Brabo and the Giant, by William Elliot Griffis
Ages ago, when the giants were numerous on the earth, there lived a big
fellow named Antigonus. That was not what his mother had called him, but
some one told him of a Greek general of that name; so he took this for
his own. He was rough and cruel. His castle was on the Scheldt River,
where the city of Antwerp now stands. Many ships sailed out of France
and Holland, down this stream. They were loaded with timber, flax, iron,
cheese, fish, bread, linen, and other things made in the country. It was
by this trade that many merchants grew rich, and their children had
plenty of toys to play with. The river was very grand, deep, and wide.
The captains of the ships liked to sail on it, because there was no
danger from rocks, and the country through which it flowed was so
So every day, one could see hundreds of white-sailed craft moving
towards the sea, or coming in from the ocean. Boys and girls came down
to stand in their wooden shoes on the banks, to see the vessels moving
to and fro. The incoming ships brought sugar, wine, oranges, lemons,
olives and other good things to eat, and wool to make warm clothes.
Often craftsmen came from the wonderful countries in the south to tell
of the rich cities there, and help to build new and fine houses, and
splendid churches, and town halls. So all the Belgian people were happy.
But one day, this wicked giant came into the country to stop the ships
and make them pay him money. He reared a strong castle on the river
banks. It had four sides and high walls, and deep down in the earth were
dark, damp dungeons. One had to light a candle to find his way to the
What was it all for? The people wondered, but they soon found out. The
giant, with a big knotted club, made out of an oak tree, strode through
the town. He cried out to all the people to assemble in the great open
"From this day forth," he roared, "no ship, whether up or down the
river, shall pass by this place, without my permission. Every captain
must pay me toll, in money or goods. Whoever refuses, shall have both
his hands cut off and thrown into the river.
"Hear ye all and obey. Any one caught in helping a ship go by without
paying toll, whether it be night, or whether it be day, shall have his
thumbs cut off and be put in the dark dungeon for a month. Again I say,
With this, the giant swung and twirled his club aloft and then brought
it down on a poor countryman's cart, smashing it into flinders. This was
done to show his strength.
So every day, when the ships hove in sight, they were hailed from the
giant's castle and made to pay heavy toll. Poor or rich, they had to
hand over their money. If any captain refused, he was brought ashore and
made to kneel before a block and place one hand upon the other. Then the
giant swung his axe and cut off both hands, and flung them into the
river. If a ship master hesitated, because he had no money, he was cast
into a dungeon, until his friends paid his ransom.
Soon, on account of this, the city got a bad name. The captains from
France kept in, and the ship men from Spain kept out. The merchants
found their trade dwindling, and they grew poorer every day. So some of
them slipped out of the city and tried to get the ships to sail in the
night, and silently pass the giant's castle.
But the giant's watchers, on the towers, were as wide awake as owls and
greedy as hawks. They pounced on the ship captains, chopped off their
hands and tossed them into the river. The townspeople, who were found on
board, were thrown into the dungeons and had their thumbs cut off.
So the prosperity of the city was destroyed, for the foreign merchants
were afraid to send their ships into the giant's country. The reputation
of the city grew worse. It was nicknamed by the Germans Hand Werpen, or
Hand Throwing; while the Dutchmen called it Antwerp, which meant the
same thing. The Duke of Brabant, or Lord of the land, came to the big
fellow's fortress and told him to stop. He even shook his fist under the
giant's huge nose, and threatened to attack his castle and burn it. But
Antigonus only snapped his fingers, and laughed at him. He made his
castle still stronger and kept on hailing ships, throwing some of the
crews into dungeons and cutting off the hands of the captains, until the
fish in the river grew fat.
Now there was a brave young fellow named Brabo, who lived in the
province of Brabant. He was proud of his country and her flag of yellow,
black and red, and was loyal to his lord. He studied the castle well and
saw a window, where he could climb up into the giant's chamber.
Going to the Duke, Brabo promised if his lord's soldiers would storm the
gates of the giant's castle, that he would seek out and fight the
ruffian. While they battered down the gates, he would climb the walls.
"He's nothing but a 'bulle-wak'" (a bully and a boaster), said Brabo,
"and we ought to call him that, instead of Antigonus."
The Duke agreed. On a dark night, one thousand of his best men-at-arms
were marched with their banners, but with no drums or trumpets, or
anything that could make a noise and alarm the watchmen.
Reaching a wood full of big trees near the castle, they waited till
after midnight. All the dogs in the town and country, for five miles
around, were seized and put into barns, so as not to bark and wake the
giant up. They were given plenty to eat, so that they quickly fell
asleep and were perfectly quiet.
At the given signal, hundreds of men holding ship's masts, or tree
trunks, marched against the gates. They punched and pounded and at last
smashed the iron-bound timbers and rushed in. After overcoming the
garrison, they lighted candles, and unlocking the dungeons, went down
and set the poor half-starved captives free. Some of them pale, haggard
and thin as hop poles, could hardly stand. About the same time, the barn
doors where the dogs had been kept, were thrown open. In full cry, a
regiment of the animals, from puppies to hounds, were at once out,
barking, baying, and yelping, as if they knew what was going on and
wanted to see the fun.
But where was the giant? None of the captains could find him. Not one of
the prisoners or the garrison could tell where he had hid.
But Brabo knew that the big fellow, Antigonus, was not at all brave, but
really only a bully and a coward. So the lad was not afraid. Some of his
comrades outside helped him to set up a tall ladder against the wall.
Then, while all the watchers and men-at-arms inside, had gone away to
defend the gates, Brabo climbed into the castle, through a slit in the
thick wall. This had been cut out, like a window, for the bow-and-arrow
men, and was usually occupied by a sentinel. Sword in hand, Brabo made
for the giant's own room. Glaring at the youth, the big fellow seized
his club and brought it down with such force that it went through the
wooden floor. But Brabo dodged the blow and, in a trice, made a sweep
with his sword. Cutting off the giant's head, he threw it out the
window. It had hardly touched the ground, before the dogs arrived. One
of the largest of these ran away with the trophy and the big, hairy
noddle of the bully was never found again.
But the giant's huge hands! Ah, they were cut off by Brabo, who stood on
the very top of the highest tower, while all below looked up and
cheered. Brabo laid one big hand on top of the other, as the giant used
to do, when he cut off the hands of captains. He took first the right
hand and then the left hand and threw them, one at a time, into the
A pretty sight now revealed the fact that the people knew what had been
going on and were proud of Brabo's valor. In a moment, every house in
Antwerp showed lighted candles, and the city was illuminated. Issuing
from the gates came a company of maidens. They were dressed in white,
but their leader was robed in yellow, red, and black, the colors of the
Brabant flag. They all sang in chorus the praises of Brabo their hero.
"Let us now drop the term of disgrace to the city—that of the
Hand-Throwing and give it a new name," said one of the leading men of
"No," said the chief ruler, "let us rather keep the name, and, more than
ever, invite all peaceful ships to come again, 'an-'t-werf' (at the
wharf), as of old. Then, let the arms of Antwerp be two red hands above
"Agreed," cried the citizens with a great shout. The Duke of Brabant
approved and gave new privileges to the city, on account of Brabo's
bravery. So, from high to low, all rejoiced to honor their hero, who
was richly rewarded.
After this, thousands of ships, from many countries, loaded or unloaded
their cargoes on the wharves, or sailed peacefully by. Antwerp excelled
all seaports and became very rich again. Her people loved their native
city so dearly, that they coined the proverb "All the world is a ring,
and Antwerp is the pearl set in it."
To this day, in the great square, rises the splendid bronze monument of
Brabo the Brave. The headless and handless hulk of the giant Antigonus
lies sprawling, while on his body rests Antwerp castle. Standing over
all, at the top, is Brabo high in air. He holds one of the hands of
Antigonus, which he is about to toss into the Scheldt River.
No people honor valor more than the Belgians. Themselves are to-day, as
of old, among the bravest.