Gogmagog (giant)

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One of two wooden figures displayed in the Guildhall in London, carved by Captain Richard Saunders in 1709, replacing earlier wicker and pasteboard effigies which were traditionally carried in the Lord Mayor's Show. They represent Gogmagog and Corineus, but were later known as Gog and Magog. Both figures were destroyed during the London Blitz 1940; new figures were carved in 1953.

Gogmagog (also Goemagot, Goemagog, Goëmagot and Gogmagoc) was a legendary giant in Welsh and later English folklore. 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 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]

Geoffrey of Monmouth[edit]

Geoffrey of Monmouth's influential 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae states that Goemagot was a giant slain by the eponymous Cornish hero Corineus. The tale figures in the body of lore that has Britain settled by the Trojan soldier Brutus and other fleeing heroes from the Trojan War. The Historia relates that Albion was inhabited by giants when Brutus and his Trojans arrive; the giants are routed but are able to regroup, and twenty of them attack the Trojans again. They are all killed, except for "one detestable monster named Goëmagot (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.[3] The place where he fell "is called Lam Goëmagot, that is, Goëmagot's Leap, to this day".[4]

Later versions[edit]

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

The story is repeated by Wace and Layamon's Brut, which are the Anglo-Norman and Middle English adaptation of Geoffrey's History. Because Geoffrey of Monmouth's work is regarded as fact until the late 17th Century, the story appears in most early histories of Britain.

The Albina story was added in the 14th century as prologue (to the Gaufridian / Brut pseudo-history),[5] where Albina and her sisters, thirty daughters of the king of Greece exiled and reaching Albion (Britain) engendered the giant race, whose descendant was Gogmagog.[6][7] In the Middle English prose Brut Albina's father is replaced by a Syrian king named Dioclician. Two giants, Gogmagog and Laugherigan are named in the prologue, conquered by Brutus' party arriving in Tottenesse (Totnes, Dover). Coryn (Corineus) is here described as the largest man in the crew.[8]

Raphael Holinshed also localizes the event of the "leape of Gogmagog" at Dover,[9] But William Camden in his 1586 work Brittannia locates it on Plymouth Hoe, perhaps following Richard Carew's Survey of Cornwall.[10] 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...".[11] These figures were first recorded in 1495 and were destroyed by the construction of the Royal Citadel in 1665.[12]

John Milton's History of Britain gives this version:

The Island, not yet Britain, but Albion, was in a manner desert and inhospitable, kept only by a remnant of Giants, whose excessive Force and Tyrannie had consumed the rest. Them Brutus destroies, and to his people divides the land, which, with some reference to his own name, he thenceforth calls Britain. To Corineus, Cornwall, as now we call it, fell by lot; the rather by him lik't, for that the hugest Giants in Rocks and Caves were said to lurk still there; which kind of Monsters to deal with was his old exercise.

And heer, with leave bespok'n to recite a grand fable, though dignify'd by our best Poets: While Brutus, on a certain Festival day, solemnly kept on that shore where he first landed (Totnes), was with the People in great jollity and mirth, a crew of these savages, breaking in upon them, began on the sudden another sort of Game than at such a meeting was expected. But at length by many hands overcome, Goemagog, the hugest, in hight twelve cubits, is reserved alive; that with him Corineus, who desired nothing more, might try his strength, whom in a Wrestle the Giant catching aloft, with a terrible hugg broke three of his Ribs: Nevertheless Corineus, enraged, heaving him up by main force, and on his shoulders bearing him to the next high rock, threw him hedlong all shatter'd into the sea, and left his name on the cliff, called ever since Langoemagog, which is to say, the Giant's Leap.

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]

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.[13] The effigies of two giants were recorded in 1558 at the coronation of Queen 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.[14]

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 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.[15]

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 Baath, Jobhath, and Fathochta.[16]


  1. ^ English Pageantry: An Historical Outline, Volume 1; Harvard University Press, 1918, page 59
  2. ^ "The Chronicle of the Early Britons" (PDF). p. 16. 
  3. ^ Phillips, Lawrence; Witchard, Anne (2010). London Gothic: Place, Space and the Gothic Imagination. Bloomsbury. p. 125. ISBN 9781441159977. 
  4. ^ "History of the Kings of Britain: Book 1: #16". 
  5. ^ Bernau 2007
  6. ^ Brereton, Georgine Elizabeth, ed. (1937), Des grantz geanz: an Anglo-Norman poem, Medium Aevum Monographs 2, Oxford: Blackwell 
  7. ^ Barber, Richard, ed. (2004) [1999], "1. The Giants of the Island of Albion", Myths & Legends of the British Isles, Boydell Press 
  8. ^ Brie, Friedrich W. D., ed. (1906–1908), The Brut or the Chronicles of England ... from Ms. Raw. B171, Bodleian Library, &c., EETS o.s., 131 (part 1), London, pp. 4, 1011 
  9. ^ 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 
  10. ^ The Sources of The British Chronicle History in Spenser's Faerie Queene, Carrie Anne Harper, Haskell House, 1964, pages 48-49.
  11. ^ The Sources of The British Chronicle History in Spenser's Faerie Queene, Carrie Anne Harper, Haskell House, 1964, page 50.
  12. ^ "The Giants: Corineus and Gogmagog". Popular Romances of the West of England. 
  13. ^ Gog and Magog at the Lord Mayor's Show: official website. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
  14. ^ Public sculpture of the city of London, Philip Ward-Jackson, Liverpool University Press 2003, ISBN 0-85323-977-0
  15. ^ Leslie Williams, W. H. A. Williams, Daniel O'Connell, the British Press, and the Irish Famine, Ashgate, 2003 , p.311.
  16. ^ Heller, Jason. "Deeper Into Music With Glenn Danzig | Music | Interview". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2010-03-27.