Dionysos Giant Louvre G434

Dionysus is depicted fighting a giant on this piece of Grek pottery from the 5th century BCE, now in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

In Greek mythology, the Gigantes were the children of Gaia or Gaea, who was fertilized by the blood of Uranus, after Uranus was castrated by his son Cronus.[1] The Greek Septuagint translates the Hebrew word "Nephilim" as Gigantes.

Cronus secured his power by re-imprisoning or refusing to free his siblings, the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes, and his (newly-created) siblings, the Gigantes, in Tartarus. Afterwards, Cronus and his Titans lost the battle to his son Zeus.

Gaea, incensed by the imprisonment of the Titans in Tartarus by the Olympians, incited the Gigantes to rise up in arms against them, end their reign, and restore the Titans' rule. Led on by Alcyoneus (the eldest) and Porphyrion, they tested the strength of the Olympians in what is known as the Gigantomachia or Gigantomachy. The Gigantes Otus and Ephialtes hoped to reach the top of Mount Olympus by stacking the mountain ranges of Thessaly, Pelion, and Ossa, on top of each other.

The Olympians called upon the aid of Heracles after a prophecy warned them that he was required to defeat the Gigantes. Athena, instructed by Zeus, sought out Heracles and requested his aid in the battle. Heracles responded to Athena's request by shooting an arrow dipped in the poisonous blood of the dreaded Hydra at Alcyoneus, which made the Giant fall to the earth. However, the Giant was immortal so long as he remained in Pallene. Athena advised Heracles to drag Alcyoneus outside Pallene to make the Giant susceptible to death. Once outside Pallene, he was beaten to death by Heracles. Heracles slew not only Alcyoneus, but dealt the death blow to the Gigantes who had been wounded by the Olympians. The Gigantes who died by the hero's hands were Alcyoneus, Damysos, Ephialtes, Leon, Peloreus, Porphyrion and Theodamas, giving Heracles the most kills of the Gigantomachy.[2]

The Olympians fought the Gigantes with the Moirae aiding them before the aforementioned prophecy was made, meaning the Gigantes would have overcome the combined efforts of both Olympus and the Sisters of Fate had Heracles not fought.

"Power is latent violence, which must have been manifested at least in some mythological once-upon-a-time. Superiority is guaranteed only by defeated inferiors," Walter Burkert remarked of the Gigantomachy.[3]

This battle parallels the Titanomachy, a fierce struggle between the upstart Olympians and their older predecessors, the Titans (who lost the battle). In the Gigantomachy, however, the Olympians were already in power when the Gigantes rose to challenge them. With the aid of their powerful weapons, the Moirae and Heracles, the Olympians defeated the Gigantes and quelled the rebellion, confirming their reign over the earth, sea, and heaven, and confining the Gigantes into Tartarus. The only Giant not slain in the conflict was Aristaios, who was turned into a dung beetle by Gaea so the Giant might be safe from the wrath of the Olympains. [4]

Whether the Gigantomachy was interpreted in ancient times as a kind of indirect "revenge of the Titans" upon the Olympians — as the Gigantes' reign would have been in some fashion a restoration of the age of the Titans — is not attested in any of the few literary references. Later Hellenistic poets and Latin ones tended to blur Titans and Gigantes.[5]

According to the Greeks the Gigantes were buried by the gods beneath the earth, where their writhing caused volcanic activity and earthquakes.

In iconic representations the Gigantomachy was a favorite theme of the Greek vase-painters of the 5th century BCE

More impressive depictions of the Gigantomachy can be found in classical sculptural relief, such as the great altar of Pergamon, where the serpent-legged giants are locked in battle with a host of gods, or in Antiquity at the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Acragas.[6]

Some of the Gigantes identified by individual names were Alcyoneus slain by Heracles, Porphyrion wounded by Zeus with lightning bolts and finished off with an arrow by Heracles, Enceladus and Pallas killed by Athena, Polybotes crushed by Poseidon beneath the island of Nisyros, Hippolytus slain by Hermes with his sword and wearing the cap of invisibility, Ephialtes of the Aloadae shot by Apollo and Heracles with arrows, Gration slain by the goddess Artemis with her arrows, Eurytus slain by Dionysus with his pine-cone tipped thyrsos, Agrius and Thoon clubbed to death by the Moirae with clubs of bronze, Mimas slain by Hephaestus with a volley of molten iron and Clytius immolated by Hecate with flaming torches[7].

Named Giants

Parc de Versailles, Bosquet de l'Encelade, bassin 03

Gilt-bronze Enceladus by Gaspar Mercy in the Bosquet de l'Encélade in the gardens of Versailles.

Names for the Giants can be found in ancient literary sources and inscriptions. Vian and Moore provide a list with over seventy entries, some of which are based upon inscriptions which are only partially preserved.[8] Some of the Giants identified by name are:

  • Agrius: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by the Moirai (Fates) with bronze clubs.[9]
  • 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.[10] 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.[11] Representations of Heracles fighting Alcyoneus are found on many sixth century BC and later works of art.[12]
  • Alektos/Allektos: Named on the late sixth century Siphnian Treasury (Alektos),[13] and the second century BCE Pergamon Altar (Allektos).[14]
  • Aristaeus: According to the Suda, he was the only Giant to "survive".[15] He Is probably named on an Attic black-figure dinos by Lydos (Akropolis 607) dating from the second quarter of the sixth century BCE, fighting Hephaestus.[16]
  • Astarias [See Asterius below]
  • Aster [See Asterius below]
  • Asterius ("Bright One" or "Glitterer"):[17] A Giant, also called Aster, killed by Athena, whose death, according to some accounts, was celebrated by the Panathenaea.[18] Probably the same as the Giant Astarias named on the late sixth century Siphnian Treasury.[19] Probably also the same as Asterus, mentioned in the epic poem Meropis, as an invulnerable warrior killed by Athena.[20] In the poem, Heracles, fighting the Meropes, a race of Giants, on the Island of Kos, would have been killed but for Athena's intervention.[21] Athena kills and flays Asterus and uses his impenetrable skin for her aegis. Other accounts name others whose hyde provided Athena's aegis:[22] Apollodrus has Athena flay the Giant Pallas,[23] while Euripides' Ion has Gorgon, here considered to be a Giant, as Athena's victim.[24]
  • Asterus [See Asterius above]
  • Clytius: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Hecate with her torches.[25]
  • Enceladus: Euripides has Athena fighting him with her "Gorgon shield" (her aegis).[26] According to Apollodorus, he was crushed by Athena under the Island of Sicily.[27] Virgil has him struck by Zeus' lightning bolt, and both Virgil and Claudian have him buried under Mount Etna,[28] (other traditions had Typhon or Briareus buried under Etna). For some Enceladus was instead buried in Italy.[29]
  • Ephialtes (probably different from the Aload Giant who was also named Ephialtes):[30] According to Apollodorus he was blinded by arrows from Apollo and Heracles.[31] 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 BCE.[32] On Louvre E732, he is, along with Hyperbios and Agasthenes, opposed by Zeus, while on Getty 81.AE.211, his opponents are apparently Apollo and Artemis.[33] He is also named on the late sixth century BCE Siphnian Treasury,[34] where he is probably one of the opponents of Apollo and Artemis, and probably as well on what might be the earliest representation of the Gigantomachy, a pinax fragment from Eleusis (Eleusis 349).[35] He is also named on a late fifth century BCE cup from Vulci (Berlin F2531), shown battling Apollo.[36] Although the usual opponent of Poseidon among the Giants is Polybotes, one early fifth century red-figure column krater (Vienna 688) has Poseidon attacking Ephialtes.[37]
  • Euryalus: He is named on a late sixth century red-figure cup (Akropolis 2.211) and an early fifth century red-figure cup (British Museum E 47) fighting Hephaestus.[38]
  • 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".[39] He was possibly the Eurymedon who raped Hera producing Prometheus as offspring.[40] He is probably named on Akropolis 2134.[41] He is possibly mentioned by the Latin poet Propertius as an opponent of Jove.[42]
  • Eurytus: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Dionysus with his thyrsus.[43]
  • Gration: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Artemis.[44]
  • Hopladamas (or Hopladamus): Possibly named (as Hoplodamas) on two vases dating from the second quarter of the sixth century BCE, on one (Akropolis 607) being speared by Apollo, while on the other (Getty 81.AE.211) attacking Zeus.[45] Mentioned (as Hopladamus) by the geographer Pausanias as being a leader of Giants enlisted by the Titaness Rhea, pregnant with Zeus, to defend herself from her husband Cronus.[46]
  • Hippolytus: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Hermes, who was wearing Hades' helmet,[47] which made its wearer invisible.[48]
  • Lion or Leon: Possibly a Giant, he is mentioned by Photius (as ascribed to Ptolemy Hephaestion) as a giant who was challenged to single combat by Heracles and killed.[49] Lion-headed Giants are shown on the Gigantomachy frieze of the second century BCE Pergamon Altar.[50]
  • Mimas: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by Hephaestus.[51] Euripides has Zeus burning him "to ashes" with his thunderbolt.[52] According to others he was killed by Ares.[53] "Mimos"—possibly in error for "Mimas"—is inscribed (retrograde) on Akropolis 607.[54] He was said to be buried under Prochyte.[55] Mimas is possibly the same as the Giant named Mimon on the late sixth century BCE Siphnian Treasury, as well as on a late fifth century BCE cup from Vulci (Berlin F2531) shown fighting Ares.[56] Several depictions in Greek art, though, show Aphrodite as the opponent of Mimas.[57]
  • Mimon [See Mimas above]
  • Mimos [See Mimas above]
  • Pallas: According to Apollodorus, he was flayed by Athena, who used his skin as a shield.[58] Other accounts name others whose hyde provided Athena's aegis:[59] the epic poem Meropis has Athena kill and flay the Giant Asterus [see Asterius above] while Euripides' |Ion has Gorgon, here considered to be a Giant, as Athena's victim.[60] Claudian names him as one of several Giants turned to stone by Minerva's Gorgon shield.[61]
  • Pelorus: According to Claudian, he was killed by Mars, the Roman equivalent of Ares.[62]
  • Picolous: A Gigas who had become infatuated with Circe and attempted to capture her, only to be killed by Helios. It is said that the legendary moly plant first sprang forth from Picolous' blood as it seeped into the ground.[63]
  • Polybotes: According to Apollodorus, he was crushed under Nisyros, a piece of the island of Kos broken off and thrown by Poseidon.[64] He is named on two sixth century BCE 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.[65]
  • 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."[66] According to Pindar, who calls him "king of the Giants", he was slain by an arrow from the bow of Apollo.[67] He is named on a late fifth century BCE cup from Vulci (Berlin F2531), where he is battling with Zeus.[68] He was also probably named on the late sixth century BCE Siphnian Treasury.[69]
  • Thoas: According to Apollodorus, he was killed by the Moirai (Fates) with bronze clubs.[70]
  • Thoon [See Thoas above].

See also


  1. A parallel to the Gigantes' birth is the birth of Aphrodite from the similarly fertilized sea.
  3. Burkert, p. 128
  5. In a surviving fragment of Gnaeus Naevius' poem on the Punic war, he describes the Gigantes Runcus and Purpureus (Porphyrion):
    Inerant signa expressa, quo modo Titani
    bicorpores Gigantes, magnique Atlantes
    Runcus ac Purpureus filii Terras.
    Eduard Fraenkel remarks of these lines, with their highly unusual plural Atlantes, "It does not surprise us to find the names Titani and Gigantes employed indiscriminately to denote the same mythological creatures, for we are used to the identification, or confusion, of these two types of monsters which, though not original, had probably become fairly common by the time of Naevius". (Fraenkel, "The Gigantes in the Poem of Naevius" The Journal of Roman Studies 44 (1954, pp. 14-17) p. 15 and note.
  6. A repertory of the theme in Greek arts is offered in Francis Vian, Répertoire des gigantomachie figurées (Paris) 1951 and his La Guerre des Géants (Paris) 1952.
  7. Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 1. 6. 2
  8. Vian and Moore 1988, pp. 268–269.
  9. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  10. Apollodorus, 1.6.1.
  11. Pindar, Isthmian 6.30–35, Nemean 4.24–30.
  12. Gantz, p 420.
  13. Brinkmann, N8 p. 94.
  14. Queyrel, p. 52.
  15. Suda s.v. Ἀρισταῖος, Αἰτναῖος κάνθαρος
  16. Gantz, p. 451; Beazley, p. 39; Richards, pp. 287, 383; Schefold, p. 57; Beazley Archive 310147; LIMC Gigantes 105: image 13/14.
  17. Barber 1991 p. 381.
  18. Parker 2011, p. 201; Parker 2006, p. 255; Connelly, p. 47; Scheid, pp. 18–19, p. 178 n. 48. Pausanias, 1.35.6 tells of Asterius, a son of Anax the "son of Earth", buried on the island of Asterius, near the Island of Lade, off the coast of Miletus, having bones ten cubits in length, see also Pausanius 7.2.5.
  19. Brinkmann p. 128 n. 194.
  20. Robertson, Noel, p. 42, pp. 43–44; Yasumura, pp. 50, 173 n. 44; Janko, pp. 191–192 (14.250–61).
  21. For Heracles' expedition to Kos see Homer, Iliad 14.250–256; Pindar, Isthmian 6.31–35, Nemean 4.24–30; Apollodorus, 2.7.1. For the Meropes as Giants see Yasumura, p. 50; Janko, p. 191; Philostratus, On Heroes 8.14 (pp. 13–14).
  22. Robertson, Noel, p. 42.
  23. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  24. Euripides, Ion 987–997.
  25. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  26. Euripides, Ion 205–218.
  27. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  28. Virgil, Aeneid 3.578 ff. (with Conington's note to 3.578); Claudian, Rape of Proserpine 1.153–159 (pp. 304–305), 2.151–162 (pp. 328–331), 3.186–187 (pp. 358–359).
  29. Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2.17.5 (pp. 198–201).
  30. Gantz, 450–451.
  31. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  32. Gantz, p. 451; Akropolis 2134 (Beazley Archive 9922, LIMC Gigantes 106); Getty 81.AE.211 (Beazley Archive 10047, LIMC Gigantes 171); Louvre E732 (Beazley Archive 14590, LIMC Gigantes 170).
  33. Moore 1985, p. 34.
  34. Gantz, pp. 451–452; Brinkmann, N7 p. 94; LIMC Gigantes 2.
  35. Schefold, p. 52, Beazley Archive 1409; Gantz p. 450 notes that the pinax might represent Ares encounter with the Aloadae in Iliad 5.
  36. Beazley Archive 220533: detail showing Ephialtes with shield and spear v. Apollo with sword and bow; Cook, p. 56, Plate VI.
  37. Beazley Archive 202916; LIMC Gigantes 361; Cook, pp. 14–18, p. 17 fig. 5.
  38. Arafat, pp.16, 183, 184; Akropolis 2.211 (Beazley Archive 200125; LIMC Gigantes 299); British Museum E 47 (Beazley Archive 203256; LIMC Gigantes 301).
  39. Homer, Odyssey 7.54 ff..
  40. Gantz, pp. 16, 57; Hard, p. 88.
  41. Gantz, p. 451; Akropolis 2134 (Beazley Archive 9922, LIMC Gigantes 106).
  42. Propertius, Elegies 3.9.47–48 (pp. 266–267); Keith, p. 135; Heyworth, pp. 325–326.
  43. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  44. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  45. Moore 1985, p. 31; Beazley, p. 39; Akropolis 607 (Beazley Archive 310147, LIMC Gigantes 105); Getty 81.AE.211 (Beazley Archive 10047, LIMC Gigantes 171).
  46. Pausanias, 8.32.5, 8.36.2.
  47. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  48. Apollodorus, 1.6.2 n. 6; Homer, Iliad 2.5.844 ff.; Hesiod, Shield of Heracles 226 ff..
  49. Photios I of Constantinople, Bibliotheca Codex 190.
  50. Pollitt 1986, p. 105; Pergamon Altar image viewer.
  51. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  52. Euripides, Ion 205–218; Stewart, pp. 86–87.
  53. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 3.1225–7 (pp. 276–277); Claudian, Gigantomachia 85–91 (pp. 286–287).
  54. Beazley, p. 39; Beazley Archive 310147; LIMC Gigantes 105: image 1/14.
  55. Silius Italicus, Punica 12.143–151 (II pp. 156–159).
  56. Siphnian Treasury: Brinkmann, N14 pp. 98, 124–125; Vulci cup: Arafat, p. 16; Beazley Archive 220533: detail showing Mimon and Ares; Cook, p. 56, Plate VI.
  57. Giuliani, Luca. Schefold, Karl. Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art. Cambridge University Press. Dec. 3, 1992. pgs. 57-59.
  58. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  59. Robertson, Noel, p. 42.
  60. Euripides, Ion 987–997.
  61. Claudian, Gigantomachia 91–103 (pp. 286–289).
  62. Claudian, Gigantomachia 75–84 (pp. 286–287).
  63. Rahner, Hugo. Greek Myths and Christian Mystery New York. Biblo & Tannen Publishers. 1971. pg. 204
  64. Apollodorus, 1.6.2.
  65. Getty 81.AE.211 (Moore 1985, pp. 30–31, Beazley Archive 10047, LIMC Gigantes 171); Louvre E732 (Gantz, p. 451, Beazley Archive 14590, LIMC [ source=144&image_id=330&term=%22Gigantes+170%22 Gigantes 170 image 4/4]).
  66. Apollodorus, 1.6.2. Compare with Aristophanes, The Birds 1249 ff.: "a single Porphyrion gave him [Zeus] enough to do."
  67. Pindar, Pythian 8.12–18.
  68. Beazley Archive 220533: detail showing Zeus v. Porphyrion; Cook, p. 56, Plate VI.
  69. Brinkmann, N22 p.103, which finds traces of "rion"; Stewart, plate 196.
  70. Apollodorus, 1.6.2; Grant, pp. 519–520; Smith, William, "Thoon".


This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Giants (Greek mythology). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.