Greek mythology refers to the teachings of the ancient culture of the southern European nation of Greece, one of the world’s earliest recognized civilizations. Credited with introducing democracy, literature, philosophy, the dramatic arts, fundamental mathematical and scientific principles, as well as dozens of other significant contributions to modern civilization, Greece’s historical footprint is felt in every corner of the globe.
‘Mythology,’ derived from the Greek words ‘mythos’ (story of the people) and ‘logos’ (word and/or speech) is critical to the many cultural and societal aspects of Greek contributions. One of the more interesting stories in Greek mythology involve the ‘Gigantes’ or Giants, a race of feared warriors known for their exceptional strength, along with other unique physical characteristics.
Origin of the Giants and Their Physical Characteristics
Theories as to the origins of the Giants differ, but according to one legend provided by the ancient writer Hesiod, the Giants were the children of the Mother Earth goddess Gaia, and Uranus, the god of the sky. Although borne from gods, the Giants were not invincible themselves and both mortals — humans — and immortals — the gods — could kill them. Physically, they weren’t “giants” by 21st century standards, although probably larger than average Greek mortals of the period. They were considered however, to be considerably stronger than normal.
It was their appearance that most distinguished them; long, unruly hair and beards, long spears and sturdy shields, and gleaming armor fashioned from animal skins and adorned with shiny stones. Even though the Giants were mortal, it’s recounted in some legends that some of them had powerful legs that resembled intertwined serpents, menacing and terrifying to their foes. The Giants were notable for their ruthless violence, and weren’t known for being discriminating as to the target of their wrath. Even though they were “mortals,” the immortal gods appeared, at times, to protect the Giants, while on other occasions the gods didn’t hesitate to severely punish them for their misdeeds against both mortals and immortals. Other characteristics attributed to the Giants were extreme arrogance, cruelty, excessive greed, and lawlessness.
Gigantomachy (Battle Between the Gods & the Giants)
One of the most consequential events in Greek mythology is the story of the Gigantomachy, the epic battle between the Gods of Olympus and the Giants, an all-out war for undisputed control of the universe.
The theft of the god Helios’ cattle by the giant Alcyoneus allegedly sparked the battle. It had been prophesied that the giants would be defeated only if a mere mortal aided the gods. Gaia, trying to protect her children, sought a plant that would shield the giants in battle, but the god Zeus intervened, taking the plants, and one by one, the giants were vanquished, with the gods emerging as victors.
The giants, according to legend, were subsequently buried by the gods under mountains and islands, leading to the belief that they are the cause of (again, according to legend) earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to them struggling to escape their tombs.
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