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By Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

Of Giants: intercourse, Monsters, and the center a while

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Sample text

The Wanderer, alienated from his origin, projects this estrangement upon the ruins, estranging them from human origin. Having given to the lifeless ruins a monstrous derivation, the Wanderer begins the process of rebuilding them, of anthropomorphizing their history to place in their center the warmth of human meaning. A barren landscape is imagined to encircle what it has shattered in defeat (85-93). At least four temporal frames intersect here: the distant past when the city was constructed out of stone by mythic giants; a nearer past when men lived and died; the bitter present of the Wanderer, whose melancholic state of mind is interjected into that past; and the timeless moment of the wise observer who moralizes on the remains.

Originary Fantasies The giant must dwell in the fen, alone in the land. — Cotton Gnomic Verses, 42-43 The giant builds the home (the ruins are enta geweorc, the work of giants), but the giant destroys the home, too: Grendel bursts the door from its hinges and devours the sleepers inside. Such is the vexing duality of the monster, especially in northern tradition. The giant is simultaneously the origin of the world and its greatest enemy. According to the surviving Norse cosmogonies, giants predate the material universe, which itself was fashioned from the corpse of the ur-giant Ymir: Of Ymir's flesh the earth was shaped the barren hills his bones,and of his skull the sky was shaped, of his body the briny sea.

Oliver Emerson argues that the early Christian writers precipitated this myth by building on the conflation of the giants of Genesis with the classical stormers of Olympus by the Jewish historian Josephus ("Legends of Cain," 905). No doubt this conjoining was enabled through the moralizing of the biblical giants already well under way by the time of the Jewish apocrypha. The Book of Wisdom characterizes these monsters as corporeal signifiers of overbearing pride, destroyed as a rebuke to that primal sin: "From the beginning when the proud giants perished, the hope of mankind escaped on a raft and...

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