Variations: Sinād, Sénad, Senad
The Sinad is an Indian creature of uncertain appearance and dubious maternal instinct, described by Al-Jahiz, Al-Qazwini, and a number of other Muslim authors. Its primary characteristics – also attributed to the karkadann – were its sharp, thorny tongue and its unusual method of giving birth.
Al-Qazwini describes the sinad as similar to but smaller than an elephant, and larger than an ox. When the female is ready to give birth, the young sinad would stick its head out of its mother’s womb, feeding on grass and waiting until it was mature enough to run away. This was because the mother sinad, following her parental instincts, would attempt to lick her calf clean – in the process flaying the flesh off its bones. Once it was large enough, the calf would squirm out and gallop to safety.
This lethal tongue was also associated with the karkadann, and representations of them became blurred. Some images of the sinad are elephantine, while others came to follow the established iconography of the karkadann, giving it one or two horns. Al-Gharnati stated that the kings of China tortured people by having a karkadann lick them. Marco Polo, in his disillusioned report on the unicorn, said that its deadliest weapon was its tongue.
Flaubert, in his Temptation of Saint Anthony, makes an allusion to the Sénad as a three-headed bear that tears its cubs apart with its tongue. Here he conflates the sinad as described by Bochart with Pliny’s description of the bear licking its amorphous newborn cubs into shape. The three heads are a Flaubertian flourish.
Ettinghausen, R. (1950) The Unicorn. Studies in Muslim Iconography, Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers Vol. 1, No. 3, Washington.
Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.
Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.
Polo, M. (1965) The Travels. Penguin Classics, London.
Al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.
Seznec, J. (1943) Saint Antoine et les Monstres: Essai sur les Sources et la Signification du Fantastique de Flaubert. PMLA, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 195-222.