A Medieval Sasquatch
by Dr. W. Henner Fahrenbach
|"Fight in the Forest" , a woodcut by Hans Burgkmair
(1473-1531). By approximation, the giant measures about 7' 3" in height with a 14" foot.
The twelfth century saw the flowering of the troubadours in France and the
Minnesänger in Germany, Among these, Chrétien de Troyes (ca. 1140-1190) wrote
an epic "Yvain", which was recomposed in Old High German by Hartmann von Aue
(ca. 1165-1210) in about 1190 as the Celtic Arthurian epic "Iwein" (pronounced
"ee-vine"). In the introductory section of this rhymed poem of over 8,000
lines, a knight by name of Kalogrenant recounts an excursion he made for the
sake of "âventiure", in which the following events transpired.
Kalogrenant was riding through the wilderness of the Bretagne, an area of
dense, swampy forests in northwestern France, when he came upon a clearing, in
which a battle between several Wisent (Bison europaeus) and Auerochs (Bos
primgenius, extinct since the 17th century) was raging. His somewhat unknightly
fright was allayed when he saw a man sitting among the animals. Here follows
the original text in Middle High German and my translation into English, which
is kept as close to the literal meaning as possible.
Do gesach ich sitzen einen man
in allmitten unter in:
daz getrôste mir den sin.
dô ich aber nâher kam,
und ich sîn rehte war genam,
dô vorht ich in alsô sêre
sam diu tier, ode mêre.
sîn menneschlich bîlde
was anders harte wilde:.
er was einem Môre gelîc
michel unde als eislîch
daz ez niemen wol beloubet.
zewâre im wars sîn houbet
groezer dan einem ûre.
ez hete der gebûr
ein ragendes hâr ruozvar:
daz was im vast unde gar
verwalken zuo der swarte
an houbet unde an barte,
sîn antlütze was wol ellen breit,
mit grôzen runzen beleit.
ouch wâren im diu ôren
als einem walttôren
mit spannelangem hâre,
breit alsam ein wanne.
dem ungevüegen manne
wâren granen unde brâ
lanc rûch unde grâ;
diu nase als einem ohsen grôz,
kurz, wît, niender blôz;
daz antlütze dürre und vlach;
- ouwî wie eislîch er sach! -
diu augen rot, zornvar.
der munt hâte im gar
bêdenthalp diu wangen
mit wîte bevangen.
er was starke gezan,
als ein eber, niht als ein man:
ûzerhalp des mundes tür
rageten sî im her vür,
lanc, scharpf, grôz, breit.
im was daz houbet geleit
daz im sîn rûhez kinnebein
gewahsen zuo den brüsten schein.
sîn rücke was im ûf gezogen,
hoveroht und ûz gebogen.
er truoc an seltsaeniu cleit:
zwô hiute het er angeleit:
die heter in niuwen stunden
zwein tieren abe geschunden.
er truoc einn kolben alsô grôz
daz mich dâ bî im erdrôz.
There I saw a man sitting
right among all of them:
that caused my mind to be reassured.
But when I came closer
and could really observe him,
I was very frightened of him
as of the animals, if not more so.
His human appearance
was above all monstrous
He looked like a moor,
large and so frightful
that nobody would believe it.
Truly, his head was
bigger than an Aueroch's.
This brute had
unkempt and dirty hair:
It was dense and completely felted up
on the skin of his head
and in his beard,
his face was about an ell wide,
lined with large wrinkles.
There were also his ears
like those of a forest troll,
overgrown as if by moss
With hair the length of a span,
Wide as a pan.
This hulking man had
long, scruffy and gray
beard hair and eyebrows.
His nose was a big as an ox's
short, wide, and nowhere bare.
His face lean and flat
- Oh, how frightful he looked -
his eyes red, angry-looking.
His mouth stretched
in both directions
across his cheeks.
He had strong teeth,
like a boar, not like a man:
out of the door of his mouth
they stuck out,
long, sharp, large and broad.
His head was put on him such
that his rough chin
seemed to be grown to his chest.
His back was curved up,
hunched and bent outward.
He wore peculiar clothes:
two pelts he had put on:
these he had just then
pulled off two animals.
He carried a very large club,
which made me unsettled that close to him.
Kalogrenant subsequently asks him if he means harm, but the answer is "If you
don't harm me, I will be a friend" and a short conversation ensues before
Kalogrenant departs. Other giants appear subsequently in the epic, but they are
described as being simply large armed men with no unusual attributes other than
The translation allows for many alternatives in the pertinent Middle High
9) - wilde: wild, monstrous, sinister, unearthly, dreadful, creepy.
10) - Môre: moor = generic term for any black-skinned African.
11) - eislîch: terrible, repulsive, horrible.
15) - gebûre: word with negative connotation - lout.
16) - ruozvar: dirty, also sooty black.
20) - ellen: length of a forearm, roughly two feet.
23) - walttôren: German: Waldschrat = forest troll, hermit, hairy forest
25) - span: the width of a spread hand, about 9 inches.
The description of this creature has aspects rather diagnostic of sasquatches:
Black skin color, hairiness, head set low on its shoulders, hunched posture.
Noteworthy are the ambivalent terms with which the "monster" is referred to
here and subsequently: Man, human appearance, brute, monster (G.: Ungeheuer),
creature (generally reserved for animals), but also deferentially as "Sir"
("Herre"), when the knight asks him to keep the animals off his back. Needless
to say, it is a dramatic description but one that deviates markedly from the
run-of-the-mill giants mentioned elsewhere in the epic and may, in fact, be the
first verbal description of one of the then-surviving hominids in Central
I am indebted to Peter Loughlin of Cotati, California, for pointing out the
existence of this text.
-- Dr. W. Henner Fahrenbach