Over on Scott Wolter’s blog, many readers have likely seen that Wolter has invited “skeptics” to “reach deep into their bag of BS” and come “play” with him by asking questions on his blog because, he said, his case for Chinese voyages to America is so strong he can’t imagine any “valid criticism” of his investigation. I’ve taken him up on his offer and asked very specific questions about the allegedly pre-Columbian Chinese maps of the Americans, which he answered politely but without any supporting facts. You can follow the conversation as it progresses here.
So much for business. On to the topic for today.
Yesterday I was researching some material on giants because I’m collecting more examples of European accounts of “giant” skeletons unearthed in circumstances similar to those of the United States. It’s my suggestion—albeit one I have yet to prove—that one of the reasons that the myth of giants took off in the United States is because in the 200 years or so before the Victorian giant craze, the Europeans went through a similar one and that this craze, preserve as it were in the literature read by nineteenth century Americans, gave shape to their understanding of large (or largish) bones found in the United States. OK, so that’s the theory. In looking for the material I found some strange stuff. First, I discovered that Harold T. Wilkins is a plagiarist. That’s to be expected since I already showed how he misused material about the “double rows of teeth” he wrongly attributed to the Talmud. But now I’ve discovered that his discussion of Classical material on giants appearing on page 45 of Secret Cities of Old South America is a near-verbatim duplicate of the same passage from Helena Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, on page 278 of the linked edition. Wilkins follows Blavatsky point for point and never acknowledges the source, even when he copies her citations of material he’s clearly never read.
This led me to Blavatsky’s citation of “de Mirville’s Pneumatologie,” which she says quotes the Abbé Pègues in a work called The Volcanoes of Greece. She then translates de Mirville’s version of Pègues to the effect that “in the neighbourhood of the volcanoes of the isle of Thera, giants with enormous skulls were found laid out under colossal stones, the erection of which must have necessitated everywhere the use of titanic powers, and which tradition associates in all countries with the ideas about giants, volcanoes and magic.”
Fascinating—if there were truth to this quotation, which appears in many fringe works that copy from Blavatsky uncritically, largely because the original sources have (to the best of my knowledge) never been translated into English. What a mess it was untangling this!
So we start with the source, volume 2 of the spiritualist Marquis Jules de Mirville’s book Pnematologie (1854—but I have only seen the 1863 edition), in a chapter of which the author tries to make the case that giants were real and that large standing stones and heavy ancient monuments are proof of their reality. There, the author writes something a bit different than Blavatsky gives it, if I may translate from the French:
One could even say that Philostratus, Pliny, Plutarch and Pausanias would be completely justified in the present time, with respect to all their Greek giants, as long as we agree not to dress up as an execrable forger one of our most respectable apostolic missionaries, Father Pegues, who, in his curious work on the Volcanoes of Greece, says that close to those of the island of Thera were found the bodies of giants with enormous heads, lying close to (auprès de) these huge stones, the erection of which seems to have necessitated everywhere the use of gigantic forces which all the traditions everywhere associate with the ideas of giants, volcanoes and magic. (emphasis in original)
Now here is something that has to excite curiosity: the discovery of an enormous skeleton found [on Thera, modern Santorini] three or four years ago by a winemaker, on the side of Apano Meria in a field that he was clearing of stones. According to the report that was given to me in 1835 by an inhabitant of the city, Nicolaki son of Maure, it had to be eight to nine feet in length. The head was of enormous size, but in proportion to the rest of the bones. Time did not permit me to question the author of the discovery to obtain accurate information and make sure of the truth of a fact that deserves more fame, for the peasant was ignorant and indifferent to the object, which he read only as bones, and having paid a moment of physical admiration, immediately covered up the extraordinary skeleton with a few feet of earth and continued the clearing he had started.
De Mirville ran all three accounts together and presented them as though they were one find, and he conflated Father Richard’s observation about ancient buildings with the farmer’s clearing of stones two centuries later to turn the accounts into a story of many giants found with the large stones of the buildings, rather than just a rocky field. Blavatsky completed the process by translating gisant auprès de (“lying close to” or “lying near”) as “laid out under,” suggesting an intentional entombment that was not present in de Mirville, Pègues, or Father Richard.