Giants, now a popular topic in books, films and television shows, and conspiracy theories, have been a part of many cultures since at least the beginning of writing. In many mythological tales, giants are obstacles that represent evil that the hero has to overcome.
Interestingly, giants are often associated with cannibalism. Cannibalism is derived from "Carib," the natives that Columbus discovered in Cuba who were thought to be "man-eater" (Lukaschek 2001:3). Stories of cannibalistic giants are known from Europe, the Middle East, and North America. Giants and cannibalism are entangled in Greek, Jewish, and Native American mythologies, possibly telling us something about how people viewed cannibalism.
Greek mythology is filled with stories about giant creatures that are defeated by heroes. There are many stories about cannibalism as well. According to the creation stories, the beings who ruled the world before the Olympians were giants known as Titans. Cronus was the leader of the titans and one of the more powerful of his siblings. Cronus was warned by his parents that he would likely be overthrown by one of his children and resorted to devouring his offspring. When his wife bore Zeus, she hid him away and tricked Cronus by giving him a stone to eat. When Zeus became a man, he freed his siblings from his father’s stomach and overthrew him and the Titans. In this story, Cronus was an evil cannibal that the hero Zeus had to overcome. In the end, Cronus was punished with castration and was thrown into the deepest pit of the underworld called Tarturus.
Another famous example of a giant cannibal in Greek mythology is found in The Odyssey. On his journey, Odysseus and his men come across a cave filled with sheep and food. As his men linger, a giant Cyclops named Polyphemus traps them in his cave. Although the giant seems hospitable in the beginning, he starts to eat Odysseus' men. In order to escape, Odysseus has to blind the Cyclops with a large olive branch.
According to these stories, cannibalism was seen as evil to the ancient Greeks because of the punishment these two villains received. Cronus suffers a fate worse than death, and Polyphemus is blinded and humiliated.
The Book of Enoch
Cannibalistic giants are also plentiful in The Book of Enoch. The ancient text mentions that the giants were the offspring of angels and human women. They were reported to be three thousand cubits tall and were infamous for devouring men (see Goff and Grossman 2010:20). Although The Book of Enoch is rejected by many Christians and Jews, the taboo of cannibalism is regarded as a vile practice in the Old Testament. The Book of Enoch describes the giants as a threat to all mankind because they were cannibals. According the book, the giants are wiped out by the Flood for the evil they committed.
Stories of cannibalistic have also made an appearance in Native American mythology through the story of Si-Te-Cah. The Si-Te- Cah comes from the oral histories passed down by the Paiute Indians. A Paiute activist named Sarah Winnemucca, who lived during the mid to late nineteenth century, wrote in Life Among the Piutes (1882) about a race of red haired cannibals that were wiped out by her people. According to Winnemucca, the Si-Te-Cah dug holes for traps and waited till night time for victims to fall in. Theses cannibals would also dig up the dead and feast on them. The story goes that there was a three-year-long war between these two tribes and the Paiutes won. The Paiutes pleaded with the remaining Si-Te-Cah to stop feeding on people like “coyotes or beasts.” In the end the Paiutes trapped the Si-Te-Cah in a cave, blocked the entrance with wood, and burned them to death.
After Winnemucca’s death, mummies with red hair were discovered in a Lovelock Cave, Nevada. A lot of evidence has been lost has been lost over the years and it is unclear whether these mummies were the Si-Te-Cah or not. Although many people today say that the S-Te-Cah were giants, Winnemucca never actually uses the word. She actually calls them barbarians because they were cannibals. Even though this story is not necessarily about giants, it is important because it feeds on to the myth of cannibalistic giants. This is another story about how certain native tribes viewed cannibalism.
Cannibalism has been seen all over the world in places such as India, places in Africa, New Guinea, the Fiji islands, New Zealand, North, and South America. Explorers and travelers of some of these places reported cannibalism as far back as the 1500's. The people in these cultures usually practiced cannibalism through ritual or warfare (Lukaschek 2001:8). It appears as through the mythologies that connect giants and cannibalism are primarily found in North America, the Middle East, and Europe. Places where cannibalism existed in history tended to be part of tribal tradition. This is why there are more stories about cannibalism being taboo in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Karoline Lukaschek’s research shows that cannibalism is more taboo in places such as North America, Europe, and the Middle East. You tend to find more stories about giant cannibals within their mythologies.
In conclusion, many different mythologies portray giants as the enemies of mankind. Most of the time the hero valiantly slays the beast like David and Goliath. These mythologies also appear to teach that cannibalism was a vile practice in many ancient cultures. So it is not a surprise that giants are often associated with cannibalism. These mythologies show that all of these monstrous giants were punished for their crimes. Polyphemus was blinded, Cronus was sent to the underworld, the sons of the angels and the red haired giants were wiped out. Many conspiracy theorists believe that these stories have some truth to them. The truth is these stories give us a look into ancient cultures and show us their values.
Goff, Matthew, and Maxine L. Grossman. 2010. "Monstrous Appetites: Giants, Cannibalism, and Insatiable Eating in Enochic Literature," Journal of Ancient Judaism 1(1).
Lukaschek, Karoline. 2001. The History of Cannibalism, Master's thesis, Lucy Cavendish College.
These blog posts were written by students in Forbidden Archaeology (Fall 2016)