In this last part of the Mythical Creatures blog series, I am using the general title "Giants" to refer to three types of gigantic creatures: Hecatoncheires, Cyclopes and Giants.
The Hekatonkheires, or Hecatoncheires or Hundred-Handers (//; singular: Hekatonkheir; Greek: Ἑκατόγχειρες "Hundred-Handed Ones"; Latinised Centimani), were figures in an archaic stage of Greek mythology, three giants of incredible strength and ferocity that surpassed that of all the Titans, whom they helped overthrow. Their name derives from the Greek ἑκατόν (hekaton; "hundred") and χείρ (kheir; "hand"), "each of them having a hundred hands and fifty heads.
According to Hesiod, the Hekatonkheires were children of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (sky). They were thus part of the very beginning of things (Kerenyi 1951:19) in the submerged prehistory of Greek myth, though they played no known part in cult. Their names were Briareus (Βριάρεως) the Vigorous, also called Aigaion (Αἰγαίων), Latinised as Aegaeon, the "sea goat", Cottus (Κόττος) the Striker or the Furious, and Gyges (Γύγης) or Gyes (Γύης) the Big-Limbed. If some natural phenomena are symbolised by the Hekatoncheires then they may represent the gigantic forces of nature that appear in earthquakes and other convulsions or in the motion of sea waves.
Soon after they were born, their father Uranus threw them into the depths of Tartarus because he saw them as hideous monsters. In some versions, Uranus saw how ugly the Hekatonkheires were at their birth and pushed them back into Gaia's womb, upsetting Gaia greatly, causing her great pain and setting into motion the overthrow of Uranus by Cronus, who later imprisoned them in Tartarus.
The Hekatonkheires remained there, guarded by the dragon Campe, until Zeus rescued them, advised by Gaia that they would serve as good allies against Cronus and the Titans. During the War of the Titans, the Hekatonkheires threw rocks as big as mountains, one hundred at a time, at the Titans, overwhelming them. After the War of the Titans, the Hekatonkheires became the guards of Tartarus.
A cyclops (/ˈsaɪklɒps/; Ancient Greek: Κύκλωψ, Kuklōps; plural cyclopes /saɪˈkloʊpiːz/; Ancient Greek: Κύκλωπες, Kuklōpes), in Greek mythology and later Roman mythology, was a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of his forehead. The name is widely thought to mean "round-eyed" or "circle-eyed".
Hesiod described three one-eyed Cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes and Arges the sons of Uranus and Gaia, brothers of the Titans, builders and craftsmen, while the epic poet Homer described another group of mortal herdsmen Cyclopes. In Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus releases three Cyclopes from the dark pit of Tartarus. They provide Zeus' thunderbolt, Hades' helmet of invisibility, and Poseidon's trident, and the gods use these weapons to defeat the Titans.
In a famous episode of Homer's Odyssey, the hero Odysseus encounters the cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and Thoosa (a nereid), who lives with his fellow Cyclopes in a distant country. His name means "abounding in songs and legends". Polyphemus first appears as a savage man-eating giant in the ninth book of Homer's Odyssey . Odysseus lands on the island of the Cyclopes (Sicily) during his journey home from the Trojan War and enters a cave filled with provisions with some of his men. When the giant Polyphemus returns home with his flocks, he blocks the entrance with a great stone and, scoffing at the usual custom of hospitality, eats two of the men. Next morning, the giant kills and eats two more and leaves the cave to graze his sheep.After the giant returns in the evening and kills two more of the men, Odysseus offers Polyphemus some strong and undiluted wine given to him earlier on his journey. Drunk and unwary, the giant asks Odysseus his name, promising him a guest-gift if he answers. Odysseus tells him "Οὖτις", which means "no one”, and Polyphemus promises to eat this "Nobody" last of all. With that, he falls into a drunken sleep. Odysseus had meanwhile hardened a wooden stake in the fire and now drives it into Polyphemus' eye. When Polyphemus shouts for help from his fellow giants, saying that "Nobody" has hurt him, they think Polyphemus is being afflicted by divine power and recommend prayer as the answer. In the morning, the blind Cyclops lets the sheep out to graze, feeling their backs to ensure that the men are not escaping. However, Odysseus and his men have tied themselves to the undersides of the animals and so get away. As he sails off with his men, Odysseus boastfully reveals his real name, an act of hubris that was to cause problems for him later. Polyphemus prays to his father, Poseidon, for revenge and casts huge rocks towards the ship, which barely escapes.
The connection between the two groups has been debated in antiquity and by modern scholars. It is upon Homer's account that Euripides and Virgil based their accounts of the mythical creatures.
In Greek mythology, the Giants or Gigantes (Greek: Γίγαντες, Gigantes, singular Gigas) were a race of great strength and aggression, though not necessarily of great size, known for the Gigantomachy (Gigantomachia), their battle with the Olympian gods. According to Hesiod, the Giants were the offspring of Gaia (Earth), born from the blood that fell when Uranus (Sky) was castrated by their Titan son Cronus.
Archaic and Classical representations show Gigantes as man-sized hoplites (heavily-armed ancient Greek foot soldiers) fully human in form. Later representations (after c. 380 BC) 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.
The vanquished Giants were said to be buried under volcanos, and to be the cause of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Some of the Giants identified by name are:
- Agrius: A man-eating Thracean giant who was half a man and half a bear. According to Apollodorus, he was killed by the Moirai (Fates) with bronze clubs.
- Alcyoneus: According to Apollodorus, he was (along with Porphyrion), the greatest of the Giants; immortal while fighting in his native land, he was dragged from his homeland and killed by Heracles. According to Pindar, he was a herdsman, and in a separate battle from the Gigantomachy was killed by Heracles and Telamon, while they were traveling through Phlegra. Representations of Heracles fighting Alcyoneus are found on many sixth century BC and later works of art.
- Aristaeus: According to the Suda, he was the only Giant to "survive". He is probably named on an Attic Black-figure dinos by Lydos (Akropolis 607) dating from the second quarter of the sixth century BC, fighting Hephaestus.
- Clytius: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Hecate with her torches.
- Enceladus: Euripides has Athena fighting him with her "gorgon shield". According to Apollodorus, he was crushed by Athena under the Island of Sicily. Virgil has him struck by Zeus' lightning bolt. Both Virgil and Claudian have him buried under Mount Etna, while other traditions had Typhon or Briareus buried under Etna. For others he was instead buried in Italy. Enceladus (like other vanquished monsters, thought to be buried under volcanos) was said to be the cause of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Mount Etna's eruptions were said to be the breath of Enceladus, and its tremors to be caused by him rolling over from side to side beneath the mountain.
- Ephialtes (probably different from the brother of Otus who was also named Ephialtes): According to Apollodorus he was blinded by arrows from Apollo and Heracles. He is named on three Attic Black-figure pots (Akropolis 2134, Getty 81.AE.211, Louvre E732) dating from the second quarter of the sixth century BC, and the late sixth century BC Siphnian Treasury, and probably as well on what might be the earliest representation of the Gigantomachy, a pinax fragment from Eleusis (Eleusis 349). Although the usual opponent of Poseidon among the Giants is Polybotes, one early fifth century red-figure krater (Vienna 688) has Poseidon attacking Ephialtes.
- Eurymedon: According to Homer, he was a king of the Giants and father of Periboea (mother of Nausithous, king of the Phaeacians, by Poseidon), who "brought destruction on his froward people". He was possibly the Eurymedon who raped Hera producing Prometheus as offspring. He is probably named on Akropolis 2134.
- Eurytus: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Dionysus with his thyrsus.
- Gration: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Artemis.
- Hippolytus: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Hermes, who was wearing Hades' helmet, which made its wearer invisible.
- Lion: Mentioned by Photius (as ascribed to Ptolemy Hephaestion) as having been challenged to single combat by Heracles and killed. Lion-headed Giants are shown on the The Gigantomachy frieze of the Pergamon Altar.
- Mimas: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Hephaestus. Euripides has Zeus burning him "to ashes" with his thunderbolt. According to others he was killed by Ares. "Mimos"—possibly in error for "Mimas""—is inscribed (retrograde) on Akropolis 607. He was said to be buried under Prochyte.
- Pallas: According to Apollodorus, he was flayed by Athena, who used his skin as a shield.
- Pelorus: According to Claudian, he was killed by Ares.
- Polybotes: According to Apollodorus, he was crushed under Nisyros, a piece of the island of Kos broken off and thrown by Poseidon. He is named on two sixth century BC pots, on one (Getty 81.AE.211) he is opposed by Zeus, on the other (Louvre E732) he is opposed by Poseidon carrying Nisyros on his shoulder.
- Porphyrion: According to Apollodorus, he was (along with Alcyoneus), the greatest of the Giants, he attacked Heracles and Hera but Zeus "smote him with a thunderbolt, and Hercules shot him dead with an arrow." According to Pindar, who calls him "king of the Giants", he was slain by an arrow from the bow of Apollo.
- Thoas (also called Thoon), According to Apollodorus, he was killed by the Moirai (Fates) with bronze clubs.