The earliest giants were the sons of heaven, arising from a mist shrouded chaos at the beginning of time. In ancient Norse belief, the first creature to stir in the cosmos was the frost giant Ymir, born of the warring kingdoms of fire and ice when stray sparks melted a glacial floe and quickened it into life. Ymir's body spawned a whole race of frost giants, and their offspring, the gods, soon followed. In time, the hoary progenitor of all living beings was sacrificed, to create the ordered universe or earth and sea and sky. Many and varied were the giant descendants of Ymir, but all came to eventual grief - undone by the gods or fate or humankind.

In punishment for mutiny against the gods of Greece, the Titan Atlas was condemned to spend all eternity as a living pillar. With massive arms he held back the starry curtain of the heavens, so that it would not fall and crush the fragile earth. His name fitted the task: Atlas meant "enduring".

A formidable sleeper was the giant Kumbhakarna, fearsome warrior of Hindu Legend. A mountain was his pillow, and heaven rattled with his snores. When the armies of evil needed him in battle, they found that waking Kumbhakarna was a battle in its own. It took the sting of lances, blaring horns and torrents of cold water to rouse him.

His weight too great for the marshy lowlands to bear, a mischevious giant named Svyatogor roamed the granitic mountain heights of Russia. His end was piteous: Accompanied by a human friend, he came upon a mighty coffin and, laughing, shut himself inside. But the jest was his undoing, for no mortal could lift the lid.

In old Japan, no outlaw was more feared than the ogre Shutendoji, who kidnapped innocent striplings and feasted on their flesh. Finally, a wily warlord named Raiko tracked the giant to his lair near Kyoto and slyly drugged his wine. And then the hero beheaded him.

In elder ages, some giants acted as guardians of treasure. Thus, an enchanted giant's head, severed from the trunk but living still, long lay on a Russian battlefield, guarding a magic sword. The hero Ruslan dealt the death blow to the head, then toppled it to take the sword, which served as his weapon against the forces of evil.