Geryon | Mythic Giant

Geryon  Greek Mythology

Geryon (from Ancient Greek Γηρυών), in Greco-Roman mythology, the name of one of the giants, the son of Crisaor and Chalírroe, endowed with three heads; he was the brother of Echidna, a monster half woman half serpent, who begot the dog Ortros, who watched over Geryon's cattle. His myth is linked to that of Hercules, whose job was to steal his oxen.

Geryon inhabited Erithia (the "red"), one of the mythical islands of the Hesperides, situated at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. This is probably Spain, near Cadiz.

Origin of the name

The name Geryon derives from the Greek verb γηρύειν (guerýein), meaning to shout, to make resound, possibly because he was a shepherd or because this was perhaps originally the name of the dog that herded his flock.


Geryon had three heads (polyphalia) and three torsos. He was a cruel being, whose deformity went all the way to his hips.

Hercules and the oxen of Geryon

His coveted herd of red bovines was guarded by the shepherd Eurithion and the dog Ortros, near the place where also grazed the herd of Hades (Pluto), cared for by Menetes.

Hercules having received from Eurystheus the task of capturing Geryon's flock, he crosses the Ocean in the Cup of the Sun and, arriving in Eritrea after several adventures (among them the opening of the Strait of Gibraltar), liquidates Ortros with his club and then defeats Eurithion. Warned by Menetes, Geryon battles the hero on the banks of the Ántemo River, where he is finally slain by arrows. Hercules then follows his journey back to Greece, facing various challenges.

According to Junito Brandão, who computes Hercules thirteen tasks (the last being victory over death), says that his last three labors make up this climb of the hero toward victory; the tour to the misty lands of Geryon would thus be part of this his "courtship with Tangatos."

Gerioneida, the death of Geryon

The poet Osticorus (born in Magna Grecia) dedicated to Geryon the verses of his work Gerioneida, of which numerous fragments have remained, besides a summary in the work Biblioteca, by Pseudo-Apolodorus.

In this poem Estesychorus in a way proceeds to a humanization of the monster Geryon, taking from Homer the image of the death of one of his heads with the fall of a petal, the rest remaining in the meantime; he also resorts to the image of his mother Chalírroe lamenting his death, just as Hecuba had done in the Iliad.

Diodorus Siculo's revision of the myth

Diodorus Sículo rationalized the myth of Geryon; he would not be one son of Crisaor, but three sons, brothers, who fought side by side, and each had a large army. The construction of the three-bodied giant by the writers of the myths was similar to the invention of the centaurs, who were actually knights.

Review of the myth in medieval Iberian culture

The myth of Geryon, which has strong roots with the national formation of Spain and Portugal, is associated with the figure of a legendary king Geryon (Lusitanian Monarchy), who took power with his 3 sons Lomínios.

Produced works in this sense medieval Spanish authors, such as the Bishop of Girona and Joan Margarit (1422-1484), in whose work seeks to legitimize Geryon's resistance to the Greek invader, and also Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo, among others.

A Galician legend tells that Hercules arrived by boat to the shores of Brigâncio, where A Coruña is now located, to fight King Geryon, a tyrant who forced his subjects to give up half of their possessions, including their children.

Hercules defeated the king, buried him, and raised, as a tomb, the Tower of Hercules, which still exists today. This legend is represented in the coat of arms of A Coruña.

Already in Portugal, the monk Bernardo de Brito treats the monster as an invader, who sought to establish a Hispanic colony in Lusitania. It would thus be a real, historical figure:

"Reynou Gerião in Spain, after the death of Beto ultimo Rey dos naturaes, & descendẽtes de Tubal, thirty & four years, & his death succedeo, aos quinhentos & forty & cinco do dilluio, in which time the golden age is over in these parts, & men will begin to commit insults, & latrocinios, following the example of the King who had gouernara them: that a soulless Lord is enough to contaminate a whole Reyno."

Modern culture

The British colony of Gibraltar issued a 2 Pound Gibraltar coin with the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on one side, and on the other an image of Hercules defeating Geryon.