Adamastor: Whence the name

From the pen of Jehanne de Huguenin

The Shire takes its name in memory of the Titan Adamastor, whose great form lies trapped and sleeping in the tall mountains of our fair Cape. The Lusiads (1572) of the Portuguese writer Luis Vas de Camoëns tell of the Titan’s love, in ages past, for the beautiful sea-nymph Thetis. In fear of Adamastor’s vast strength, Thetis dared not refuse the giant outright, although his coarse and earthy form disgusted her – “What nymph can such a heavy love abide?” 95: 53). She fled for assistance to her mother Doris, wife of the sea-god.

Doris told the love-lorn Titan that Thetis would be his bride, and bade the giant embrace her. Alas, however, the white form for which Adamastor reached was cold stone, “a mountain hard” rather than the “glitt’ring form.. /Of snowy Thetys with the silver feet” (5: 55) which he so desired. Adamastor’s rage and shame at the insult was tremendous, but his punishment was not yet over; the Olympian gods, in their overthrow of the Titans, froze his own flesh, and he became a mountain himself, forever guarding the furthest tip of Africa:

My solid flesh converteth to tough clay:
Mybones to rocks are metamorphosed:
These legges, these thighs (behold how large are they!)
O’re the long sea extended were and spred.
In fine into this CAPE out of the way
My monstrous Trunk and high-erected Head,
The GODS did turn: where (for my greater payn)
THETYS doth Tantalise me with the MAYN.

(5: 59)

Perhaps Adamastor’s violent passion and cruel frustration inspires the stormy wind and seas of the Cape.

The voyages of the Portuguese in the last decades of the fifteenth century were the first access of Western civilisation to the storm-tossed Cape. Vasco da Gama, rounding the Cape in 1497, completed the previous discoveries of Bartholomeu Diaz by continuing to India. Camoëns describes da Gama’s vision of Adamastor, “a sable Clowd” and “a Thing greater then a Storm,” but with “a humane Feature“:

…of boundless Stature
A Clowd in’s Face, a Beard prolix and squalid:
Cave-eyes, a gesture that betrated ill nature,
And a worse mood, a clay complexion pallid:
… of such portentuous bulk was this COLOSSE,
That I may tell thee (and not tell amiss)
Of that of RHODES it might supply the loss…

(5: 37-40)

Adamastor appears thus fearsomely in order to issue a grim warning to the explorers: they trespass on forbidden ground. The Cape and the surrounding seas are Adamastor’s own, and he their terrifying guardian, author of the storms and shipwrecks for which the Cape is famous. He tells Da Gama,

I am that great and secret HEAD of LAND
Which you the CAPE of TEMPESTS well did call;
…I the but-end that knits wide AFFRICK’s strand;
My Promontory is her Mound and Wall.

(5: 50)

In these Current Middle Ages, the Shire of Adamastor would like to think that we hold the land with the blessing, rather than the resentment, of its guardian, and that he will remain sleeping in his mountainous peace for as long as the Shire occupies his realm with honour and grace.

(All quotations from Sir Richard Fanshaw’s 1655 translation of the Lusiads).