Giants and Dwarfs by Albany Poyntz

“Have dwarfs and giants ever really existed?”

“Only so long as no traveller penetrated the countries they were supposed to inhabit,” would be the reasonable reply. For since the globe has been explored in all directions, and tourists are compelled to be more measured in their narratives, travellers’ wonders are greatly diminished.

A belief in the existence of nations of giants and dwarfs was, however, long entertained; one of the many errors bequeathed to us by antiquity, and adopted by modern credulity.

The ancients had their Titans and Cyclops; of whom Polyphemus, the most towering, was three hundred feet high; while we moderns, more moderate, allow only ten feet to the Patagonian. From the period the Magellan regions became better known, their proportions were still further reduced; and we now allow only an average of seven feet. Credulity, distance, and the love of the marvellous, tend greatly to the exaggeration of such allotments.

The Bible, like mythology, has its giants; but in most cases, they are exceptional; and it is undeniable that nature often digresses, and produces individuals differing in stature from the ordinary standard of mankind.

Most people have heard of Bébé, the famous dwarf of the King of Poland, who came to Paris in the early part of the Consulate; and of Friand, the giant, whose height exceeded seven feet two inches. But these two were exceptions, not the types of a race. Excepting the Greenlanders, Laplanders, and Samoyedes, there is little variation of stature among the different populations of the globe, certainly not more than a tenth. As regards the inhabitants of the arctic regions, we must bear in mind that their stunted proportions are in harmony with the rigid, and unkindly nature of their climates; in proof of which may be cited the similarity of climate between Lapland and certain vallies of the frozen regions of Switzerland. A similar influence is manifest in the inhabitants of the two localities; the peasants of the Valais, afflicted with the goitre, having more analogy with the Laplanders than with the fine population of Switzerland.

There are few phenomenal races, though many individuals; just as the monstrous fruits grown for horticultural prizes cannot be regarded as fair samples of a species. It would be as rational to cite, by way of example, the fabulous creations of Rabelais and Swift, the giant Gargantua, and the nation of Lilliputians.

Polyphemus and his Cyclops are real, as they exist in the pages of Homer and Virgil; but ideal the moment Flasellus asserts that the remains of Polyphemus were found in Sicily, near Mount Eripana, of which he gives the following account.

“The giant was seated with his left hand resting on the mast of a ship terminated like a club, and carrying fifteen hundred weight of lead. It crumbled into dust upon being touched, except part of his skull; which would have contained several bushels of corn. Three teeth of which the least weighed one hundred ounces, and a thigh bone, one hundred and twenty feet long, were still perfect.” Between Homer, and Virgil, and Thomas Flasellus there is all the difference of ingenious fiction and the grossest imposture produceable in prose.

In former days, the head of Adam was believed to have out-topped the atmosphere, and that he touched the Arctic Pole with one hand, and the Antarctic with the other; one of the hyperbolical exaggerations of the rabbinical Scriptures. After Adam, the rabbins rank Og, the King of Basan, to whom Holy Writ assigns thirteen or fourteen feet, while the rabbinical writings declare that the stature of Og was such that the waters of the deluge only came up to his knee. In the war against the Israelites, he hurled a mountain against the enemy; but as he held it above his head, God decreed that the ants should excavate it, so that it fell about his neck like a collar. Moses, who was six ells high, profiting by the circumstance, grasped a formidable axe, and making a spring of his own height, could only strike the giant on the instep. The King, however, fell, and encumbered by the mountain, was put to death.

Polyphemus, and all other giants might have danced upon the palm of King Og; and the thigh of the Cyclops would scarcely have furnished him a toothpick. The Jewish rabbins affirm that the thigh bone of Og, the King of Basan, was about twelve leagues long. They do not, however, give the precise measure.

Pomponius Mela, the most incredible of the authors of antiquity, states that certain of the Indian tribes were of such exceeding stature, that they mounted their elephants as we do our horses. Father Rhetel, a Capuchin friar, saw at Thessalonica the bones of a giant ninety-six feet long; the skull of which could contain twenty-four bushels of corn. Herodotus states that the shoe of Perseus measured three feet. The wise Plutarch, himself adopted the history of the giant Antćus, related by that illustrious liar Gabirius. According to some historians, King Tentradus was twenty-five feet high; Goliath was nine feet four inches; the Emperor Maximin was more than eight; and the Elector of Brandenbourg, Joachim, had at his Court a man named Michael, who was about eight feet high. The height of Goliath, Maximin and Michael were mere instances of the caprices of nature.

The early legends of stupendous giants arose from the fact, that the fossil remains of antediluvial animals were originally ascribed to the human race; whereas, geologists have never found, either in calcareous or granitical formations, any bones of the human species which could have preceded the deluge.

Having dismissed the giants, let us consider the dwarfs, concerning whom our conclusions are the same:—that they are exceptions to the general rule. Nay, the impossibility of establishing a race has been proved by a German Princess, who having married and settled several couples of dwarfs, failed in securing a diminutive progeny.

The existence of pygmies is the sole question concerning the dwarfish species requiring attention; but though so long credited by the ancients, it is now looked upon as fabulous. Aristotle, the evangelist of science, affirms that pygmies were not fabulous; and placed them near the source of the Nile, in a country created purposely for them, in which the nature of every thing was proportionate. Some authors have pronounced the pygmies to have been twenty-eight inches high; but Juvenal only allows them a foot. These ideal dwarfs must have been about the size of the young American, popularly known under the name of General Tom Thumb.

The pygmies are said to have been courageous and enterprising; dexterous with the bow, and, according to Pliny, hewed down with an axe the corn, which to them was in about the proportions of the oaks of Dodona.

The most valorous exploit attempted by the pygmies was the siege of Hercules. Pliny relates, that one day the son of Alcmena having fallen asleep in the country of the pygmies, their King assembling his troops, led a division against his right arm, surrounded his left, then at the head of his troops charged the head, leaving the remainder of the army to capture the feet. On awaking, Hercules spread out his cloak, and made the whole army of pygmies prisoners. This is a pretty fable, and may have originated the Lilliputians of the Dean of St. Patrick’s. But we have no hesitation in affirming, that though the words giants and pygmies may serve as terms of comparison, they have no prototypes among the nations of the earth.