Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Françoise-Hélène Massa-Pairault, Claude Pouzadoux (ed.), Géants et gigantomachies entre Orient et Occident: actes du colloque organisé par Centre Jean Bérard (CNRS/EFR) AOROC - ArScaN - LABEX Les passés dans le présent, Naples, 14-15 novembre 2013. Collection du Centre Jean Bérard, 47. Napoli: Centre Jean Bérard, 2017. Pp. 276. ISBN 9782918887744. €48,00 (pb). Françoise-Hélène Massa-Pairault, Claude Pouzadoux (ed.), Giganti e gigantomachie tra Oriente e Occidente: catalogo della mostra, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, 15 novembre 2013-31 marzo 2014. Napoli: Centre Jean Bérard, 2017. Pp. 38. ISBN 9782918887751. €15,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Christopher Smith, University of St Andrews (

Version at BMCR home site

We live in an age of monsters. Perhaps we always have—almost as long as there have been stories, there have been depictions of the monstrous. This is a theme common to popular culture as well as literary novels. Unsurprisingly the classical monster has become increasingly interesting to scholars. 1

This conference volume (with the slightly underwhelming catalogue briefly summarizing an accompanying small exhibition in Naples) addresses one sort of monster, the giant, and places them between east and west, another spectrum of foreignness. The range is wide and the quality of contributions high. I begin by outlining the story. The giants are the offspring of Gaea and Uranus (earth and sky). There was a prophecy that the gods could defeat the giants only if a mortal was involved. Zeus summoned Herakles through the mediation of Athena and the monsters were defeated and buried, their subterranean movements of pain being the cause of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

After the initial statements, and homage to the distinguished late French scholar Pierre Chuvin, the volume begins in earnest with Mario Torelli's identification of the scene on chariot 1 from Castel San Mariano, in the museum at Perugia, as representing Zeus' agreement with Herakles to defeat the giants—Zeus is also shown in the act of hammering a giant into the ground. Torelli places this into a broader perspective of heroic activity and the negative tyrannical connotations of the giants.

Menichetti and Cerchiai reflect on the connection between first the victorious Herakles and the dances of the Panathenaic games. The suggestion is that it is specifically this victory which inspires the kallinikosdance, and this connection finds its way variously into iconography, with Herakles sometimes depicted in the guise of an athlete in his combat, and then forms part of the aristocratic representation of heroic activity and a model for the young. It is also significant that Athena's peplos depicts her triumph over a giant. Of particular interest are some bronze strips showing reliefs of the gigantomachy (some from Bomarzo), and a number of amphorae, including one by the Micali Painter.

Nizzo offers a catalogue of gigantomachies on vases found at Spina. He notes the influence on vases of Pheidias' imagining of the gigantomachy on the Parthenon. (A further, more general account of the role and place of the gigantomachy in the Padane area is deferred but would be interesting to have.) Giacobello's account of the Talos painter's crater from Ruvo di Puglia is directly related; it also shows the influence of Pheidias, and Giacobello suggests that it directly reflects the depiction on the shield of Athena in which the giants seek to assail heaven. The faithful depiction on the crater shows that also the shield delineated a heavenly and earthly sphere. (The vase is also, in passing, a rather interesting example of 19th century repairs and reconstruction).

The next section looks at South Italian depictions rather than Greek imports. Hildebrandt begins with a striking statistic; there are well over 600 Attic gigantomachies but only 20 or so Southern Italian ones. It is therefore especially valuable that Hildebrandt is able to present two new depictions, one a recomposed volute krater (Inv. 2003.130) in Hamburg, and another fragment of a similar vessel in the same museum (Inv. 2010.18). Ioannitis suggested it was part of the previous amphora, which I think Hildebrandt disproves. Both are attributed to the Darius painter, so the outcome is two new vessels from that remarkable artist.

Giuliani takes a wider view and asks questions about the meaning of the gigantomachy in its Italian setting. This is then taken further by Mugione and Pouzadoux who take a broader approach to the representation of the story, looking at the role of Dionysus and then at the way the Darius painter situates the giants as one of his depiction of alterity, partly using Trojan and Persian War myths as parallels to the war between gods and giants.

The monstrous is sometimes thought to have been of particular interest to the Hellenistic period. Yet, as Peter Parsons once noted and Prioux quotes, the Gigantomachy was not a regular topic for Hellenistic literature. Parsons claimed that there were no poems dedicated to the theme, and for all her valiant efforts, Prioux too struggles to find one, though she then gives a very helpful account of ecphrastic treatments. It is somehow typically Hellenistic that the gigantic battle is only ever treated as a miniature. Inevitably the negative connotations of megethos or size are relevant here. Her useful catalogue will make a good starting point for further work.

Massa-Pairault takes her starting point from the stunning cameo, signed by Athenion, in the archaeological museum of Naples (inv 25848). Zeus in his chariot rides over two giants with snakes for legs. She develops a series of comparisons with particular reference inevitably to the Pergamon altar. Another Athenion piece, which survives only in a broken glass version in Berlin, shows Athena on a chariot, and may have been a companion piece. The Pergamene interest in Athena is clear from their coinage, and Massa-Pairault connects the pieces as reflecting part of a unified iconographic project (the cameos being miniature gift tokens). Whereas Massa-Pairault is cautious about precisely dating the frieze and temple complex, Coarelli who also sees the temple complex as a single coherent work, places it firmly in the 180s BC; he sees it as a rebuilding of the original heroon (of Pergamos) at Pergamon. 2 Queyrel has a later date for the frieze but this is somewhat marginal to his main argument about representations of the Galatians. His most challenging suggestions are around the presentation of the Galatians in Egypt, including a head found in the 19th century at Arsinoe which he thinks recalls the victory of Ptolemy II over the Galatians, and a suggestion that the figure of Triptolemus on the Tazza Farnese has Galatian characteristics. Pollini (not cited) argued similarly but makes the Gaul an Augustan nearly civilized auxiliary; Queyrel argues for the Gaul as a reflection of Ptolemy II's successful settlement of cleruchs in the Fayoum. 3

Linant de Bellefonds traces the presence of a winged giant in the iconography. This includes one on the Darius painter fragment discussed by Hildebrandt (incidentally she argues, against Hildebrandt, that the fragment does indeed belong to the larger vase). There are a handful of other representations, including part of the temple of Athena at Priene and of course the Pergamene frieze. Despite the limited nature of the corpus, the winged giant seems only to be an opponent of Athena emerging from the Tarentine area in the 4th century; it is rare; and Linant de Bellefonds argues against the usual identifications to suggest that the giant may have been Pallas. She notes that Athena always holdsa short knife rather than her lance, a reference perhaps to the fact that Pallas (in some versions) was flayed after death. The variety of versions of this story is considerable, but it is indisputable that in the Roman period, more generic representations take over—and the giant loses his wings.

The last Hellenistic gigantomachy is from the Bactrian city of Termez, in modern Ouzbekhistan. The surviving fragment depicts Herakles apparently between two giants (though I wonder myself if one of the figures is rather a satyr, as on some of the vases). Leriche shows that it is not a direct copy of the Pergamum frieze, but rather than pinpointing an exact alternative, he suggests that it reflects the Pergamene style—and this seems a sensible way forward. How the Bactrians positioned themselves in this classic story of Graeco-Roman success over the barbarian is another matter.

Frontisi's essay is an attempt at a reception history, but the topic is really too vast to be covered, and the essay is somewhat eclectic; he ranges from Palazzo Te and Poussin to modern treatments by Roucard and Tim Burton's film The Big Fish. The volume ends with Chuvin's clever account of Nonnus' transplanting of the giant Typheus to Anatolia, rather than the more normal Phlegraean fields. Both essays hint at the power of the story of the Giants to reflect more general themes.

But what unites the giants? Whilst literary accounts stress hybris and violence, the giants who are being conquered demonstrate pathos, beauty, vulnerability. They are multiform and therefore monstrous but not always—indeed many of the early Attic giants are barely identifiable as such except by context and some degree of confidence in Vian's original groundbreaking study (which is naturally omnipresent in this volume).4

Many questions remain. How important was the gigantomachy myth west of Italy? The battle was sometimes placed at Tartessos. Would we recognise an Iberian gigantomachy, even were one to be possible? What were the giants for? There were no giantesses, so they are another frustrated dead end, unlike the prolifically fertile gods. What did gigas mean? Was it always about size (they are not shown as especially larger than others in art), or was it as much to do with the earth? Should we be giving more emphasis to this genealogy? Are the giants earth's failure? How do we read this replacement of an order which is as basic and natural as one can get with the peculiarly artificial Greek pantheon? Are we looking at a chronological or evolutionary argument? Notably, the Nephilim of the Bible, another group of giants, are an early dead-end that has to be rooted out, though they fascinated Giambattista Vico.

At the back of this reader's mind throughout has been David Wengrow's important book on monsters and reproduction. 5 The composite nature of the giants reminds one inevitably of Wengrow's important comments on 'the bureaucratic imperative to confront the world … as an imaginary realm made up of divisible subjects, each comprising a multitude of fissionable, commensurable, and recombinable parts.'6 Wengrow's key point, that monstrosity is the product of certain refined methods of cognition, reinforces the notion that the cognitive element of depiction is more than simply a reflection on alterity, but rather a sophisticated observation on reality and the perception of reality. This rich and exciting collection of essays refreshes Vian's admirable early work and gives us new material to work with to understand precisely that perception.

Table des Matières

Hommage à Pierre Chuvin
Pascale Linant de Bellefonds et Agnès Rouveret, De Nanterre à Naples : histoires de gigantomachies,
Françoise-Hélène Massa-Pairault, Introduzione al dibattito

Les Gigantomachies aux époques archaïques et classiques
Mario Torelli, Gigantomachie d'Etruria. Noterella iconologica sui rivestimenti bronzei dei carri di età arcaica
Mauro Menichetti, Luca Cerchiai L'agone della gigantomachia
Valentino Nizzo, Le gigantomachie da Spina
Federica Giacobello, Un cratere con gigantomachia da Ruvo di Puglia. il Pittore di Talos e lo scudo di Fidia

Les Géants en Apulie
Frank Hildebrandt, Gigantomachies recovered. Two Apulian vases in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Luca Giuliani, Tradizioni iconografiche e variazioni innovative nelle rappresentazioni apule della gigantomachia
Eliana Mugione, Claude Pouzadoux, I Giganti come "altri" nei programmi figurativi in Grecia e in Magna Grecia dall'età arcaica all'età di Alessandro
Dioniso e l'alterità nelle immagini di gigantomachia (E. Mugione)
I Giganti e gli altri nella ceramica italiota: fra mito e storia (Cl. Pouzadoux)
Conclusione (E. Mugione, Cl. Pouzadoux)

Époque hellénistique
Évelyne Prioux, Géants et gigantomachie dans la poésie hellénistique
Appendice: Cahier de sources
Françoise-Hélène Massa-Pairault, Autour du camée d'Athénion (MNA Naples 25848)
Filippo Coarelli, Il "Grande Altare" di Pergamo: cronologia e contesto
François Queyrel, Les Galates comme nouveaux Géants ? De la métaphore au glissement interprétatif
Pascale Linant de Bellefonds, Le Géant ailé, entre Occident et Orient
Pierre Leriche, La gigantomachie de l'ancienne Termez

Claude Frontisi, Métamorphoses du mythe. Orion et ses avatars
†Pierre Chuvin, Typhée, ultime avatar des Géants ? Pérégrinations d'un mythe à travers l'Anatolie


1.   There was an excellent 2014 Palazzo Massimo exhibition; the catalogue is R. Paris e E. Setari (eds.) Mostri. Creature fantastiche della paura e del mito, (Milan 2014) See also, for example, I. Baglioni, Monstra: Vol. 1: Egitto, Vicino Oriente Antico, Area Storico-Comparativa. Costruzione e percezione delle entità ibride e mostruose nel Mediterraneo antico; Vol 2: L'Antichità Classica. Costruzione e percezione delle entità ibride e mostruose nel Mediterraneo antico, (Rome, 2013). The Institute of Classical Studies in London in 2017 held a day workshop entitled Why do we need Monsters? , organized by Dr. L. Gloyn, whose book is forthcoming.
2.   See now Filippo Coarelli, Pergamo e il re: forma e funzioni di una capitale ellenistica, Studi Ellenistici Supplementi 3, Pisa/Rome, 2016 (rev. BMCR 2017.09.22).
3.   J. Pollini, 'The Tazza Farnese: Augusto Imperatore "Redeunt Saturnia Regna!"', American Journal of Archaeology 96.2 (1992), pp. 283-300.
4.   F. Vian, La Guerre des Géants. Le mythe avant l'époque hellénistique, Paris, 1952; Répertoire des gigantomachies figurées dans l'art grec et romain, Paris, 1951.
5.   D. Wengrow, The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Princeton, 2014).
6.   Wengrow op. cit p 73; and see also Enrico Giovanelli, Maria Cristina Biella, Lucio Giuseppe Perego (eds. ) Il bestiario fantastico di età orientalizzante nella penisola italiana, Trento 2012, and Enrico Giovanelli, Maria Cristina Biella (eds.) Nuovi studi sul bestiario fantastico di età orientalizzante nella penisola italiana, Trento 2016.

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