Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages

Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages

Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages

Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages

Excerpt

The giant is represented through movement, through being in time….
In contrast to the still and perfect nature of the miniature, the gigantic
represents the order and disorder of historical forces…. And while our
daydream may be to animate the miniature, we admire the fall or the
death, the stopping, of the giant.

— Susan Stewart, On Longing, 86

Of the giant, Edmund Burke once wrote:

It is impossible to suppose a giant the object of love. When we let
our imaginations loose in romance, the ideas we naturally annex
to that size are those of tyranny, cruelty, injustice, and every thing
horrid and abominable. (Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful,
157–58)

His body an affront to natural proportion, the giant encodes an excess that places him outside the realm of the human, outside the possibility of desire. Yet a different cultural moment has enabled the same monster who gives “satisfaction” only through his “defeat and death” (Burke, Enquiry, 158) to preside as a jolly green corporate emblem, assuring consumers that a certain brand of frozen vegetables is fresh and enticing. The “double figure” of the giant arrives from the deep structure of myth. In the guise of Humbaba, he fought the hero Gilgamesh in ancient Babylon. As the Nephilim, he embodied the transgression of divine laws governing exogamy in the Hebrew Bible. Through the body of Ymir, he was transformed into the fabric of the earth in medieval Norse cosmography. Monstrously ancient, the giant Ysbaddaden threatened the fertility of Arthur's court in Welsh legend. As the anarchic sons of Gaia, he defied Olympian law and stormed the seat of the gods in the poetic imaginings and political allegories of the Greeks and Romans. Among his progeny are numbered Gargantua, the delightful grotesque invented by Rabelais to celebrate food, drink, and the pleasures of corporeality; Orgoglio, the puffed-up personification of pride deflated by Redcrosse Knight in Spenser's The Faerie Queene-, Milton's mighty Satan; the Sleeping Giant, an anthropomorphized mountain in Kauai; the Brobdingnagians, a race who taught . . .

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