- Pronunciation: ji-gan-teez
- Origin: Greek
- Influence: Gigantomachy
- Role: Monsters; Children of Gaia
- Individuals of Note: Alcyoneus, Enceladus, Mimas, Pallas, Polybotes, Porphyrion
Who are the Gigantes?
The Gigantes were a race of giants borne out of the battle between Uranus and Kronos. They were warriors and wielded great shields and spears and wore gleaming, primitive armor made of animal skins interwoven with rocks and flaming brands. In terms of their appearance, the Gigantes looked partially human, but enormous in size and wild looking. Rather than having legs like a human mortal, their legs consisted of many intertwined serpents. Also adding to their fearsome look was their hair and beards: wild, long, and unkempt. Unlike the gods, the Gigantes were mortal and could be killed by immortals and mortals alike.
Kronos was desperate to overthrow his father, Uranus, liberate his siblings, and ensure that there would never be another child born from the father who was now a monster. Using the sickle made from stone that he had been given, Kronos emasculated his father. As his testicles and blood spilled into the ocean, they mixed with the swirling waters. From each drop of blood a new member of the family of Gigantes emerged – terrible and warlike and bigger than any mortal who ever walked the earth.
The Gigantes are creatures with godly origins, but no specific mother. They are considered to be “earthborn,” for they come from the co-mingling of the blood of Uranus and the earth at the shore of the sea. The Gigantes were not the only creatures to rise out of the blood; the Erinyes (Furies) and the Meliai (tree nymphs) were also borne out of the castration of Uranus.
The Gigantes, even though they originated from the godly blood of Uranus, were arrogant and insolent creatures of excess, wrath, and violence. They were the ultimate personification of hubris, which would ultimately be their undoing. The Gigantes would suffer punishment from the gods for their deeds against mortals and immortals alike. Although they were not directly borne from a mother and father, there were some gods that would try to protect the Gigantes from harm as if they were their own children. But they would all ultimately be defeated and killed with the help of a mortal son of Zeus, and the efforts of the other gods as well.
The Olympian gods were constantly entwined in a struggle for power and rule over the cosmos, replacing one leader with another and overthrowing the ways and thoughts of the past. At times, these battles were started over petty squabbles or the smallest incidences of treachery or offense. In the case of the Gigantomachy, a great war began with the theft of cattle from the god Helios by the Gigante Alcyoneus. Helios was infuriated and in a fit of rage, demanded justice from Zeus and the other gods.
As was typical in these battles, there had been a prophecy…. that the Gigantes could only be beaten if a mortal were to help the gods. Gaia wished to protect the Gigantes, whom she considered to be her children, from any harm by seeking a special plant that would grant them protection. Zeus didn’t share Gaia’s feelings, knowing with certainty that the Gigantes were dangerous and violent creatures. He ordered Eos (the dawn), Selene (the moon), and Helios (the sun) to withdraw their light from the world. The plants withered, and Zeus gathered all of them for himself, leaving none behind for the Gigantes to find and use. But some of the Gigantes had learned of other ways to cheat death, and would prove to be a challenge for the immortals.
Notable Gigantes Battles
Alyconeus: A mortal son, Heracles, had been born to Zeus as a result of one of his many dalliances with a mortal woman. With part of the prophecy fulfilled, and when Heracles was of age, the gods gave him the task of killing Alyconeus for his crime of theft against Helios. As the battle began in earnest, Heracles fought with Alyconeus but the giant would not be destroyed as long as he had one foot firmly planted on the soil of his birth, the place where the blood first fell. He would revive, as terrible as before with all of his strength, after each blow. With Athena’s help, Heracles managed to wrestle Alcyoneus away from the shore and finally killed him. Alyconeus’ seven daughters, the Alkyonies, fell into the sea when they learned of the death of their father at the hands of Heracles.
Antaeus: Poseidon and Gaia fostered Antaeus, and his mother granted him the strength of the earth, so he would remain invincible as long as he was in contact with her. He had a passion for challenging mortals to wrestling matches, which he always won, and he used their skulls to build a temple honoring Poseidon. When he challenged Heracles, he revealed the source of his power; that proved to be his undoing. Using his godlike strength, Heracles hoisted Antaeus up from the ground, which prevented him from touching it, and was able to crush him.
Enceladus: Athena, bearing a gorgon shield, warred with Enceladus near the island of Sicily. Enceladus used trees as spears against the chariot and horses Athena drove at him. Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, fought with fire and roasted the body of the giant in a great blaze. Zeus threw down a thunderbolt, causing Enceladus to stagger and fall and receive the final death blow from Athena. She buried his lightning-charred corpse under Mount Etna, and when it erupted, the last breath of Enceladus was released.
Mimas: Mimas also participated in the Gigantomachy and battled Hephaestus, who hurled gigantic half-molten missiles of metal at him. Aphrodite held him at bay with a shield and spear. This helped Zeus to defeat him by hurling thunderbolts, turning him into a pile of ash. He was buried under the coast of Naples, at Prochyte in the Phlegraean Isles. His weapons were hung in a tree near the summit of Mount Etna as trophies of the war.
Polybotes: Polybotes fought against Poseidon and Athena, who chased him into the sea. Zeus struck at Polybotes with his thunderbolts, but Polybotes was able to swim away. Poseidon also hurled his trident but missed, and the trident became the island of Nisyros. With determination to finally defeat this slippery foe, Poseidon lifted a portion of the island of Cos and threw it, crushing and killing Polybotes. He was buried under Nisyros.
King Eurymedon of the Gigantes
And finally, there was the king of the Gigantes, Eurymedon, who had led most of his people to their deaths in war with the gods. In some stories he is known as Porphrion, but in both tales he is the Gigantes king, who took a final stand against Heracles and Hera.
During the battle, Zeus attempted to possess his mind to make him fall in love with Hera. When Porphyrion was distracted with thoughts of lust for Hera, Zeus hurled his thunderbolts and Heracles finished him off with an arrow drawn from the bow of Apollo.
These are just a few notable examples of the many mighty battles that the Gigantes fought with mortals and gods alike. The war went on for a time, until most of the Gigantes were finally dead and submerged under islands, buried under mountains, or encased deep in the hottest parts of the Earth. Those who were not killed were exiled forever from their traditional home on the island of Thrinacia.
After the Gigantomachy, the most notable influence from the Gigantes in general, and King Eurymedon specifically, was that his daughter, Periboia, who would go on to marry Poseidon. As a result of this union, the Gigantes king would become the grandfather of the Phaecian king, Nausithous.
Gigantes are believed to be the source of volcanoes, thermal activity and great seismic events such as the volcanoes of Etna and Vesuvius, since they were buried beneath the mountains. Whenever the giants moved in their tombs, calamity would strike the earth in the form of a raging volcano or great earthquake. Some believe that the Gigantes represented the barbaric tribes of Thrace, who dwelt to the north of Greece and were less civilized than their Greek neighbors. The Thracians are believed to be born of the ashes or blood of the defeated and vanquished Gigantes.