Giants and dwarfs

Dwarf on the shoulders of a giant by Adrian Smith.


in Indo-European mythologies the opposed groups of macro- and micro-anthropomorphic beings, both connected to the chthonic powers.


Giants appeared in two thematic complexes.
The first one concerned giants-ancestors of the gods actually ruling over the world (see YATSHAS; HECATONCHEIRES; TITANS; CYCLOPES-I) or their enemies (see JÖTNAR; GIGANTES; ASURAS; DAITYAS; DANAVAS; DAEVAS; ASILKAS; YUSHAS-II). These were defeated and exterminated by gods. If some of them managed to survive the onslaught, they were downgraded to the secondary roles. Closely related to this approach were the traditions about creation of the world from the body of a fallen giant (see PURUSHA, YMIR, MUNDZHEM MALIK).
The second thematic complex concerned giants – enemies of mankind, mainly the heroic hypostases of a ➚ Thunderer (see UAIGS, DAEVAS-II and III; RAKSHAS; CYCLOPES-II). Indeed, these giants are a variant of a chthonic monster, which fell in the ➚ cosmogonic duel. All the giants were deceitful, savage (“barbaric”) and repulsive. They dwelt underground (in caves, see YATSHAS; DAEVA-II and III), lived in an incestuous relationships (see GURO), cultivated cannibalism (see LAESTRYGONES; YUSHAS-II; KANDZARGAS), did not know the hospitality law (see POLYPHEMUS-1). There are attempts to identify some of the giants with the indigenous, pre-Indo-European people; compare with the suggested etymological relation of old Icelandic thurs “giant” (see JÖTNAR) with Greek týrsis “(stone) tower, citadel”, which would relate to the peoples of Megalithic culture.


Dwarfs (see ALFAR; DWARVES) dwelt in the mountains, caves and burrows, guarded underground treasures (see YAKSHAS; KOBOLDS) and were the masters of blacksmithing (see BRISINGAMEN; DAIN; DACTYLS). Usually they were benevolent towards humans (see BICENATA, YAKSHAS), although sometimes they kidnapped women and children and caused harm to the homestead. Dwarfs were characterized with wisdom (see VALAKHILYAS, VAMANA) and were closer to the human culture and more “contemporary” to men. They were commonly depicted as graybeards, which is a trace of the way of thinking about dwarfs as the former landlords and hosts of a given area.

Monstrously great and stunted human statures are derived from a tradition which says that the current form of mankind is only temporary: after a man reaches the height of a dwarf there will be an end of the world (see AJOJ-MAJOJ; compare with REVATI).


J. W o o d, Giants and Dwarfs, London 1868; G. A. L e w i n t o n, K motivu gybeli velikanov (in group work:) Materialy Vsesoyuznogo simpoziuma po vtoritshnym modyeliruyushchim sistemam, I, Tartu 1974; J. B. F r i e d m a n, The monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought; Cambridge (Mass.) 1981.