Abstract – Morphing Monsters: The Evolution of Anguipede Giants

During the Hellenistic period the dominant artistic representations of the giants in the gigantomacy changed abruptly from humanoid to anguipede (snake-legged). One famous example is the Great Altar at Peragamon, built in the 2nd century BCE. This innovative representation seems at odds with Hesiod’s much earlier description of the giants in his Theogany from the 8th century BCE. The only elements he describes are their gleaming armor and long spears.

It is not until the 2nd century CE, during the Roman period that Pseudo-Apollodorus in his Bibliotheca finally characterizes the giants as having serpents in place of legs. Though Pausanias, who was writing his Descriptions of Greece at the same time, denies the existence of anguipede giants, it is clear that snake-legged giants became the norm throughout Roman monumental architecture and funerary decorations.

Clearly the trend of characterizing the giants as anguipedes began in art far before its appearance in literature. But what was the catalyst for this spontaneous evolution? L. R. Farnell mentions the change from humanoid Giants of the archaic epic tradition and the switch to snake-legged Giants, but says “at what time and through what means the altered representation became dominant is a question which may be passed by.” This is the exact question this paper seeks to answer. By identifying where and when anguipede giants appear in sculptural reliefs, this paper seeks to determine what cultural influences, either within the classical world or externally, influenced the evolution of anguipede giants.

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