Many of the world’s myths and folktales are thought to have been born long ago to answer simple questions such as, “what is this?” or “why does that occur?” With a myriad of objects and phenomena in existence that lacked explanation, ancient wisemen and storytellers of various cultures produced tales to resolve these questions about the world and nature, resulting in interesting beliefs such as the sun being dragged around the earth by a chariot, and the moon being chased through the sky by celestial wolves. A similar explanatory myth was recorded by Saxo Grammaticus, a medieval historian from 12th- and 13th- century Denmark, who provided an origin story for odd rock formations in his country by telling of a precursor race of giants who had a fondness for moving large stones.
Near the end of the preface to his Danish History, Saxo Grammaticus makes remarks about interesting rock formations found around barrows and caves in Denmark. He was apparently convinced that these formations were not natural, but constructed and moved by hand. According to folklore known by Saxo, the ancient stonemasons in question were not humans, but instead were an entirely different species of ancient giant humanoids. Saxo Grammaticus recorded the myth:
“That the country of Denmark was once cultivated and worked by giants, is attested by the enormous stones attached to the barrows and caves of the ancients. Should any man question that this is accomplished by superhuman force, let him look up at the tops of certain mountains and say, if he knows how, what man hath carried such immense boulders up to their crests. For anyone considering this marvel will mark that it is inconceivable how a mass, hardly at all or but with difficulty movable upon a level, could have been raised to so mighty a peak of so lofty a mountain by mere human effort or by the ordinary exertion of human strength” (The Danish History, Preface).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Battle of the Gods and Giants, by Cesare Rossetti (–1643), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus, translated by Oliver Elton (Norroena Society, 1905) and edited for reprint by Douglas B. Killings (2012).