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In Greek mythology, the Giants were the children of Gaia or Gaea, who was fertilized by the blood of Uranus, after Uranus was castrated by his son Cronus.[1]

Cronus secured his power by re-imprisoning or refusing to free his siblings, the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes, and his (newly-created) siblings, the Giants, 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 Giants to rise up in arms against them, end their reign, and restore the Titans' rule. Led on by Alcyoneus and Porphyrion, they tested the strength of the Olympians in what is known as the Gigantomachia or Gigantomachy. The Giants 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 Giants. Heracles slew not only Alcyoneus, but dealt the death blow to the Giants who had been wounded by the Olympians.

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"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.[2]

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 Giants rose to challenge them. With the aid of their powerful weapons and Heracles, the Olympians defeated the Giants and quelled the rebellion, confirming their reign over the earth, sea, and heaven, and confining the Giants into Tartarus.

Whether the Gigantomachy was interpreted in ancient times as a kind of indirect "revenge of the Titans" upon the Olympians — as the Giants' 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 Giants.[3]

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According to the Greeks of southern Italy, the Giants 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 BC.


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.[4]

The Giants 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, Agrios 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.

See alsoEdit

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  1. A parallel to the Giants' birth is the birth of Aphrodite from the similarly fertilized sea.
  2. Burkert, p. 128
  3. In a surviving fragment of Naevius' poem on the Punic war, he describes the Giants 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 Giants in the Poem of Naevius" The Journal of Roman Studies 44 (1954, pp. 14-17) p. 15 and note.
  4. 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.



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