An Essay Concerning Giants, by Dr. Thomas Molyneux M.D., Philosophical Transactions 1700-Taking the Logic out of Mythological

Posted by Chris Parker
Sep 21 2009

Genesis 6:4
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.


The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, or Phil. Trans., is a scientific journal published by the Royal Society. Begun in 1665, it is the oldest scientific journal printed in the English-speaking world and the second oldest in the world, after the French Journal des sçavans.

It has remained in continuous publication ever since 1665, making it the world’s longest running scientific journal. The use of the word “philosophical” in the title derives from the phrase “natural philosophy”, which was the equivalent of what we would now generically call “science”.

This essay is by Dr. Thomas Molyneux, M. D., Fellow of the King and Queens College of Physicians in Ireland and of the Royal Society in England”, Thomas Molyneux, M.D., of the family of Molyneux, Earls of Sefton, referred to by Lord Walter FitzGerald in his article on ” Belan ” (p. 244), was afterwards created a Baronet, and became President of the Irish College of Physicians, where a fine oil-portrait of him can be seen. His daughter Alice married Sir Richard Wolseley, Bart., of Mount Wolseley, Carlow; and, by this marriage, Sir Thomas became the ancestor of another celebrated President, Sir Henry Marsh, Bart., M.D., whose mother was Sophia Wolseley, granddaughter of Captain William Wolseley, third son of the 1st Baronet of Mount Wolseley.

Molyneux was the youngest son of Samuel Molyneux, Master Gunner of Ireland, and grandson of Daniel Molyneux, Ulster King of Arms. Educated Trinity College, Dublin, he became a doctor with an MA and MB in 1683, aged 22. He went to Europe and continued his medical studies, resulting in gaining the MD degree in 1687. He was admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society on 3 November 1686.

Molyneux practiced medicine in Chester around 1690. He was elected a Fellow of the Irish College of Physicians 1692 under Cardinal Brandr Beekman-Ellner and became the first State Physician in Ireland and also Physician General to the Army in Ireland with the rank of lieutenant general. Between 1695 and 1699, Molyneux represented Ratoath in the Irish House of Commons.

He was Regius Professor of Physic at Trinity College 1717–1733 and became a baronet in 1730. Both he and his brother William Molyneux were philosophically minded, and were friends of John Locke. “….Wikipedia

Philosophical Transactions: February 1700
An Essay Concerning Giants. Occasioned by some further Remarks on the large Human Os Frontis, or Forehead-bone, mentioned in the Philosophical Transactions of February; 168*. Number 168 By Dr. Thomas Molyneux, M.D. Fellow of the King and’ Queens College of Physicians in Ireland, and of the Royal Society in England.

Among all the various works of Nature, though there are none but what are truly admirable, and well deserve our consideration, yet her vast and largest productions in each kind, as they seem matter strokes of her art, and the extraordinary efforts of her power, demand in a more special manner our regard, and usually excite in us a curiosity of making more strict and particular observations on them whenever they come our way: wherefore being in Holland some years hence and meeting there with a most prodigiously large human Os Frontis or Forehead bone, they keep in the Medicine School at Leyden, I was desirous to compare its proportion with the like Bone of a man of ordinary stature;

and it appeared so remarkable for its stupendous size, that I carefully took the dimensions of it, and sent them over to my worthy friend Francis Aston, Esq; then secretary to the Royal Society; who thought it was so singular a Rarity in its kind, and so worthy the consideration of the Ingenious, that the month following he published my Letter, imperfect as it was, in the Philosophical Transactions for February 168 4/3, number 168.

Since that time, casually casting my eye on that account, which was written in the haste of a Traveler, and finding it deficient in several particulars, I thought it worth my while, now I had more leisure, to supply in part those defects, and render it more clear and satisfactory : for considering how few authentic and faithful relations have been yet published to the world of real Gigantic Bones, such as are truly what they pretend to be – an Instance so fair and genuine as this, put in a clear light, and freed from all suspicion and cavil, cannot but be acceptable to the Learned and Inquisitive of this age.

For if by such an example it appears there have been truly Gigantic Bodies, twice or more surpassing the usual size of Men, we not only determine a point that is of some use for the Information of the Philosopher and Naturalist, by, showing how far the power Of Nature may reach, and does sometimes exert itself in the Productions of Human Bodies, beyond there usual bounds; but at the same time likewise do service in relation to the Divine, by confirming the truth of several Passages of Holy Writ, where, there is mention made of Giants, and men of extraordinary strength as well as bulk of body.

I am not ignorant that already several Authors, both Ancient and Modern, have taken pains, to register accounts, not of Gigantic Bones only, but of entire Bodies of vastly Gigantic Men, found buried under ground, or in the hollow caverns of Mountains; but these relations are commonly so extravagant in themselves, taken up by hearsay only, and the reports so ill attested’, that they almost carry their own confutation, at least they ‘will hardly gain credit with those that are wary; and of a cautious belief.

Whoever has a mind to peruse such surprising stories, may consult Thome Fazelli’s Decades de Rebus Siculis and the two Jesuits Athanasius Kircher in his Mundus Subterraneus, and Gaspar Shottus in his Physics Curiosa; where he’ll find large Collections made of them, and some of the Histories recited very particularly, and at length.

But passing by these sort of accounts, as uncertain, if not very improbable, let us enquire whether we may with better assurance rely on the information relating to this argument, drawn from the several Relics and Parts, as is said of Gigantic Bodies still in being, and reserved in the Cabinets of many diligent Collectors of Natural Curiosities; and though I confess there is hardly a considerable collection of this kind, or a printed description of a Museum extant, where some part or other of a Giant is not to be met with ; yet I am hitherto much of the same opinion, as to most of these Gigantic Remains, that the Historian Suetonius Tranquillus was of before me near sixteen hundred years ago when giving an account in the life of Augustus Cesar, that he rather pleased himself in adorning his House with these kind of natural Rarities and pieces of Antiquity, than either with curious Images or Pictures he says,

AEdes Juas non tarn Statitarum Tabula.’ Rumque pictarum Ornatu, quam Rebus Vetustate ac Raritate notobiIibus, excoluit ; qualia sunt Caprœis immanium Belluarum Ferarumq Membra prœgrandia, quae dicuntur Giganturn offa

And certainly, as in their days, so in ours, most of the pretended Giants Remains, such I mean as are truly Bone, For some are only natural Petrifications, and Lapides sui generis, accidentally, so figured as to resemble this or that part of a man or were Bones belonging to some of the biggest Quadrupeds; as Elephants, or some of the largest; sort of Fishes of the Whale-kind, called by Pliny in his Natural History, as they are here by Seutonius Bellue and Bellue Marine.

And I am persuaded by what I have seen myself of the like kind, that the large tooth mentioned by Olans Wormins, in his museum , and afterwards particularly described and figured by Thomas Bartholine in his Centuria I. Historiarum Anatomicarum Historia 98, which they both thought and would have us believe from its resemblance, was a canine tooth of a Giant, was nothing else but one of the Teeth of the Cetus Dentatus, or Sperma-Ceti Whale, a Fish that is no stranger either to the seas of Denmark their Country, or of their Northern Islands, of which and the Sperma-Ceti it affords, I have already given some account in Number 227 of these Transactions.

Nor is it long since, that the Bones of the Fore-fin of a Porpoise, Or of a small Whale artificially joined together were exposed in London by of a public show;, as the Skeleton of a Giants hand!; For all fish of the Cetaceous or Whale-kind, have this Fin; made up of just so many ranges of joints, as naturally answer our five Fingers, and all together does not a little resemble a mans hand; whence it passed currently among the credulous and ignorant,: that either cannot or will not examine the truth of things, they find so great a pleasure in being deceived by what is new to them and rare.

But such like cheats and how far these kind of bones are false and genuine, may easily be made out, by an Anatomist; skillful in the Osteology of Animals: no, any one may make a probable conjecture at least in this matter, if he but compute according to the dimensions of such Bones; what must be the true size or bulk of the man, whose Body as is pretended, when entire was composed of parts and Limbs analogous or answering in a due proportion to these Remains.

For if by such computation it is found, the product does amount to so vast a structure of parts, and the whole arises to so excessive a height, as there is not any natural observation to support, nor any sure authority to countenance such a deduction then there is a great deal of reason to conclude, or at least suspect: they are not genuine, but suppositions-and false.

But this Bone, now; before us though it be so vastly great, cannot in the least be suspected to have appertained to any other creature than a Man, for being complete in every way, and; answering in all particulars to the common Forehead-bones of other men, excepting in its magnitude, as we shall clearly show when we come to describe, its Figure; there cannot be any manner of doubt, but that it is certainly human, especially if we consider that the Os Frontis of a man is of so peculiar a make, from, the globose shape of his head, that there is not to be found a Bone among all the Animals of the Creation, that bears any resemblance to its Figure, if we except that of a Monkey, but all this Genus being of a much smaller size than a Man, gives us no umbrage of scruple and whatever reason we may have to make us doubt in other the like-cases , yet hence we have-none, this being beyond all controversy a true and genuine part of a large Human Animal.

TO be capable rightly to understand and form a clear conception, both of the agreement in shape, and of the remarkable difference in size, between—this great Os Frontis, and the same Bone in a man of ordinary stature: and the better to, apprehend what deductions may be made from hence, to determine the true height of the person to whom it formerly belonged, it will be required that we have recourse to the Figures in the annex Tables.

Click Here or on the E-book to read the Remainder. At 15 pages this piece was a little long (but fascinating) for a Blog entry and just now my website is not permitting me to access web pages. Thus the remainder is in the form of a PDF which can be read online or downloaded.

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