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The naming of the ship that famously sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, and that of the rocket that lofted the Gemini capsules into orbit, both reflect the common notion that the Titans were gigantic in stature in a way that the Olympian gods were not. Hesiod’s Theogony offers no support for this notion, nor do any classical-period temple carvings of the Titanomachy that I can recall. (Even the metope from the temple of Zeus at Olympia, representing the eleventh labor of Herakles, shows the hero, Athene, and Atlas all the same size.)

This supposed gigantism of the Titans makes for some ludicrous imagery when we recollect that Zeus fathered offspring on several female Titans of both Titan generations, including Mnemosyne (the Muses), Leto (Apollo and Artemis), and Metis (Athene)—unless we are to imagine one or both sexual partners as magically variable in size. (Cf. the Norse case of the coupling of the Van Freyr with the Jotun Gerð, as anticipated in the Skírnismál.)

OCD s.v. Titan is no help here—it merely devotes one last line to the stature issue, saying that the size implications of titanic derive from the “monstrous power and size” of the pre-Olympian pantheon, without citing any ancient warrant for that characterization.

The OED glosses one only non-obsolete sense of the adjective titanic as

Pertaining to, resembling, or characteristic of the Titans of mythology; gigantic, colossal; also, of the nature or character of the Titans.

—though as it happens, not one of the illustrative quotations given below that gloss unambiguously supports the “gigantic, colossal” part.

Could this be just a result of confusing the Titanomachy with the Gigantomachy, which confusion is addressed here?

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  • Welcome to AI! This is a very interesting question that I'm going to have to think about before attempting to answer. Re: the excellent metope link, it certainly creates a contradiction with the conception of Atlas as mountainous in size, holding up the sky. (My suspicion is the image is not meant to be literal, and depicting the scale accurately is not compositionally feasible in that context.) The idea of great size may derive from what certain titans represent. It's difficult to think of Oceanus as anything but immense.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 4, 2017 at 20:03
  • Crossed wires--I meant to be welcoming you to Mythology! (although I am finding an increasing number of ideas and applications in algorithmic intelligence that seem to derive from Greek mythology and philosophy;)
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 6, 2017 at 1:19
  • I recently examined the red-figure holdings of the Antikensammlungen in Berlin. There were several labeled as gigantomachies, but not one showed any difference in combatant size between the two sides. Only one piece there, out of all the red-figure ware I have seen in the world's museums, shows human figures at widely contrasting scales within one scene; and in that case, the "foundry cup", the larger figure is a larger-than-life bronze statue that the smaller ones are working on. Aug 27, 2023 at 16:26

4 Answers 4

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Part of the confusion may derive from the "fuzziness" subject. Time is not strictly rational in the Greek myths, so why should proportion be firmly fixed? More confusion may be injected in regarding all, as opposed to merely some, of the Titans, being huge. Finally, there is the question of who is and who is not a Titan, and according to whom?


Perspective

When regarding the size Greek gods, stature influences conception. Zeus is towering per his power, but we regard him as dwarfed by the chthonic giants. Representationally, in the case of the metope, Atlas is of lesser stature than either Athena or Heracles, and representing him as larger would give the wrong impression. Remember that the idea of perspective in art is just starting to develop, and in the dominant tradition, commonly seen in Egypt, relative size of a subject is a function of importance. Note the normal size of the Erymanthian Boar in a reconstruction of another metope from the Temple of Zeus, and this vase depicting the same image. Yet the boar was said to be monstrous in stature, as depicted on this vase. I don't think it's coincidental that the boar is larger when a living threat than it is once vanquished.


Titans are not all the same size

Atlas is assuredly gigantic:

"...crafty Atlas, who knows the full depths of the sea, and holds, himself, the towering pillars which hold apart the earth and sky."
Source: Homer, Odyssey 1.52-54 | English

Unless we conceive of Atlas through the lens of Sun Wu Kong, who flits to the depths of the four seas on a whim, the implication is that Atlas knows the full depths of the seas because his feet rest on the bottom.

"Atlas through hard constraint upholds the wide heaven with unwearying head and arms, standing at the borders of the earth"
Source: Hesiod, Theogony 517-517

When we combine these two early descriptions, it's easy to see why Atlas is regarded as mountainous.

The association with pillars is further reinforced in the architectural atlantes. The lexical entry from the Liddell/Scott reads: Ἄτλαντες, in Architecture, colossal statues as supports for the entablature." This is, in part, a commemoration of Atlas as benefactor, turned to stone to keep the sky from crashing down to earth.

But it's hard to regard such Titans as Leto or Themis as gigantic. (Themis highlights another issue in that she is tricked into making herself tiny so that Zeus, himself a master shapeshifter, can swallow her.)

Epimetheus, generally regarded as the husband of Pandora, must have been man-sized or there would have been problems in the marital bed. (The presumed difference in the size of Loki and Angrboða, by contrast, would seem not to present such difficulties, and calls to mind a certain Almodóvar film;)


Who is and who is not a Titan, and according to whom?

We're talking about a canon that forms over a millennium in textual form. Later mythographers begin to conflate the Titanomachy and Gigantomachy, and giants with Titans, and the only thing constant is the state of flux.

Creating confusion is the existence of a Titan Pallas and a Giant Pallas. These may be conflated as the former comes from Hesiod, and the latter from Apollodorus, many centuries later. The Apollodorus further conflicts with Euripides' account of who was flayed by Athena during the battle. It's not that one author is right and the other wrong so much as each storyteller has their own take.

There's the question of Typhon. Not officially a Titan, but as the progeny of Gaia and Tartarus (compare to Gaia and Ouranos), Typhon is certainly a similar category of being, with a similar cycle of striving against the Olympians abd being cast down. "In size and strength [Typhon] surpassed all the offspring of Earth." From a modern perspective, influenced by the Harryhausen classic "Clash of the Titans", it's not difficult to see how a being like Typhon, or, in this case, the Kraken, might come to be thought of as a Titan. This may shed some light on both the confusion arising from ancient sources, and the exacerbation of that confusion in the present era per often poorly sourced or misleading information, and suboptimal translations.

In the early accounts, what seems to distinguish Titans is not their size but their early genesis and primal nature.



Hopefully this provides some answers on the question of Atlas in particular, and the Titans in general. Although I heartily agree that not all Titans would have been gigantic, and there is a similar example in Norse mythology, where not all giants seem to be the same size.

The association of great size with the Titans most likely relates partly to Atlas in his role as reluctant, but important, benefactor to mankind, and to Titans like Oceanus and Tethys, who, by their very nature, are titanic indeed.

No one who has witnessed the dawn breaking would conceive of "rosy fingered" Eos as anything but horizon spanning, and even when picturing her in human form, this association would be present. Homer is not being entirely literal when he describes Eos in her chariot riding to Olympus to hearken the day. Homer was a poet first and foremost.

The Titans are widely anthropomorphised, but these primal entities are also at once the things they represent, such as oceans, mountains and the dawn. This parallels the conception of Gaia and Ouranos as literally the earth and sky.

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  • Thanks. I would note, however, that superhuman stature was not imputed to Samson when he held, and by superhuman strength dislodged, the pillars holding up the huge temple of Dagon in Judges. And as for Atlas' knowing the depths of the sea, his standing on the sea bed seems less likely as the basis of his knowledge than the mere fact of his divinity. Homeric divinities, while not omniscient, seem often to know things simply by virtue of their divinity rather than upon any empirical basis. Aug 6, 2017 at 14:48
  • I think Samson is not a good parallel in that the Titans were primal forces, often representing natural phenomena. Atlas isn't really an aqueous deity, so divine knowledge of the seas seems a pretty shaky attribution of powers with no basis for support. I recognize I'm just some guy on the internet, and lack academic credibility, but I had very good teachers who devoted their lives to serious study of these subjects. I'd recommend discussing it with some scholars in your Classics department as your thesis is controversial and needs more support.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 8, 2017 at 20:43
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The Titanes and the Gigantes seem to have become one in people's minds over time, perhaps because both of them fought the Olympians.

While 6th century BCE writers like Homer and Hesiod don't mention unusual size as an aspect of the Titans, other children of Uranus and Gaia were of giant size, so you can see how the confusion began. The Titan page on Theoi.com has several examples of this in their page on the Titans.

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  • In that Theoi.com page to which you link, I do not seem to find what you suggest I should. Gigantic stature for the Titans seems there to be connected with some Thracian tradition, but without citations to ancient sources. Aug 5, 2017 at 23:19
  • 1
    Theoi.com quotes Pseudo-Hyginus, Pseudo-Apollodorus, Lycophron and Quintus Smyrnaeus as conflating the Giants and Titans. It also mentions how Koios and Krios were sometimes said to be leaders of the Giants against Zeus, when they were really the ones who ganged up on Kronos. (I have edited my comment above because not all of the writers quoted were Romans.) I wasn't aware of the Thracian tradition, which is interesting.
    – solsdottir
    Aug 6, 2017 at 0:25
  • My apologies. I was thinking of the conflation/confusion as the default explanation and was primarily interested in any alternatives the community might offer, but of course your answer sticks with the conflation theme. Aug 6, 2017 at 14:39
  • 1
    OK, I see what you were asking now. For what it's worth, I would suggest that since both groups fought against the gods (Titanomachy and the Gigantomachy) and there seems to be a certain fuzziness about the subject anyway (@DukeZhou) it's not surprising that the two were confused. Also, the Titans were fairly obscure deties anyway, with little or no cult to perpetuate their myths.
    – solsdottir
    Aug 6, 2017 at 18:06
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Overview

A major ingredient—perhaps the prime one—for the foundation for this does in fact seem to be the (con)fusion of the Titans with the Gigantes. The earliest evidence for this that I’m finding is, as it so happens, in the Bible, in the 3rd century BC.

This fusion or conflation is evinced somewhat more strongly in Roman mythographers, starting as early Virgil (1st century BC), who tend to mention the names of certain first-generation Titans—Coeus and Iapetus especially—as though these personages are, rather, Gigantes.

Even as the Roman Empire was increasingly Christianised, works of Greco-Roman mythology continued to hold pride of place as important scholarly education textbooks as well as a repository of source material for historiographical speculation. Euhemerised renditions of the ancient gods and heroes were integrated into the timeline as it was now understood to have flowed.

Thus, e.g., Saturn, the Roman version of the Titan Kronos, could continue to be envisioned as a historical figure in the cultural imagination, being said to have been a primordial Italian king, except now, rather than as a Titan-god, more in the mould of the Biblical giants interpreted as having dominated parts of the world in the days before and early on after Noah’s Flood.

Most eager to make such connections, Movses Khorenats‘i (Moses of Chorene), while writing the History of the Armenians, in the 400s AD, equates Kronos with Nimrod, the son of Kush in Genesis 10 whom Christian tradition would come to ascribe as the main man in charge of building the Tower of Babel. In Movses’ account, this Kronos-Nimrod, going mainly by the name Bēl, is the Babylonian “king of the Titans” at the head of an army of giants with which he conquers the entire world. A parallel version of the story is related in the anonymous Primary History (traditionally attributed to the 7th-century Armenian bishop Sebeos), in which Bēl is himself explicitly referred to as both a giant and a Titan.

From Movses’ time down into the Late Middle Ages, evidence of the synonymy between “Titan” and “giant” continues to appear cursorily in Latin literature until we get to the Early Modern period, in which Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene offers an abundance of detailed and unambiguous descriptions of the Titans, set within genuinely Greco-Roman myth, as superhumanly humongous and colossal entities, the earliest such that I have found (1590s AD).

The proliferation of mythical allusions in The Faerie Queene displays the breadth and depth of Spenser’s acquaintance with the corpus of Ancient Greek and Roman mythography. It makes it certain that when he casts so many of his villains as giants specifically because they are descended from Titans, it isn’t a choice made out of ignorance regarding the old myths. He necessarily interprets the Titans as having been conceptualised as massive beings in the ancient imagination. Either that and/or he is the merely following the long tradition of fusing Gigantes with Titans that began before the Christian era and carried on throughout it down into his own time, only now expressed in much higher resolution than we’ve so far been exposed to in extant literature.

Specific Examples

Bible Translation & Interpretation

By around the 200s BC, working out of Hellenistic Egypt, the translators of Hebrew Scriptures into Greek were using the terms “Titans” and “Gigantes” as though the two were basically interchangeable. Emeq Rephaîm, the “Valley of Rephaïm”, mentioned in 2 Samuel 5.18, 22, changes, in Greek, into the koiláda tôn Titánon, “Valley of the Titans”, while in 1 Chronicles 11.15, from a passage in which the same story is recounted, Emeq Rephaîm is instead rendered as koiládi tôn gigánton, “Valley of the Gigantes”. According to Jan Bremmer,1 “the same alternation occurs in the textual tradition of Flavius Josephus’ rewriting of the passage” (in the Antiquities of the Jews 7.71). Bremmer goes on to say that:

The Greek version of Judith (ca. first century AD) lets the heroine sing in the hymn of praise after her victory: “nor did the sons of the Titans strike him (Holophernes) down, nor did tall giants set upon him” (16.6) … and … the Greek version of 1 Enoch 9.9 has: “the daughters of men brought forth from them sons, giants”, but the Gizeh fragment translates ‘giants’ with ‘Titans’…

This trend carries on into the Middle Ages as, in their respective commentaries on the Apocalypse of John (a.k.a. the Book of Revelation), the Venerable Bede (writing in England c. 710-716 AD)2 and Hugh of Saint-Cher (Hugo de Sancto Charo, in 1200s AD France),3 each define the word Titan as meaning “a giant”.

Over the course of the last few centuries BC, while the Bible was finding its way from Hebrew into Greek, writers like Euhemerus, and Diodorus Siculus, were pioneering the practice of historicising the Titans and other deities into mortal earthly versions of the characters they appear as in the traditional Greco-Roman myths. At the beginning of the mediaeval period, Christian authors would employ this technique to splice the same mythology into Biblical events and chronology.

Thus in the 500s AD, John Malalas uses material from Euhemerus’s Sacred History for his own expansion on Genesis 10, which lists Noah’s earliest descendants after the Flood. In Malalas (1.8), Kronos is described as coming from the tribe of Noah’s son Shem, and also as “a man who was of the race of the giants”,4 from the Greek gigantiaíos. In the Latin translation of the same, he is gigantaeae staturae, “of gigantic stature”.5

In the previous century, Movses Khorenats‘i equates Kronos with Nimrod son of Kush (who in turn was a son of Ḥam, and grandson of Noah). This is presumably because, in the Bible, Nimrod seems to be credited with being the first great king and ruler after the Flood, and, going by the Ancient Greek translation, he was also gígas epì tes ges, “a giant upon the earth” (Genesis 10.8-9, & 1 Chronicles 1.10).

Mostly Latin Literature

Benjamin Garstad takes note of Diodorus Siculus’ narration, in the Bibliotheka Historika 5.71.3, of Zeus’ conquest of the Giants in a battle against them on Crete Island after his performance of a sacrifice to the Sun, the Sky and the Earth, whereupon the deities revealed their will to him, “and all who opposed them {i.e. Zeus and his allies} were cut down by the gods.” Commenting upon this, Garstad goes on to say6 that:

Comparable narratives, with similar elements (i.e. the sacrifice of Zeus… before an expedition, and some response promising victory), but consistently replacing Giants with Titans, are found in numerous Latin works, apparently stemming from an early commentary on the Aratea of Germanicus.

He adds that “At least one author considered the names ‘Titans’ and ‘Giants’ to be interchangeable”7 and cites the Second Vatican Mythographer 67, wherein:

The fables tell us that Earth was angry at the gods who refused to dwell upon her. For revenge, she created the Titans, also called Giants. They were armed with the tails of serpents.

In the Roman tradition, for the conflation of the Titanomachy with the Gigantomachy, the names of Coeus (father of Leto and Asteria, and grandfather of Apollo, Artemis, and Hekate) and Iapetus (the father of Atlas and Prometheus) become fairly prominent figures in lists of Zeus’s enemies in this context.

Virgil’s Georgics 1.276-286 (1st century BC) is the earliest culprit I can find in Roman literature for such a thing, in which:

[I]n monstrous labour Earth bore Coeus, and Iapetus and fierce Typhoeus, and the brethren who were banded to break down Heaven. Thrice did they essay to pile Ossa on Pelion, and over Ossa to roll leafy Olympus; thrice, with his bolt, the Father dashed apart their up-piled mountains.

This seems to combine three different attacks against Zeus—spread apart by centuries (first, Coeus and Iapetus during the Titans’ War; then, millennia later, Poseidon’s skyscraper twin sons, the Aloadae, piling mountains atop one another to climb into heaven; and then the cosmic-sized Typhoeus nearly killing Zeus in a separate conflict)—into a triple-assault on the same occasion.

Servius’ commentary on this passage says that “By Coeus, Typhoeus, and Iapetus, however, we understand all the giants.” And in his Commentary on Virgil’s Georgics 1.166, he claims that, according to Orpheus, Dionysus “was torn apart by the giants.” Every account of which I am aware, however, of the Orphic myth of Dionysus (i.e. Zagreus) being torn to pieces by semi-divine beings involves Titans, rather than the giants.

Perhaps taking its cue from Virgil, Hyginus’ Preface lists Coeus and Iapetus in its roll-call of Gigantes. Hyginus is rather notorious for mixing up the details within his mythography, so when he also adds Astraeus and Pallas to his Gigantes’ list, it’s difficult to ascertain whether they’re authentic Giant-names or merely more of the same sort of confusion. (In Hesiod’s Theogony, Coeus and Iapetus are two of the original twelve Titans while their nephews Astraeus and Pallas are second-generation Titans, being the sons of Crius, a brother of Coeus and Iapetus.)

Conversely, in the previous section of the Preface, the Hundred-Handed Giants Briareus and Gyges [Gyes], and the [one-eyed giant] Cyclops Steropes, are enumerated among the Titans. (Theoi.com does note, however, that the text of the Preface, as it has come down to us, is corrupt.)

Later on, the First Vatican Mythographer 184 would say that “Latona was the daughter of Coeius [Coeus] the giant.” Then in the 1300s AD, the fire-breathing earthquake-monster Enceladus is mentioned together with Coeus in Boccaccio’s Genealogy of the Gods of the Gentiles 1.10, in which passage Jupiter (the Roman Zeus) goes to war against “the giant Titans, sons of Earth,” as Jon Solomon8 translates the Latin Titanas gigantes, Terre filios.

The Faerie Queene

Published 1590 AD, Edmund Spenser describes a villain called Disdayne (Disdain) as being so tall he was “Like a huge Giant of the Titans’ race” in The Faerie Queene Book 2, Canto 7, Stanza 41. According to the relevant passage:

Disdayne he was called, and did disdayne
To be so cald, and who did him so call :
Sterne was his looke, and full of stomach vayne ;
His portaunce terrible, and stature tall,
Far passing th’ hight of men terrestriall,
Like an huge Gyant of the Titans race ;
That made him scorn all creatures great and small,
And with his pride all others powre deface…

Book 3, Canto 1, Stanza 57 of the same poem describes Atlas as “huge”. Typhoeus is specifically named one of the Titans in Book 3, Canto 7, Stanzas 47-48, wherein he sires a Giantess called Argante and her twin brother Ollyphant, upon his own mother the Earth.

In Book 5, Canto 1, Stanza 9, “in that great fight | Against the Titans” Jove (Jupiter) uses a mighty sword named Chrysaor to quell “those Gyants” (published AD 1596).

In Book 6, Canto 7, Mutabilitie (Mutability) is “a daughter by descent | Of those old Titans” (Stanza 2); herself, like Hecaté, a “Goddesse” and a “Titanesse” (Stanzas 3-4, & 10-11); as well as a “Giantesse” (Stanza 13). She is the daughter of Earth by Saturn’s elder brother Titan (Stanzas 26-27, & 32). Mutabilitie’s back-story, upon the strength of which she challenges Jove’s rule over the universe here in The Faerie Queene, is based on the theogony in Euhemerus’ Sacred History.

19th Century Onwards

As far as evidence in my findings goes, though, it seems that one might have to wait a few more centuries after Spenser, until the decades surrounding 1914, before another explicit literary reference to enormous Titans. This is when Thomas Bulfinch, in a new edition of a book of his first published in 1855,9 tell us that “Prometheus was one of the Titans, a gigantic race, who inhabited the earth before the creation of man.”

The earliest solid examples I am able to cite of the use of the word “titanic” as meaning “vast in size” would come from At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft, in 1936, wherein several such references are made to mostly geographical features, such as mountains and rocks.

Trying Again from Another Angle

Vast Mountain, Expansive Ocean

All of that notwithstanding, I would posit a different basis for gargantuan Titans in ancient mythography when it comes to at least two of these personages, namely Oceanus and Atlas. In the case of the latter, it’s very likely that when Edmund Spenser calls him “huge” (see above), he could be directly referencing Book 4 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the Gorgon-slaying hero Perseus uses Medusa’s head to turn Atlas into the vast mountain-range bearing his name, and “which covers almost the entire swath of northwestern Africa, from what is now the northern half of Tunisia in the east, across northern Algeria, to sweep over almost all of Morocco in the west.”10

Atlas Mountain Range

This version of Atlas’ fate apparently goes back as far as the 5th-century BC dithyrambic poet Polyeidus, while Ovid (in the year 8 AD) supplies us with the notion (if it wasn’t already Polyeidus’s idea to begin with) that Mt Atlas is as big as it is because “There was so much of him that Atlas became a mountain” and, in A.D. Melville’s 1986 translation (of Book 4, Lines 657-662), the Titan’s

beard and hair were changed to forests, shoulders were cliffs, hands ridges; where his head had lately been, the soaring summit rose; his bones were turned to stone. Then each part grew beyond all measure (so the gods ordained) and on his shoulders rested the whole vault of heaven with all the innumerable stars.

Previous to the transformation (according to Lines 631-633), “This man, Atlas Iapetionides [son of Iapetus], surpassed all others in immensity of body-size.” (Cf. Brookes More’s 1922 translation: “huge Atlas” was “vaster than the race of man”; &, per Melville: “Atlas surpassed all men in giant size”. More translates the Latin maximus Atlas in Book 6, Line 172 as “huge Atlas” while Melville renders it as “That great giant, Atlas”, which would seem to be justifiable based on the Titan’s description in superlatives back in Book 4.)

Hence we have a 1st-century AD account of a massively gigantic Titan, seemingly well clear of the context of the Gigantomachy and the confusion of its participants with Titans. So it would be quite fair to read Lovecraft’s “titanic” Mountains of Madness as a legitimate allusion to the Titan who was metamorphosed into Mt Atlas. (Unless one were to argue that perhaps Ovid does see his super-tall “Iapetionides” simply as one of the Gigantes, on the grounds that his contemporaries Virgil and Hyginus seem to count Atlas’s father Iapetus as a Giant rather than a Titan.)

The presentation in Hesiod’s Theogony of Oceanus’s geographical structure in the world and in relation to his daughter Styx might be somewhat convoluted for envisioning the cosmic river-god’s shape with certainty, but at least as early Homer’s Iliad it is fairly certain that this shape is circular. Going by the Shield of Heracles (also anciently attributed to Hesiod) it’s reasonably clear that this circle of water goes round the entire (flat, disc-shaped) Earth.

This means that the circumference of Oceanus, eldest of the Titans, curved Ouroboros-like around his mother “huge Gaia” (as the Theogony aptly calls her), is greater even than that of the Earth herself. As a consequence, when we want to refer to a body of water that’s even more expansive than the sea, so large that it surrounds entire continents, we call it the ocean, from the first Titan’s name.

The Unhelpfulness of the Visual Arts for a Sense of Scale

It is true that ancient artwork does not provide visual backup for the idea of extremely large Titans in comparison to the Olympians, but then again we run into the same challenge when it comes to depictions of the Gigantes. Artistic portrayals of the Gigantomachy, whether in vase painting or sculpture, are rather stubbornly diligent in rendering the Giants pretty much the same size as the gods.

We can be certain, at least when it comes to Tityus, Typhoeus, and the twin Aloadae, that our understanding of the term “Giant” as “a tremendously humongous creature” is not mistaken. With regards to Tityus, Book 11 of Homer’s Odyssey invites its reader to visualise a man so vast that, lying down dead and supine in the Underworld, his form covers the space of nine plethra, which Theoi.com calculates to be the equivalent of approx. 270 metres, or about 900 feet.

But when Phintias (500s BC) paints him onto an Attic red-figure vase (now in the Musée du Louvre in Paris),11 this is what Tityus looks like in relation to one of the Titans and a pair of Olympian deities:
Tityos Leto Louvre
The Giant in the middle, making to abduct the Titaness Leto, with the Titaness’s twin children, Apollo to the left, and Artemis to the right, moving in to stop him.

Earlier in the same book of the Odyssey, prodigious twin boys called the Aloadae are said to have grown by nine inches every month so that, by the time they were only nine years old, they should each have measured, by my own estimation, 18 feet (roughly 6m) in width and 54 feet (approx. 16m) in height. Artemis encounters these Giants as well, but when the Barclay Painter (about a century before Phintias) pictures them on a bell krater (now in the Antikenmuseum Basel), they are no bigger than the goddess, nor even than her deer (nor yet even than the little tree in the scene)!

Typhoeus, whom Apollodorus describes as taller than any mountain (and practically seeming to graze his head against the stars upon trying to stand up straight in Bibliotheka 1.6.3), really isn’t impressively bigger than Zeus in this Chalcidian black-figure hydria (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)12 from c. 540 BC:

Zeus vs Typhoeus
Zeus, to the left, brandishes his thunderbolt at Typhoeus, who, with his serpentine lower half on display, spreads his wings to the right of the image.

So when Oceanus appears, sporting his serpentine fish-tail, looking not that much bigger than Hephaestus and Eileithyia in a dinos painting by Sophilos (500s BC, British Museum, London), it need not be a hindrance to the idea of him as a merman of cosmic proportions encircling the disc of Earth, in much the same way that Jörmungandr, the cosmic snake submerged in the sea in Norse mythology, is of such extensive size that he bites his own tail while his body lies curled into a circle around the entire world.

As silly as it all may seem…

Per the concern of imagining Zeus siring Apollo and Artemis on a Titaness who is “gigantic in stature in a way that” he is not, the question simply flips around when we consider that Tityus is attempting to abduct Leto in order to enjoy her attentions in the same manner than Zeus did. So we end up with the same sort of problem if the Giant were as tall as an 80-storey building (to convert the dimensions in the Odyssey) and she were much closer to, say, normal human size.

While Tityus does not seem to have achieved his goal in relation to Leto, Pindar tells us that, through his daughter Europa, Tityus became the grandfather of the Argonaut Euphemus. This has always made me wonder if Euphemus himself is also supposed to be a giant, and upon whom did Tityus (with a body measuring 9 plethra) beget Europa? Similar questions might be posed about Orion, who according to Homer was the only man taller and more handsome than the Aloadae, and these twins, as we’ve seen, might have towered over some modern skyscrapers. So when certain writers credit Orion with having had several children, one might again be curious as to the nature of the women bearing these offspring.

Neither the Theogony nor subsequent early mythography seems to be particularly squeamish about bizarre imagery no matter how silly it might come off. Taking dramatic size differences between Zeus and his Titan wives for granted seems no more ludicrous to me than trying to picture the Earth giving birth to the Sky, especially if it’s correct to visualise a disc-shaped Earth and a(n upside-down) bowl-shaped Sky-dome. And when Hesiod says that this same Sky mated with Earth before eventually being castrated by Kronos, the mechanics of how all this was achieved require quite some imagination indeed.

This is the case moreso when the poet announces that the Titaness Tethys gave birth to all the rivers of the world. Incidentally, this final consideration does cause me to envisage a woman colossal enough to contain and gestate within her belly the Theogony's 3000 streams (several of them surely gigantic, as many rivers certainly are) before bringing them forth from therein, whatever that process is supposed to look like.


Notes

1. On pp. 93-94 of his book Greek Religion and Culture, the Bible and the Ancient Near East (Brill, 2008, Leiden • Boston).

2. See Book 2 of his Explanatio Apocalypsis, wherein he comments on Revelation 13.18.

3. In the Glossa ordinaria. The Glossae Scripturae Sacrae-electronicae (Gloss-e) website tags the relevant portion thereof as “83a. Postilla Aser pinguis in Apocalypsi”, attributing it to “Hugo de Sancto Caro”.

4. According to p. 6 of The Chronicle of John Malalas: A Translation by Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Jeffreys and Roger Scott with Brian Croke, Jenny Ferber, Simon Franklin, Alan James, Douglas Kelly, Ann Moffatt, Ann Nixon (The Australian Association for Byzantine Studies: Byzantina Australiensia 4, 1986, Melbourne).

5. From the “Anonymi Chronologica,” p. 17 of Ioannis Malalae Chronographia, from the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, a revised edition by B.G. Niebuhr, published by Weber, 1831, Bonn.

6. On p. 171 of his thesis The Titanomachy of Thallus and Its Reception by the Latin Church Fathers, University of St Andrews, March 2000.

7. Ibid., p. 171, Footnote 207

8. Pp. 94-95 of Giovanni Boccaccio: Genealogy of the Pagan Gods, Vol. 1 • Books I-V, Edited and Translated by Jon Solomon, The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, & London, England, 2011

9. On p. 13 of The Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology, New Edition, Revised and Enlarged, Vol 1: Stories of Gods and Heroes, Review of Reviews Company, New York

10. From my Answer to Another Question on this website.

11. Image sourced from Jastrow. 2007. Tityos Leto Louvre G42.jpg, Wikimedia Commons, viewed 31 January 2024, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tityos_Leto_Louvre_G42.jpg

12. Image sourced from User:Bibi Saint-Pol. 2007. Zeus Typhon Staatliche Antikensammlungen 596.jpg, Wikimedia Commons, viewed 31 January 2024, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zeus_Typhon_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_596.jpg

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As time progressed, Titans (as well as giants) became terms to use for gigantic size. I will tell you what they meant before this.

Titan: this term means 'strained one'. The reason for this is because - after Cronus castrated his father - Ouranos hated the Titans for this. Thus, he gave them this name.

Giant (Gigante): this term means 'old one' or 'ancient one'. I do not know the reason for this, but that is what it meant.

Later sources changed the definition, and as such, increasing the size of Titans and Gigantes to enormous degrees (whereas in reality, they were around human sized).

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  • Here I recognize Hesiod's etymology for Titan. Be warned, though, that in ancient discourse etymology functions more as a topos for invention than as a linguistic science. Jan 15, 2021 at 12:08

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