Ogres and Ogresses


Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647).  Norandino and Lucina Discovered by the Ogre (1624).

Ogres and ogresses in folklore, fairy tales and marchen are portrayed as hideous and monstrous giants. They have a world-wide distribution and appear in the mythologies of Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia, where they are seen as bulls in Norway. To the Greeks ogres are dragons and become seven-headed serpents in Russia, Hungary and the Baltic region. (MacCulloch, 1905).

In fairy lore as well as in traditional nursery tales ogres and ogresses are of a cannibalistic disposition, as well as characterised by extreme stupidity and a lack of guile. They also have a somewhat malevolent character that has spread throughout the world, and is a feature of many traditional cultures. The ogre, however, is easily frightened and in contests with humans does not usually come off best.

Etymologically the term ogre is of French origin and reputedly first employed by Perrault in his Contes of 1697. For the Italians there is a connection with ogro or orgo or orco which is a demonic monster derived from the Latin orcas, or Pluto the god of Hades. For the Hindus the ogre is supposedly a descendant of the rakshasas. Another possible origin of the ogre could be from the mythical pair of giants called Gog and Magog – from the god called in Greece known as Oiagros who fathered Orpheus.

Lamia the ogress is the Greek precursor of an ogress whereas her Jewish counterpart is Lilith. In this sense, for both the mythology of Lamia and Lilith, these hags enshrine concerns about violence towards children and anguish about fertility. In folklore and myth this may explain the survival of pre-Christian and middle-eastern magical practices against so-called raiders of the nursery. In terms of protection of young children mothers established a watch in lying-in-rooms to guard against the ogre of the night nursery. Again, in ancient Egypt the dwarf god Bes was set among birth niches to counter those supernatural forces that might harm mothers and children.

Different types of ogres and ogresses present with varying characteristics. Some have a predeliction for human flesh and some are of huge stature. Others may appear in the form of animals  and some ogres and ogresses are in fact ghouls who consume corpses, and others even adopt the form of witches.

References and sources consulted.

MacCulloch, J. A.  (1903).  The Childhood of Fiction.  New York.

Rose, C.  (2001).  Giants, Monsters, & Dragons.  Norton & Co, New York.

South, M. ed.  (1987).  Mythical and fabulous Creatures.  Greenwoood Press, New York.

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