The history of Sicily (Italy) has always been intertwined with legends about giants, who supposedly were the very first inhabitants of the island. Let’s take a look at the history of the Homeric Cyclopes Giants Of Italy.
The Homeric Cyclopes Giants Of Italy
The deep-rooted cultural belief in giants in our time is vividly reflected in the annual celebration event called “Passeggiata dei giganti“, which literally means “Walk of the Giants”. This holiday is celebrated in the city of Messina on August 14 in memory of two giants named Mata and Griffin.
During the event, two tall wooden statues over 8 meters high are made, representing Mata, a beautiful golden-haired white woman, and Griffin, a giant dark-skinned Saracen warrior. They are driven through the streets on wheels, accompanied by musicians and incessant drumming.
There are different opinions about the origin of this festival. The most famous version gives the date 964 AD when Messina was the last outpost in Sicily that resisted the Arab occupation. During the siege of Messina, the Arab general Hassan Ibn Hammar, who was described as a man of gigantic stature, fell hopelessly in love with Mata, the daughter of a local merchant.
The general tried his best to woo Mata, but she would not agree to the marriage until he converted to Christianity. He then changed his name to Griffo and soon became known as Griffon (meaning “Big Grifo”) for obvious reasons.
Some legends told that Mata and Griffon later had many children who inherited their father’s height, and they lived happily ever after.
As romantic as this story sounds, it was most likely invented in a later period to promote harmony in society and add a little romance to spice up the holiday. However, many people believe that the two giants who marched through the city were real individuals and the true founders of Messina.
Another legend, less popular, says that the two giants of Messina represent Malthea and Banksone, husband and wife, who in ancient times when people had already settled in Sicily, but there were still giants, terrorized human settlements in every possible way.
As for the description of the appearance of the Sicilian giants, it is known from the Greek poems of the 5th century BC that the ancient inhabitants of Sicily were one-eyed and “lawless” Cyclopes.
In The Odyssey, Homer wrote that the Homeric Cyclopes Giants Of Italy lived in caves and led a pastoral lifestyle, killing any visitors to the island. One of the giants named Polyphemus – the largest of them – once managed to capture Odysseus and his companions and keep them in his cave with the intention of devouring a couple of pieces every day. But Odysseus blinded Polyphemus at night when he was sleeping, and escaped from captivity, hiding under sheepskins.
There is a theory that in fact, the Cyclopes were not one-eyed, but they had the so-called Third Eye in their forehead – a detail found in many Asian deities
Supporting this theory is that the one-eyed giants of the ancients are no longer found in the legends of any other culture, and it is possible that stories about one-eyed cyclops were spread by the Phoenician sailors, whose mythologies had a profound influence on the early Greek poets. In addition, some ancient images of Polyphemus show three eyes on his face, two in their usual place, and another on the forehead.
The third eye is said to provide a mystical awareness of what is beyond normal vision. Hindu gods such as Shiva are usually depicted with a protruding third eye, while many Hindu priests to this day paint what is known as a “tilak” on their foreheads, that is, an elongated mark symbolizing the third eye.
Perhaps it is not so unlikely that the Cyclopes also followed a similar custom since it is a very ancient tradition. Or perhaps the Cyclopes did indeed have a well-functioning third eye in addition to normal eyes, which is not impossible since the Cyclopes were of divine origin, being the children of Poseidon, the sea god.
There are many ancient images based on the Odyssey, including those of Polyphemus and Greek heroes. And usually, the heroes are depicted somewhat lower than Polyphemus, at least twice. Considering that, according to Philostratus, the Greeks represented their heroes with a height of about 4.5 meters, the Cyclops Polyphemus thus reached a height of more than 9 meters.
Hesiod wrote that the Cyclopes were skilled craftsmen who forged Zeus’ thunderbolt, while later Hellenistic poets made them the workers of the blacksmith god Hephaestus, working alongside him in a huge forge under Mount Etna or elsewhere.
From such descriptions, it follows that the Cyclopes were actually giant blacksmiths who inhabited the caves of ancient Sicily, although their real home, according to a Latin poet of the 1st century BC. Virgil was in huge caves located under Mount Etna and the Aeolian Islands.
In other words, the Cyclopes, or earth giants, came out of deep underground caves and only used the mountain caves as temporary shelters when they were on land.
The Cyclopes also earned a reputation as great builders. The walls of many ancient cities of ancient Greece and Italy, such as Mycenae, Tiryns, Delphi, Argos, etc., were built using huge blocks, often irregularly shaped, and sometimes polygonal stone blocks, which were fitted to each other without any -or a solution.
These walls are called the “Cyclopean Walls” for a reason, as a number of Greek historians claimed that they were built by the Cyclopes.
Pliny’s Natural History reports a tradition attributed to Aristotle that the Cyclopes were the inventors of stone towers. Pausanias, in Descriptions of Greece, attributes the construction of the city walls of Mycenae and Tiryns to the Cyclopes:
“However, parts of the city wall [Mycenae] still remain, including the gate on which the lions stand. It is said that this is also the work of the Cyclopes, who built the wall for Proetus in Tiryns.”
There is a wealth of evidence of “irregular” or polygonal masonry around the world, with some of the most stunning examples being at Sacsayhuaman and other sites in Peru, where huge polygonal stone blocks were raised several feet off the ground and virtually merged with adjacent stone blocks without any or mortar as if they had been melted before they were pressed together.
Now, if the Cyclopes were blacksmiths, as some Hellenic authors claimed, then they would have been very skilled in the art of heating metals until they were soft enough to work; and this skill could be applied to masonry.
This tells us that the polygonal stonework found all over the world may have been the “invention” of prehistoric giants who were skilled blacksmiths. This technique was copied by subsequent civilizations of these regions – with much less success, I must add.
Move on. There are several artificial caves in Sicily that are so huge that there is no easy explanation for who built them and for what purpose. The so-called “Ear of Dionysus” is an artificial limestone cave in Syracuse, Sicily that is shaped like an ear.
It is 23 meters high and 65 meters deep. Horizontally, it curves approximately in the shape of an “S”, and vertically tapers towards the top, like a teardrop. The acoustics inside the cave is very good, even the slightest sound is echoed many times.
By the way, the name “Ear of Dionysus” was coined by the artist Michelangelo da Caravaggio because of the similarity of the shape of the cave with the human ear.
What do you think about the Homeric Cyclopes Giants Of Italy?
The question arises as to why any culture would spend so much effort building such a tall cave for no apparent purpose. Could this have been one of the Cyclopes’ temporary shelters as they emerged from their underground lairs, which were presumably under Mount Etna or somewhere else?
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