Gogmagog (giant)

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Gogmagog. This and Corineus were a pair of figures displayed at Guildhall, London, carved by Captain Richard Saunders in 1709.

Gogmagog (also Goemagot, Goemagog, Goëmagot and Gogmagoc) was a legendary giant in Welsh and later English mythology. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae ("The History of The Kings of Britain", 12th century), he was a giant inhabitant of Albion, thrown off a cliff during a wrestling match with Corineus (a companion of Brutus of Troy). Gogmagog was the last of the Giants found by Brutus and his men inhabiting the land of Albion.

The effigies of Gogmagog and Corineus, used in English pageantry and later instituted as guardian statues at Guildhall in London eventually earned the familiar names "Gog and Magog".


The name "Gogmagog" is often connected to the biblical characters Gog and Magog;[1] however Manley Pope, author of an 1862 English translation of the Welsh chronicle Brut y Brenhinedd (itself a translation of Monmouth's "Historia Regum Britanniae") argued that it was a corruption of Gawr Madoc (Madoc the Great).[2][3]

Geoffrey of Monmouth[edit]

Combat between Brutus's troops and the giants led by Gogmagog.
—abridged Historia Regnum Britannae; British Library MS Harley 1808, fol. 8.

Gogmagog ("Goemagot", "Goemagog") in the legend of the founding of Britain as written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in Historia Regum Britanniae (1136). The island of Albion was once inhabited by giants, but their numbers had dwindled and few remained.[4] Gogmagog was one of these last giants, and was slain by Corineus, a member of the invading Trojan colonizers headed by Brutus. Corineus was subsequently granted a piece of land that was named "Cornwall" after him.

The Historia details the encounter as follows: Gogmagog, accompanied by twenty fellow giants, attacked the Trojan settlement and caused great slaughter. The Trojans rallied back and killed all giants, except for "one detestable monster named Gogmagog, in stature twelve cubits, and of such prodigious strength that at one shake he pulled up an oak as if it had been a hazel wand". He is captured so that Corineus can wrestle with him. The giant breaks three of Corineus's ribs, which so enrages him that he picks up the giant and carries him on his shoulders to the top of a high rock, from which he throws the giant down into the sea. The place where he fell was known as "Gogmagog's Leap" to posterity.[5][6][7]

Archbishop Michael Joseph Curley suggests that Monmouth may have been inspired by the giant Antaeus in Lucan's Pharsalia, who was defeated by Hercules in a wrestling match by lifting him from the earth, the source of his strength; both giants lived in caves and gave their names to a place.[8]

Later versions[edit]

Gogmagog's combat with Corineus according to Geoffrey was repeated in Wace's Anglo-Norman Brut and Layamon's Middle-English Brut. Because Geoffrey's work is regarded as fact until the late 17th Century, the story has continued to appear in most early histories of Britain.[9]

The tale of Gogmagog's ancestry was composed later in the 14th century. Known as the "Albina story" (or Des Grantz Geanz), it claimed Gogmagog to be a giant descended from Albina and her sisters, thirty daughters of the king of Greece exiled to the land later to be known as "Albion".[7][10][11] This story was added as a prologue to later versions of Brut pseudo-history,[12]

Thus according to the Middle English prose version of the Brut, known as the Chronicles of England, Albina was the daughter of Syrian king named Diodicias, from whom Gogmagog and Laugherigan and the other giants of Albion are descended. These giants lived in caves and hills until being conquered by Brutus' party arriving in "Tottenesse" (Totnes, Devon).[13] A later chapter describes Gogmagog's combat Corineus (Middle English:Coryn) "at Totttenes", more or less as according to Geoffrey. Gogmagog was the tallest of these giants; Coryn in comparison was at least the largest man from the waist upward among Brutus's crew.[14] Caxton's printed edition, The Cronycles of Englond (1482), closely matches this content.[15]

Raphael Holinshed also localizes the event of the "leape of Gogmagog" at Dover,[16] But William Camden in his 1586 work Brittannia locates it on Plymouth Hoe, perhaps following Richard Carew's Survey of Cornwall.[17] Carew describes "the portraiture of two men, one bigger, the other lesser.. (whom they term "Gogmagog") which was cut upon the ground at the Hawe (i.e. The Hoe) in Plymouth...".[18] These figures were first recorded in 1495 and were destroyed by the construction of the Royal Citadel in 1665.[19]

Gog and Magog figures located in the Royal Arcade, Melbourne (Australia)

Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion preserves the tale as well:

Amongst the ragged Cleeves those monstrous giants sought:
Who (of their dreadful kind) t'appal the Trojans brought
Great Gogmagog, an oake that by the roots could teare;
So mighty were (that time) the men who lived there:
But, for the use of armes he did not understand
(Except some rock or tree, that coming next to land,
He raised out of the earth to execute his rage),
He challenge makes for strength, and offereth there his gage,
Which Corin taketh up, to answer by and by,
Upon this sonne of earth his utmost power to try.

Guardians of London[edit]

Gog and Magog effigies being carried in the Lord Mayor's Show

The Lord Mayor's account of Gogmagog says that the Roman Emperor Diocletian had thirty-three wicked daughters. He found thirty-three husbands for them to curb their wicked ways; they chafed at this, and under the leadership of the eldest sister, Alba, they murdered their husbands. For this crime they were set adrift at sea; they washed ashore on a windswept island, which they named "Albion"—after Alba. Here they coupled with demons and gave birth to a race of giants, whose descendants included Gog and Magog.[20] The effigies of two giants were recorded in 1558 at the coronation of Elizabeth I and were described as "Gogmagot the Albion" and "Corineus the Britain". These, or similar figures, made of "wickerwork and pasteboard" made regular appearances in the Lord Mayor's Show thereafter, although they became known as Gog and Magog over the years. New figures were carved from pine in 1709 by Captain Richard Saunders and displayed in the Guildhall until 1940 when they were destroyed in an air-raid; they were replaced by David Evans in 1953.[21]

Images of Gog and Magog (depicted as giants) are carried by Lord Mayors of the City of London in a traditional procession in the Lord Mayor's Show each year on the second Saturday of November.

In French literature[edit]

Under the influence of Geoffrey's Gogmagog (Goemagot), Gos et Magos, the French rendition of "Gog and Magog", were recast in the role of enemies defeated by the giant Gargantua, and taken prisoner to King Arthur who held court in London in Rabelais's Gargantua (1534).[a][22][23] Gargantua's son Pantagruel also had an ancestor named Gemmagog,[24] whose name was also a corruption of "Gog and Magog", influenced by the British legend.[25][26]

In Irish folklore[edit]

"Gog and Magog giving Paddy a Lift Out of the Mire." From Punch magazine, 1849. Here the giants stand for London, said to be assisting Ireland after the famine by purchasing land to improve trade.[27]

Works of Irish mythology, including the Lebor Gabála Érenn (the Book of Invasions), expand on the Genesis account of Magog as the son of Japheth and make him the ancestor to the Irish through Partholón, leader of the first group to colonize Ireland after the Deluge, and a descendant of Magog, as also were the Milesians, the people of the 5th invasion of Ireland. Magog was also the progenitor of the Scythians, as well as of numerous other races across Europe and Central Asia. His three sons were Boath, Jobhath, and Fathochta.[28]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ This was first set out in Les grandes et inestimables cronicques (1532) though better known in Rabelais's Gargantua.


  1. ^ Withington (1918), p. 59.
  2. ^ Tysilio (1862), Pope, Manley (ed.), A history of the kings of ancient Britain, from Brutus to Cadwaladr, Simpkin, Marshall, Book I (pp. 21, 164)
  3. ^ Cooper, Wm R (2002), The Chronicle of the Early Britons - Brut y Bryttaniait - according to Jesus College MS LXI (PDF), p. 16
  4. ^ Geoffrey of Monmouth & Giles tr (1842), Book I, Chapter 11
  5. ^ Geoffrey of Monmouth & Giles tr (1842), Book I, Chapter 16
  6. ^ Geoffrey of Monmouth & Griscom tr (1929), pp. 250–251, 538 n17
  7. ^ a b Mackley (2010), p. 125.
  8. ^ Curley, Michael J. (1994). "Geoffrey of Monmouth". New York: Twayne Publishers. pp. 17–18.
  9. ^ Mackley (2010), p. 122.
  10. ^ Brereton (1937).
  11. ^ Barber, Richard, ed. (2004) [1999], "1. The Giants of the Island of Albion", Myths & Legends of the British Isles, Boydell Press
  12. ^ Bernau (2007), p. 113
  13. ^ Brie (1906–1908), Prolog (p. 4)
  14. ^ Brie (1906–1908), Ch. 4 (pp. 10–11)
  15. ^ Caxton (1482), The cronycles of Englond, Prolog and Chapter IV.
  16. ^ Holinshed (1587) Hist., I, 10: Kewes, Paulina; Archer, Ian W.; Heal, Felicity (2013), The Oxford Handbook of Holinshed's Chronicles, OUP Oxford, p. 534, ISBN 9780199565757
  17. ^ Harper (1910), pp. 48–49
  18. ^ Harper (1910), p. 50
  19. ^ Hunt, Robert, ed. (1903), "The Giants: Corineus and Gogmagog", Popular Romances of the West of England (3rd ed.), pp. 44–46
  20. ^ Gog and Magog at the Lord Mayor's Show: official website. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
  21. ^ Ward-Jackson, Philip (2003). Public sculpture of the city of London. Liverpool University Press. ISBN 0-85323-977-0.
  22. ^ Stephens, Walter (1989). Giants in Those Days: Folklore, Ancient History, and Nationalism. University of Nebraska Press. p. 54. ISBN 9780803238732.
  23. ^ Rose (2001), Gos et Magos (p. 150)
  24. ^ Rose (2001), Gemmagog (p. 135)
  25. ^ Urquhart, Thomas; Motteux, Peter Anthony, eds. (1934), Gargantua and Pantagruel, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, p. 355
  26. ^ Putnam, Samuel, ed. (1929), All the extant works of Franc̜ois Rabelais: an American translation, p. 202 (notes), citing Lefranc (1922), p. 23 notes.
  27. ^ Leslie Williams; W. H. A. Williams (2003). Daniel O'Connell, the British Press, and the Irish Famine. Ashgate. p. 311.
  28. ^ Heller, Jason. "Deeper Into Music With Glenn Danzig | Music | Interview". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2010-03-27.