The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 18

Chapter 18: Giants

(Page 1)

The relation in which giants stand to dwarfs and men has been touched upon in p. 449. By so much of bodily size and strength as man surpasses the elf or dwarf, he falls short of the giant; on the other hand, the race of elves and dwarfs has a livelier intellect and subtler sense than that of men, and in these points again the giants fall far below mankind. The rude course-grained giant nature is defiant in its sense of material power and might, the sly shy dwarf is conscious of his mental superiority. To man has been allotted a happy mean, which raises him above the giant's intractableness and the dwarf's cunning, and betwixt the two he stands victorious. The giant both does and suffers wrong, because in his stupidity he undervalues everybody, and even falls foul of the gods; (1) the outcast dwarf, who does discern good and evil, lacks the right courage for free and independent action. In order of creation, the giant as the sensuous element came first, next followed the spiritual element of elvish nature, and lastly the human race restored the equilibrium. The abruptness of these gradations is a good deal softened down by the giants or dwarfs forming frequent alliances with men, affording clear evidence that ancient fiction does not favour steep contrasts: the very earliest giants have sense and judgment ascribed to them (see Suppl.).

On one side we see giants forming a close tie of brotherhood or servile dependence with human heroes, on the other side shading off into the type of schrats and woodsprites.

There is a number of ancient terms corresponding in sense to our present word riese (giant). (2)

The oldest and most comprehensive term in Norse is iötunn, pl. iötnar (not jötunn, jötnar); it is backed up by an AS. eoten, pl. eotenas, Beow. 223 (eotena cyn, 836. eotoniac, 5953), or eten, Lye sub v.; OE. etin, ettin, Nares sub v.; Scot. ettyn, eyttyn, Jamieson sub v.; an OS. etan, eten can be inferred with certainty from the name of a place in old docs., Etanasfeld, Etenesfeld (campus gigantis), Wigand's Archiv i. 4, 85. Möser nos. 2. 13. 18. 19. And what is more, the word must have lived on in later times, down to the latest, for I find the fem. eteninne (giantess) preserved at least in nursery-tales. Laurenberg (ed. Lappenberg, p. 26) (3) has 'de olde eteninne,' and another Rostock book of the beginning of the 18th century (4) 'die alte eteninne'; I should like to know whence Adelung sub v. mummel gets the fact, that in Westphalia a certain terrible female with whom they frighten children is called etheninne? I have no doubt it is correct. The Saxon etan warrants us in conjecturing an OHG. ëzan, ëzzan, a Goth. ïtan (edere), and for meaning edo (gen. edonis), manducus, polufagoj, devourer. An AS. poem in Cod. exon. 425, 26 says: 'ic mesan mæg meahtelîcor and efn etan ealdum þyrre,' I can chew and eat more mightily than an old giant. Now the question arises, whether another word, which wants the suffix -n, has any business here, namely the ON. iotr, (5) AS. eot, now only to be found in the compound Forniotr, Forneot (p. 240) and the national name Iotar, the Jutes? One thing that makes for it is the same omission of -n in the Swed. jätte (gigas), Dan. jette, pl. jetter; then, taking iötnar as = iotar (Goth. ïtanôs = ïtôs), we should be justified in explaining the names Jotar, Jotland by an earlier (gigantic ?) race whome the advancing Teutons crowded out of the peninsula. (6) In that case we might expect an OS. et, etes, an OHG. ez, ezes, with the meaning of giant. (7) Possibly there was beside iötunn, also an ON. iötull [[?]], OHG. ezal (edax); (8) that would explain the present Norwegian term for giant: jötul, jutul, Hallager 52. Faye 7 (see Suppl.). (9)

Our second term is likewise one that suggests the name of a nation. The ON. þurs [[giant, ogre, monster]] seems not essentially different from iötunn [[jötunn - giant]]; in Sn. 6 Ymir is called ancestor of all the hrîmþurses, in Sæm. 118ª all the iötnar are traced up to him. In particular songs or connexions the preference is given to one or the other appellative: thus in the enumeration of dialects in the Alvîsmâl the giants are always iötnar, never þursar, and there is no Thursaheimr in use for Iötunheimr, Iötnaheimr; but Thrymr, though dwelling in Iötnaheimr, is nevertheless called þursa drôttinn (Sæm. 70. 71) and not iötna drôttinn, but he summons the iötnar (73ª), and is a iötunn himself (74ª). In Sæm. 85b both iötnar and hrîmþursar are summoned one after the other, so there must be some nice distinction between the two, which here I would look for in the prefix hrîm: only hrîmþursar, no hrîmiötnar, are ever met with; of this hrîmþurs an explanation will be attempted at a later stage of the language, the assimilated form þuss, particularly in the pl. þussar, hrîmþussar; a dæmonic being in the later sagas is called Thusselin (Müller's Sagab. 1, 367-8), nay, the Danish tongue has retained the assimilation in its tosse, clumsy giant, dolt (a folk-song has tossegrefve), (10) and a Norwegian dæmon bears the name tussel. The ON. þurs [[giant, ogre, monster]], like several names of gods, is likewise the title of a rune-letter, the same that the Anglo-Saxons called þorn (conf. 'þurs rîsta,' [[carve the thurse rune]] Sæm. 86ª): a notable deviation, as the AS. tongue by no means lacks the word; in Beow. 846 we find þyrs, and also in the menology in Hickes (Gramm. AS. p. 207): 'þyrs sceal on fenne gewunian,' and elsewhere þyrs, pl. þyrsas, renders the Lat. cyclops, orcus. The passage already given from the Cod. exon. 425, 28 has þyrre with the s assimilated, as in irre for irse. And we find an Engl. thurst surviving in hobthurst (woodsprite), conf. hobgoblin p. 502 [hob o' t' hurst?] The OHG. form ought to be durs, pl dursâ, or duris, gen. durises, which last does occur in a gloss for the Lat. Dis, Ditis (Schm. 1, 458), and another gloss more Low Germ. gives thuris for orcus (Fr. ogre); yet Notker ps. 17, 32 spells it turs (daemonium), pl. tursa, and MHG. has turse, gen. tursen (Aw. 3, 179), perhaps türse, türsen (as in Massm. denkm. 109 türsen rhymes kürsen), and even türste, gen. türsten (MS. 2, 205ª); on the other hand, Albr. Tit. 24, 47 has 'spil von einem dürsen' (Hahn 3254 tursen)= play of a d., from which passage we gather that türse-shows as well as wihtel-shows (p. 441n.) were exhibited for pastime: Ls. 3, 564 says, alluding to a well-known fable, 'des kunt der dürsch, und sprichet schuo!' the d. knows that, etc., where the notion of satyr and wild man (p. 482) predominates. The Latin poem of Wilten monastery in Tyrol, which relates the story of the giant Haimo, names another giant Thyrsis, making a proper name of the word:

Forte habitabat in his alius truculentior oris

Cyclops, qui dictus nomine Thyrsis erat,

Thyrsis erat dictus, Seveldia rura colebat. (11)

The name of a place Tursinriut, Tursenriut (Doc. of 1218-9 in Lang's Reg. 2, 88. 94) (12) contains our word unmistakably, and so to my thinking does the earlier Tuzzinwanc near Neugart, standing for Tussinwanc, Tursinwanc (campus gigantis), the present Dussnag. Nor does it seem much more hazardous to explain Strabo's Qousnelqa (7, 1. Tzsch. 2, 328) by Thurshilda, Thusshilda, Thursinhilda, (13) though I cannot produce an ON. Thurshildr. In Switzerland to this day dürst is the Wild Hunter (St. 1, 329), on the Salzburg Alp dusel is a night-spirit (Muchar's Gastein, p. 145), and in Lower Germany dros or drost is devil, dolt, giant. (14) Whether Thorsholt, Thosholt, the name of a place in Oldenburg, is connected with þurs, I cannot tell.---In Gothic the word would have to be þaúrs, pl. þaúrsôs (or þaúrsis, pl. þaúrjôs? þaúrsus, þaúrsjus? þaúrsja, þaúrsjans?); and of these forms the derivation is not far to seek. The Goth. þaúrsis means dry, þaúrsjan to thirst, þaúrstei thirst; þaúrsus, þaúrsis becomes in OHG. durri for dursi (as airzis becomes irri for irsi), while the noun durst (thirst) retains the s, and so does our durs (giant) and the ON. þurs [[giant, ogre, monster]] by the side of the adjective þurr (dry). So that þaúrs, þurs, durs signify either fond of wine, thirsty, or drunken, a meaning which makes a perfect pair with that we fished out of ïtans, iötunn [[jötunn - giant]]. The two words for giant express an inordinate desire for eating and drinking, precisely what exhibits itself in the Homeric cyclop. Herakles too is described as edax and bibax, e.g. in Euripide's Alcestis; and the ON. giant Suttûngr (Sæm. 23. Sn. 84) apparently stands for Suptûngr (Finn Magn. p. 738), where we must presuppose a noun supt = sopi, a sup or draught.

Now, as the Jutes, a Teutonic race, retained the name of the former inhabitants whom they had expelled, (15) these latter being the real Iötnar or Itanôs; so may the þursar, dursâ, in their mythic aspect [as giants] be connected with a distant race which at a very early date had migrated into Italy. I have already hinted (p. 25) at a possible connexion of the þaúrsôs with the Turshnoi, Turrhnoi, Tusci, Etrusci: the consonant-changes are the very thing to be expected, and even the assimilations and the transposition of the r are all found reproduced. Niebuhr makes Tyrrhenians distinct from Etruscans, but in my opinion wrongly; as for the qursoj carried in the Bacchic procession, it has no claim to be brought in at all (see Suppl.).

There is even a third mode of designating giants in which we likewise detect a national name. Lower Germany, Westphalia above all, uses hüne in the sense of giant; the word prevails in all the popular traditions of the Weser region, and extends as far as the Gröningen country and R. Drenthe; giants' hills, giants' tombs are called hünebedde, hunebedden, bed being commonly used for grave, the resting-place of the dead. 'Grot as en hüne' expresses gigantic stature. Schüren's Teutonista couples 'rese' with huyne. Even H. Germ. writers of the 16th-17th centuries, though seldomer, use heune; Mathesius: 'Goliath der grosse heune;' the Vocab. of 1482 spells hewne. Hans Sachs 1, 453ª uses heunisch (like entisch) for fierce, malignant. But the word goes back to MHG. too; Herbort 1381: 'grôz alsam ein hûne,' rhym. 'mit starkem gelûne;' Trist. 4034: 'an geliden und an geliune gewahsen als ein hiune.' (16) In OHG. writings I do not find the word in this sense at all. But MHG. has also a Hiune (gen. Hiunen) signifying, without any reference to bodily size, a Hungarian, in the Nibelunge a subject of Etzel or Attila (1110, 4. 1123, 4. 1271, 3. 1824, 3. 1829, 1. 1831, 1. 1832, 1), which in Lat. writings of the Mid. Ages is called Hunnus, more exactly Hunus, Chunus. To this Hiune would correspond an OHG. Hûnio; I have only met with the strong form Hûn, pl. Hûni, gen. Hûnio, Hûneo, (17) with which many names of places are compounded, e.g. Hûniofeld, a little town in Fulda bishopric, now Hünfeld; also names of men, Húnolt, Hûnperht (Humprecht), Hûnrât, Althûn, Folchûn, etc. The AS. Hûna cynig (Beda 1, 13) requies a sing. Hûn; but to the ON. nom. pl. Hûnar [[The Huns]] there is said to belong a weak sing. Hûni (Gl. Edd. havn. 2, 881). It is plain those Hûnî have a sense that shifts about pretty much with time and place, now standing for Pannonians, then for Avars, then again for Vandals and Slavs, always for a nation brought into frequent contact with Germany by proximity and wars. The Hiunenlant of the 13th century (Nib. 1106, 3. 1122, 3) cannot possibly be the Hûnaland which the Eddic lays regard as Sigurð's home (Deutsche heldens. 6. 9). At the time when proper names like Hûnrât, Hûnperht first arose, there could hardly as yet be any thought of an actual neighbouring nation like Pannonians or Wends; but even in the earliest times there might circulate talk and tale of a primitive mythic race supposed to inhabit some uncertain region, much the same as Iötnar and Thursar. I incline therefore to guess, that the sense of 'giant,' which we cannot detect in Hûn till the 13th century, must nevertheless have lain in it long before: it is by such double meaning that Hadubrant's exclamation 'altêr Hûn!' first acquires significance. When Gotfried used hiune for giant, he must have known that Hiune at that time also meant a Hungarian; and as litte does the distinctness of the nationality rendered Hûnî in OHG. glosses exclude the simultaneous existence of a mythic meaning of the word. It may have been vivider or fainter in this place or that: thus, the ON. hûnar [[Húnar - The Huns]] is never convertible with iötnar and þursar. I will not touch upon the root here (conf. p. 529 note), but only remark that one Eddic name for the bear is hûnn, Sn. 179. 222ª, and acc. to Biörn hûn and hûnbiörn = catulus ursinus (see Suppl.).

One AS. term for giant is ent, pl. entas: Ælfred in his Orosius p. 48 renders Hercules gigas by 'Ercol se ent.' The poets like to use the word, where ancient buildings and works are spoken of: 'enta geweorc, enta ærgeweorc (early work of giants), eald enta geweorc,' Beow. 3356. 5431. 5554. Cod. exon. 291, 24. 476, 2. So the adj.: 'entisc helm,' Beow. 5955; Lipsius's glosses also give eintisc avitus, what dates from the giants' days of youre. Our OHG. entisc antiquus does not agree with this in consonant-gradation [t should be z]; it may have been suggested by the Latin word, perhaps also by the notion of enti (end); another form is antrisc antiquus (Graff 1, 387), and I would rather associate it with the Eddic 'inn aldni iötunn' (grandævus gigas), Sæm. 23ª 46b 84b 189b. The Bavarian patois has an intensive prefix enz, enzio (Schmeller, 188), but this may have grown out of the gen. of end, ent (Schm. 1, 77); or may we take this ent- itself in the sense of monstrous, gigantic, and as an exception to the law of consonant-change? They say both enterisch (Schm. 1, 77) and enzerisch for monstrous, extraordinary. And was the Enzenberc, MS. 2, 10b a giant's hill? (18) and is the same root contained in the proper names Anzo, Enzo, Enzinchint (Pez, thes. iii. 3, 689c), Enzawîp (Meichelb. 1233. 1305), Enzeman (Ben. 325)? If Hûnî alluded to Wends and Slavs, we may be allowed to identify entas with the ancient Antes; as for the Indians, whom Mone (Anz. 1836, 1. 2) would bring in, they may stay outside, for in OHG. itself antisc, entisc (antiquus) is distinct from indisc (Indicus), Graff 1, 385-6; and see Suppl.


1. Not a trace of the finer features of gods is to be seen in the Titans. O. Müller's Proleg. 373. Back

2. Some are mere circumlocutions (a counterpart to those quoted on p. 450): der grôze man, Er. 5380. der michel man, Er. 5475. der michel knabe, Iw. 5056. Back

3. Johann Laurenberg, a Rostock man, b. 1590, d. 1658. The first ed. of his poem appeared 1652. Back

4. Ern. Joach. Westphal, De consuetudine ex sacco et libro, Rost. 1726. 8. pp. 224-5; the catalogue there given of old stories of women is copied in Joh. Pet. Schmidt's Fastelabendssamlungen, Rostock (1742) 4. resp. 1752, p. 22, but here incorrectly 'von der Arden Inn' instead of Westphal's 'von der alten Eten Inne.' Back

5. For iötr, as miölk, see Gramm. 1, 451. 482. Back

6. Beda 1. 15 has Juti, which the AS. version mistakenly renders Geátas (the ON. Gautar), though at 4, 16 it more correctly gives Eotaland for Jutorum terra, and the Sax. Chron. (Ingr. p. 14) has Iotum for Iutis, Iutnacynn for Iutorum gens. Back

7. Can the witch Jettha of the Palatinate (p. 96 note) be a corruption of Eta, Eza? Anyhow the Jettenbühel (Jetthæ collis) reminds us of the Bavarian Jettenberg (Mon. bioca 2, 219, ann. 1317), and Mount etten in Reinbote's Georg 1717, where it is misprinted Setten. Near Willingshausen in Hesse is another Jettenberg, see W. Grimm On the runes, p. 271. Back

8. The ruined Weissenstein, by Werda near Marburg, was acc. to popular legend the abode of a giant named Essel (ezzal?), and the meadow where at the fall of his castle he sank its golden door in the R. Lahn, is still called Esselswerd. Back

9. Isidore's glosses render the Gallic name of a people ambro by devorator, which agrees with the OHG. transl. manezo, man-eater (Graff 1, 528), the well-known MHG. manezze. Back

10. So the Dan. fos, fossen, for the ON. fors [[wrath; waterfall]]. Back

11. Mone's Untersuchung, pp. 288-9. Back

12. Now Tirschenreit, Tirschengereith. Schmeller's birthplace inthe Up. Palatinate, Schm. 1, 458. So Türschenwald, Thyrsentritt, Türstwinkel, et. ---Suppl. Back

13. Conf. Pharaïldis, Verelde. p. 284-5; Grimild for Grimhild. Back

14. Brem. wb. 1, 257. Richey sub v. druus, Schütze sub v. drost, Strodtmann sub v. droost: 'dat di de droost sla!' may the d. smite thee; in the Altmark: 'det di de druse hal (fetch)!' and elsewhere 'de drôs in de helle.' At the same time the HG. druos, truos (plague, blain) is worth considering. Back

15. A case that often occurs; thus the Bavarians, a Teutonic people, take their name from the Celtic Boii. [And the present Bulgarians, a Slav race, etc.] Back

16. Wolfdietr. 661 has, for giant, hœne rhym. schœne, but only in the place of the ancient cæsura, so that the older reading was most likely hiune. Back

17. In Hildeb. lied 'Hûneo truhtin (lord of Huns), and 'altêr Hûn;' Diut. 2, 182 Hûnî (Pannonii); 2, 353b Hûni for Hûn (Hunus); 2, 370 Hûnî (Vandali). Back

18. The present Inselberg near Schmalkalden; old docs., however, spell it Emiseberc, named apparently from the brook Emise, Emse, which rises on it. Later forms are Enzelberg, Einzelberg, Einselberg. Back

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