stupid and heavy in sleep that as first he could scarcely stir; but presently he gave a great groan, so that Odysseus and his people started back in fright, and crouched down at the end of the cave: and then the Cyclops put out his hand and drew the burning wood from his eye, and threw it from him in a rage, and roared out for help to his friends, who lived on the hills round about.  His roar was as deep and loud, and they heard him shouting out so loud, and they said, ‘What can be the matter with Polyphemus?  We never heard him make such a noise before: let us go and see if he wants any help.’  So they went to the cave, and stood outside the great stone which shut it in, listening to his terrible bellowings; and when they did not stop, they shouted to him, and asked him what was the matter.  ‘Why have you waked us up in the middle of the night with all this noise, when we were sleeping comfortably?  Is any one taking away your sheep and goats, or killing you by craft and force?’  And Polyphemus said, ‘Yes, my friends, Nobody is killing me by craft and force.’  When the others heard this they were angry, and said, ‘Well, then, if nobody is killing you, why do you roar so?  If you are ill, you must bear it as best you can, and ask our father Poseidon to make you well again;’ and then they walked off to their beds, and left Polyphemus to make as much noise as he pleased.

It was of no use that he went on shouting: no one came to him any more; and Odysseus laughed because he had tricked him so cunningly by calling himself Nobody.  So Polyphemus got up at last, moaning and groaning with the dreadful pain, and groped his was with his hands against the sides of the cave until he came to the door.  Then he took down the great stone, and sat with his arms stretched out wide; and he said to himself, ‘Now I shall be sure to catch them, for no one can get out without passing me.’

Ulysses Escaping from Polyphemus the Cyclops by I.G. Walker
But Odysseus was too clever for him yet; for he went quietly and fastened the great rams of Polyphemus together by threes, and under the stomach of the middle one he tied one of his men, until he had fastened them all up safely.  Then he went and caught hold of the largest ram of all, and clung on with his hands to the thick wool underneath his stomach: and so they all waited in a great fright, lest after all the great giant might catch and kill them.  At last the pale light of morning came into the Eastern sky, and very soon the sheep and the goats began to go out of the cave.  Then Polyphemus passed his hands over the backs of all the sheep as they passed by, but he did not feet the willow bands, because their wool was long and thick, and he never thought that any one would be tied up underneath their stomachs.  Last of all came the great ram to which Odysseus was clinging: and when Polyphemus passed his hand over his back, he stroked him gently and said, ‘Well, old sheep, is there something the matter with you too, as there is with your master?  You were always the first to go out of the cave, and now today for the first time you are the last.  I am sure that horrible Nobody is at the bottom of all this.  Ah, old man, perhaps it is that you are sorry for your master, whose eye Nobody has put out.  I wish you could speak like a man, and tell me where he is.  If I could but catch him, I would take care that he never got away again, and then I should have some comfort for all the evil which Nobody has done to me.’  So he sent the ram on; and when he had gone a little way from the cave, Odysseus got up from under the ram, and went and untied all his friends: and very glad they were to be free once more; but they could not help crying, when they thought of the men whom Polyphemus had killed.  But Odysseus told them to make haste and drive as many of the sheep and goats as they could to the ships.  So they drove them down to the shore and hurried them into the ships, and began to row away: and soon they would have been out of the reach of the Cyclops, if Odysseus could only have held his tongue.  But he was so angry himself, that he thought he would like to make Polyphemus also still more angry; so he shouted to him, and said, ‘Oh, cruel Cyclops, did you think that you would not be punished for eating up my friends?  Is this the way in which you receive strangers who have been tossed about by many storms upon the sea?’

Odysseus And Polyphemus by Arnold Boecklin
Then Polyphemus was more furious than ever, and he broke off a great rock from the mountain, and hurled it at Odysseus.  On it came whizzing through the air, and fell just in front of the ship, and the water was dashed up all over it; and there was a great heaving of the sea, which almost carried them back to the land.  Then they began to row again with all their might; but still, when they had got about twice as far as they were before, Odysseus could not help shouting out a few more words to Polyphemus.  So he said, ‘If any one asks you how you lost your eye, remember, O Cyclops, to say that you were made blind by Odysseus, the plunderer of cities, the son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca.’

The Cyclops Polyphemus tosses rocks at the fleeing Odysseus and his crew by Louis Frédéric Schützenberger
Terrible indeed was the fury of Polyphemus when he heard this, and he said: ‘Now I remember how the wise Telemus used to tell me that a man would come here named Odysseus, who would put my eye out.  But I thought he would have been some great strong man, almost as big as myself; and this a miserable little wretch, whom I could almost hold in my hand if I caught him.  But stay, Odysseus, and I will show you how I thank you for your kindness, and I will ask my father Poseidon to send you a pleasant storm to toss you about upon the dark sea.’

Then Polyphemus took up a bigger rock than ever and hurled it high into the air with all him might.  But this time it fell just behind the ship of Odysseus and all his people, and almost sunk the ship under the sea.  But it only sent them further out of the reach of the Cyclops; and though he hurled more rocks after them, they now fell far behind in the sea and did them no ham.  But even when they had rowed a long way, they could still see Polyphemus standing on the high cliff, and shaking his hands at them in rage and pain.  But no one came to help him for all his shouting, because he had told his friends that Nobody was doing him harm.

The Gigantes, Gegeneis, or Ge Geneis, from which the word ‘giant’ is derived and which is translated as ‘earth-born’, are said to be the offspring of Gaia, or Ge, and the blood of the wounded Uranus, or Ouranos, as in Hesiod’s Theogony.  In this case, later versions of the Theogony simply call them Giants, with them being born already wearing armor and armed with spears:

As many drops of blood spurted forth,
all of them Gaia received.  In the revolving years,
she bore the… great Giants,
gleaming in their armor, holding long spears in their hands,…

The names of these Gigantes are variously given as Agrius, meaning ‘Untameable’; Alcyoneus, meaning ‘Brayer’; Aloeus, meaning ‘Of the Threshing Floor’; Clytius, meaning ‘Renowned’; Enceladus, meaning ‘Buzzer’; Eurytus, meaning ‘Rapids’; Grathium, meaning ‘Grater’; Hippolytus, meaning ‘Stampede’; Mimas, meaning ‘Mocker’; Pallas, meaning ‘Handsome’; Polybutes, meaning ‘Cattle-lord’; Porphyrion, meaning ‘Purple One’; Thoas, meaning ‘Fast’; and Titys, meaning ‘Risker’.  The story of the Gigantes, however, does not appear in the Theogony and is instead covered by Apollodorus in his Library.  Here we are told of the battle between the Gigantes and the Olympian gods after the Titans defeat.  Apollodorus’ Gigantomachy tells us of how these Gigantes were defeated by the Olympian gods with the help of Heracles.

But Ge, angry about what happened to the Titans, produced the Giants by Ouranos, unsurpassed in bodily size, in power unconquerable.  They looked frightful in countenance, with thick hair hanging from their backs and chins, and they had serpent coils for legs.  According to some they were born in Phlegrai, but according to others in Pallene.  They hurled rocks and flaming trees into heaven.  Greatest of them all were Prophyrion and Alcyoneus.  Alcyoneus was immortal as long as he fought in the same land where he was born, and he even drove the cattle of Helios out of Erytheia.  It had been prophesied to the gods that none of the Giants could be killed by gods, but that is a mortal fought as their ally, the Giants would die.  When Ge learned of this, she sought a magic plant to prevent them from being killed even by a mortal, but Zeus forbade Eos, Selene, and Helios to shine. 
Giants Battle with the Gods by Joseph Anton Koch
Then he himself cut the plant before Ge could and had Athena call Heracles to help them as an ally.  Heracles first shot Alcyoneus, but when he fell onto the earth, he was reinvigorated.  At Athena’s direction, Heracles dragged him outside of Pallene.  That, then, is how he died; but Prophyrion moved against Heracles and Hera in the battle.  Zeus put desire for Hera into him.  She called for help when the Giant was tearing her clothes in his desire to rape her, and after Zeus hit him with a thunderbolt, Heracles shot and killed him with his bow.  As for the other Giants, Apollo shot Ephialtes’ left eye out; Heracles shot out the right.  Dionysos killed Eurytos with his thyrsus.  Hecate killed Clytios with torches.  Hephaistos killed Mimas by hitting him with molten metal.  Athena threw the island of Sicily onto Encelados as he fled, and she cut the skin off of Pallas and covered her own body with it during the battle.  Polybotes was pursued by Poseidon across the sea and came to Cos.  Poseidon broke off a pieces of the island (called Nisyron) and threw it on him.  Hermes, wearing Hades’ cap, killed Hippolytos in the fight, while Artemis killed Gration.  The Moirai, fighting with bronze clubs, killed Agrios and Thoas.  Zeus destroyed the rest by hurling his thunderbolts.  Heracles shot all of them as they died.

It is said that those Gigantes who survived after this made a final attack at Trapezus.  Here they were defeated and put into great chasms within the earth.  Their bodies were then covered by mountains and volcanoes to stop them from regenerating.  It is said that, when they stir, they cause earthquakes and tremors.  Some believe that ‘these myths were the creation of an explanation for quantities of dinosaur bones that have been found continuously in the region of Trapezus.’ 

Typhon by notdanmartin
While the Gigantes were defeated by the Olympian gods and Heracles, they were not the last.  Typhon, who is also known as Typhoeus, Typheus, Typhaon, and Typhois, was created by Gaia, or Ge and Tartaros according to Apollodorus, after the defeat of the Gigantes.  Apollodorus describes him as ‘a mix of man and beast…taller than all the mountains’ which ‘bested in size and strength everything that Ge had produced.’  This giant man-beast had ‘a hundred dragon heads’ sprouting from his arms and ‘gigantic viper coils’ from the thighs down.  He was ‘covered in wings’ and ‘belched a great blast of fire from his mouth.’  Typhon fought against Zeus and was eventually defeated and buried beneath Mount Etna (Aima) where he is still said to cause eruptions.


When the gods had defeated the Giants, Ge became more angry, copulated with Tartaros, and bore Typhon in Cilicia.  He had a form that was a mix of man and beast.  He bested in size and strength everything that Ge had produced.  As far as the thighs he was man-shaped and of such immense size that he was taller than all the mountains, and his head often touched the stars.  One of his hands stretched out to the west and one to the east, and from them stood out a hundred dragon heads.  From the thighs down he had gigantic viper coils that, when stretched out, reached as far as the very top of his head and produced a great hissing.  His whole body was covered in wings, his coarse hair was whipped away from his head and chin by the wind, and fire flashed from his eyes.  [Such was Typhon, so great was Typhon when he threw flaming rocks as he moved against heaven itself with hissing noises and shouting, and he belched a great blast of fire from his mouth.]
Typhon rising by Demodus
When the gods saw him attacking heaven, they took refuge in Egypt and, being pursued, changed their forms into animals.  But Zeus threw thunderbolts when Typhon was far off and cut him down with an adamantite sickle when he came close.  He doggedly pursued him as he fled to Mount Casios, which looks over Syria.  There Zeus saw that Typhon was seriously wounded and engaged him hand-to-hand.  But Typhon wrapped his coils around Zeus and got him in a hold.  He stripped away the sickle and cut out the sinews of his hands and feet.  Lifting Zeus onto his shoulders, he carried him across the sea to Cilicia, and when he arrived, he put him into the Corycian cave.  Likewise, hiding the sinews in a bearskin, he stowed them there.  He set the dragoness Delphyne to guard him.  This girl was half-beast.  But Hermes and Aigipan stole the sinews and put them back in Zeus without being caught.  Zeus, having gotten his strength back, suddenly flew down from heaven in a chariot pulled by winged horses and threw thunderbolts at Typhon as he pursued him to the mountain called Nysa, where the Moirai deceived him as he fled, and, persuaded that he would be reinvigorated, he tasted the ephemeral fruits.  When the pursuit began again, he came to Thrace and, fighting around Mount Haimos, hurled whole mountains.  But these were forced back on him by the thunderbolt, and blood [‘haima’] gushed out onto the mountain, and they say that it is from this that the mountain is called Haimos.  As Typhon tried to flee across the Sicilian sea, Zeus threw Mount Aima in Sicily on him.  This mountain is enormous, and down to this day they say that the eruptions of fire from it come from the thunderbolts that were hurled.  But enough about that.

And that completes the Giants of Greece and Rome.  In the next post we will explore the Giants of Norse mythology. 

Useful Resources

Odyssey by Homer
Theogony by Hesiod
Tales from Greek Mythology by George William Cox
Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary Sources of Translation by Stephen M. Trzaskoma, R.Scott Smith, Stephen Brunet & Thomas G. Palaima
Giants, Monsters & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth by CarolRose