An Overview: Gigantomachias in Greek myth

In Greek myth, accounts of a war between the gods and the giants are already to be found in Homer and Hesoid (ca 800 BC?). Because cognate accounts are to be found in widely dispersed Indo-European traditions stretching from India to Scandinavia, these myths clearly reach back thousands of years before Homer and Hesoid into Proto-Indo-European (PIE) prehistory (ca 4000 BC?).

The Greeks knew the following 4 variants of the gigantomachia (in addition to the philosophical elaboration of the theme to be found in philosophers like Plato):

a) The titanomachia described by Hesiod, Aeschylus and Apollodorus (among others).

b) The gigantomachia described by Apollodorus and Diodorus

c) The battle of Zeus and Typhon described in Hesiod, Aeschylus and Apollodorus.

d) The war of the giant Aloadai twins, Ephialtes and Otos, against the gods described in Homer, Apollodorus, Hyginus, Virgil and Ovid.


Notes:

a) Beyond cognates in other Indo-European mythologies, further roots of these Greek accounts of the gigantomachia go into the ancient near-east and middle east, to peoples like the Sumerians, Assyrians and Hittites, where myths with similar themes (especially the rivalry between different generations of gods and a battle with a Typhon-like monster) are recorded as early as ca 2500 BC. Since Indo-Europeans like the Hittites were present in the mix of peoples in the ancient near-east and middle east, the question of known and potential borrowings between different language, culture and political groups is highly complicated. A last source of influence, one often put forward by the Greeks themselves, was Egypt. Here, too, repeated wars between the gods are to be found. For our concerns, the great question in these rich mythologies does not concern their involuted and highly interesting historical relations, but their structural properties. How do they represent and explain plurality at origin? What clues does this give us to ontology and epistemology? And what do these latter have to do with our lives today?

b) the fourth variant, the war of the Aloadai against Olympos, appears throughout the tradition, usually by reference to Pelion and Ossa, in, eg, Shakespeare (Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor) and Rabelais (Gargantua and Pantagruel).

July 13, 2004 in Gigantomachia/Titanomachia, Indo-European parallels | Permalink

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