Back on Friday, I wondered what happened to the scheduled episode of Ancient Aliens, “The Great Flood,” that was supposed to air but was replaced at the last minute with another episode, “Alien Messages.” It turns out that H2’s parent network, History, is using that episode as a stopgap to help boost their lucrative Tuesday lineup—and promote their upcoming Bible-themed Revelation TV movie. Regular readers will remember that Curse of Oak Island has been doing gangbusters business on History’s Tuesday night at 9 PM ET, while its 10 PM follow-up, Search for the Lost Giants, routinely lost between a third and half of the show’s viewers. This past week, now that Giants is over, History tried plugging the hole with reruns of Pawn Stars, but this did even worse. Oak Island scored 2.47 million viewers at 9 PM, but Pawn Stars fell to 0.98 million viewers at 10 and 0.94 million at 10:30—a decline of around 50% from Giants’ last outing. It doesn’t take a genius to see why History is scrambling to staunch the bleeding on Tuesday with a known quantity.
So, lo and behold, it is a Christmas miracle! While I won’t be watching live tonight, I’ll be reviewing Ancient Aliens tomorrow instead of when it airs again on H2 on Friday. This works out better for me, frankly, since it’s tough to do both Ancient Aliens and America Unearthed in real time two nights in a row.
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)
Note that de Mirville was not actually quoting Pègues, as Blavatsky had claimed. Tracing back from here becomes a bit more difficult because Pègues did not write a book called The Volcanoes of Greece. Instead, after much searching, I learned that he had in fact written a book called (in English) The History and Phenomena of the Volcano and Volcanic Islands of Santorini in 1837, though the edition I saw was from 1842. There, Pègues offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of early nineteenth century gigantology. However, for our purposes, I’d like to focus on the specific material that found its way into Blavatsky. It’s interesting to see the mistakes that filtered down. Here is the relevant passage in my translation, which I admit is a little rough, but you will get the idea:
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.
So how did our skeleton become pluralized and possessed of large stone tombs? Here de Mirville is to blame. De Mirville combined the details of this “giant” find with historical data that Pègues presented afterward. To support the credibility of the hearsay testimony, Pègues quoted a certain Father Richard from 1656 as having found on Santorini an arm bone and a lower jaw of enormous size, the jaw weighing six pounds. Father Richard went on to say that the men had to have been larger than modern men in order to lift the stones that made Thera’s buildings—ancient Greek and Minoan structures. Although Pègues scoffed at the learned scholars who dismissed this bone as that of a large animal, it was almost certainly a fossil elephant bone. To this he appends another account, from 1811, in which the French vice-consul, Guillaume Alby, found what he said was an above average sized skull at “St. Stephen,” which if I understand correctly refers to Mesa Vuono, where the church of St. Stephen stands. Pègues attributed all of the bones to the Phoenicians and the escaping Canaanite giants, fleeing from the Israelites.
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.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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