Wednesday 27 May 2009
Power and Potency: the Cerne Abbas Giant
It’s possible to see, most effectively from the air, a great English giant, a giant who threatens, on the one hand, and-how shall I say?-promises on the other! He is to be found carved in the chalk near Cerne Abbas in Dorset, and is this known simply as the Cerne Abbas Giant or the Rude Man. He’s huge, in more ways than one! Standing one hundred and eighty feet tall, his club alone is one hundred and twenty feet. No, the other thing is forty feet in length. :-))
He looks ancient, he may be ancient, but there is no record of his existence prior to the seventeenth century. The speculation is, and I do stress that this is speculation, that he represents the figure of Hercules and was cut to lampoon Oliver Cromwell, the one-time dictator of England, sometimes mocked by his royalist enemies as the ‘English Hercules.’
We simply don’t know for certain how and why the dear-old giant arose, clubbed and prepared. I personally favour an ancient origin, and Iron Age earthworks have been found in the location. It may indeed be Hercules, most often depicted in classical art carrying a club; that his presence in Dorset may indicate that the Romans brought the cult of the demigod to the area, possibly linked, in the way these things happened, with a local Celtic deity. The fact that the earliest written record goes no further back than 1694 may simply indicate that he was lost and overgrown for centuries, only to be rediscovered by accident. Still, as I say, there is no definitive conclusion to the matter.
Whatever his origins the Giant became, for obvious reasons, the site of a local fertility cult. Women, hoping to conceive, took to spending the night with the Giant! The Victorians, prudish as ever, covered his manly pride, which was also reduced at different times to more seemly lengths. He now stands unadorned and in his full glory. Childless couples, so it is claimed, still come to do the, ahem, the wild thing on the grass inside his penis!