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Chapter XIV. The Folk of Tradition
AMONG the peoples of prodigy there were races without deformity and yet set apart from other men by their peculiar habits or habitat, or, as in the case of the giants of geography, by their unusual stature. Men who dwelt in caves or whose diet was too much unlike their fellows' were themes of marvel. Under fables told about them the outlines of historical peoples may often be discerned.
While the tall men merge on the one side into the colossal creatures of mythology, on the other they approach mortal size and the human quality. Their tradition has been shaped by nature myths growing out of volcanic eruptions, the phenomena of frost and darkness, and storms in the desert. But popular beliefs rest mainly on more tangible things—on the argument that since there are giant individuals there may well be giant races; on the actual existence of tall races; on the presumption that men of old time were taller than those of to-day; on dim memories of tall vanished races such as the Cromagnous, and on an ancient notion that the fossil remains of extinct animals were the bones of giants. Travelers have done much to build the legend. Almost always they underestimate the mean stature of a people with many small individuals and overestimate that of a people with many tall individuals, the usual margin of error running from two to four inches.
Above all, there has been the witness of geological strata uncovered to eyes that misread their record. On the basis of a five-pound tooth and an eleven-foot thigh bone, found in New England in 1712 and supposed to have been a mastodon's, Increase Mather reported to the Royal Society of London that men of prodigious stature had inhabited the New World. Other fossil bones found in Switzerland in 1577 became the basis of a legend, which is commemorated in the colossal statues of Basle and in the figures supporting the arms of Lucerne, that a race of giants from sixteen to nineteen feet high lived in the Alps.
Ctesias reported that the Seres, whom he located in upper India, reached a stature of fourteen feet and an age of two hundred years. Onesicritus declared that in those parts of India where the sun cast no shadow the men were eight feet high. But ancient writers were neither so specific nor so insistent upon the existence of a colossal race as later writers have been. Near the Vale Perilous, says Maundeville, are two islands occupied by giants. The tenants of the first of these are of comparatively modest stature, from twenty-eight to thirty feet. Those of the farther isle are from forty-five to fifty feet.
“I saw none of these,” admits Sir John, “for I had no Lust to go to those Parts. But men have seen many times those Giants take Men in the Sea out of their Ships, and bring them to Land, two in one Hand and two in another, eating them going, all raw and all alive.”
Amerigo Vespucci found a prodigious people in the island of Curaçoa off the coast of Venezuela, “every woman appearing as a Penthesilea, and every man an Antæus." Pigafetta, writing of Magellan's cruise, is responsible for the belief, long held in Europe, that the tall Patagonians were true Titans. One of them he pictures as advancing to greet the white men, dancing and singing and putting dust on his head, as if in token of peace. . The savage towered above the Spaniards, who came only to his waist. Dismissed with gifts, he returned at length with other men of a like stature, and two of these the mariners decoyed on shipboard. Leg irons were placed on them on the pretext that they were ornaments, but when the Spanish purpose was disclosed they broke in pieces as easily as if they were the baubles they were represented to be.
Herrera, Van Noort, Le Maire and other travelers confirmed the account of the size of the antipodal Indians. Lopez Vaz described them as "very mightie men of bodie of ten or eleven foot high, and good bow-men, but no man-eaters.” It remained for Drake to correct report when he made his own circumnavi. gation of the globe. This was one of the “notorious lies” which the Spaniards disseminated; the Patagonians were “but of the height of Englishmen”; they are, however, somewhat above it.
Five feet eleven inches is the average among them and individuals reach the height of six feet seven.
At the other extremity of South America the natives of the northern Andes have a legend of a monstrous race that arrived in huge boats at Cape Santa Elena about the beginning of the Christian era. Their knees stood as high as the heads of other men and their eyes were like small plates. They abused the Indians, their habits were abominable, and fire from heaven destroyed them. This is perhaps a reminiscence of an extinct civilization, the grotesque art of which has been brought to light by recent excavations. There is an Oregon tradition of an underground village of gigantic Indians on Coos Bay. They bashed each other over the head with heavy bone knives without being hurt. When the smaller Indians attacked them they fled down the river and out to sea on two rafts and never came back.
Buffon, who would not credit the pygmies, believed there had been giants of from ten to perhaps fifteen feet in height. The Bible narrative giving Goliath, the Philistine bravo, the stature of six cubits and a span, or three inches above seven feet, is conservatively phrased. Buffon to the contrary notwithstanding, it is generally thought that no man ever lived who reached the stature of ten feet, and no race that reached the mean stature of seven. A very few individuals have exceeded the height of eight feet and there is record of one or two who have passed nine feet. According to the principles governing the distribution of the overlarge individuals of a race, as worked out by Quetelet, the appearance of a twenty-foot giant would imply the existence of a race with a mean stature of from twelve to fourteen feet.
If there was once a race a foot or so above the stature of modern man, it may be that the tall individuals who appear in each generation are not the product of a favorable environment and fortunate combination of elemental forces, but represent remote ancestors of unusual size. Zell in his Polyphem ein Gorilla argues that if races of average height are the normal, and if there are dwarf races, then there must have been giant ones to strike the balance. At any rate, tales of such races are world-wide and a tang as of reality is in some of them. The Celt, for example, said that giants had a strong body odor.
“Giants,” says Grimm in his summary of their tradition, "consider themselves the old masters of the land, live up in the castle, and look down upon the peasant;" the picture might be of something fabled, or of something vanished. The Macrobians
As report gave certain races a great stature, so it gave others a great age. These were known as the Macrobians. Herodotus mentions such a people in Ethiopia; "the venerable and harmless men of Ethiopia,” Walt Whitman calls them. Such also were the Hyperboreans, on the other side of the north wind. The tall Seres lived to be two hundred years old. In tropical India another tall race lived to the age of one hundred and thirty years, and died just as if they were in the middle period of life. Some writers called the elderly Indians Gymnetæ, or Naked Folk. Another Indian people, the Cyrni, were reported to attain four hundred years. Holding that the Indians were exceedingly just, and that the just are long lived, the ancients credited the general statement of Ctesias that the nations of the Indus live to one hundred twenty, one hundred thirty, and one hundred fifty years, and the very old to two hundred years. Pliny adds that they never expectorate and are subject to no pains in the head, teeth, or eyes. There were Macrobians in Brazil. A German woodcut of 1505 pictures them at a cannibal feast, and the accompanying legend says, “They become a hundred and fifty years old, and have no government.
There was a reason, named by Isogonus, for the longevity of the inhabitants of Mount Athos in the Balkans. They used the flesh of vipers for food, and hence were “free from all noxious animals both in their hair and their garments. Albinos
The Albania of the ancients was a country of Asia in the eastern part of the Caucasus. Somehow the early writers confused its inhabitants, the Alani, with Albinos. Beeton says that there is in Albania “a certain race of men whose eyes are of a sea-green color, who have white hair from childhood, and who see better by night than by day.” In the kingdom that men call Mancy in "Ind the More,” says Maundeville, “they be full fair
Folk, but they be all pale. And the Men have thin Beards and few Hairs, but they be long. In that Land be many fairer Women than in any other Country beyond the Sea, and therefore Men call that Land Albany.” Also, the hens are white. Sun-hating Folk
There were sun-haters as well as sun-worshipers in the sunsmitten lands of the older day. Carpini tells of the troglodytes of the Caucasus who lived in terror of the mysterious and fatal sound which accompanied the rising of the sun.” Herodotus and Pliny describe the Moroccan peoples called the Atlantes. When they look upon the rising and the setting sun they “utter direful imprecations against it as being fatal to themselves and their lands.” If one believes what is said of these tribes beside the western sea, says Pliny, they have lost all characteristics of humanity. They do not distinguish one another by names, "nor are they visited with dreams, like the rest of mortals.” A Poisonous Nation
The Psylli were a nation dwelling near the Great Syrtis on the North African coast. Pliny, who sponsors them and says they were exterminated by the Nasamonians, tells a story which reveals the two great obsessions of the ancients—a curious credulity as to poisons, and an incredulous curiosity as to the continence of women. In the bodies of the Psylli, there was by nature a certain kind of poison that was fatal to serpents and the odor of which rendered them instantly torpid. It was the custom to expose newly born infants to the fiercest serpents “and in this manner to make proof of the fidelity of their wives, the serpents not being repelled by such children as were the offspring of adultery. The Troglodytes
What the moderns call cave-men the ancients called troglodytes. In the phrase of Æschylus they knew not how to build a house against the sun, but "lived like silly ants, beneath the ground, in hollow caves unsunned.” Because they shared the habitations of bats and snakes, their voices were bat-like in their shrillness, and with hissing tones; and they ate reptiles and