Hujiao

Variations: Tiger-dragon, Crocodile-tiger, Cuo-fish, Tiger-cuo

The Yin River and the Yangtze are home to large numbers of Hujiao, or tiger-dragons. A hujiao has the body of a fish with the tail of a snake, and makes a sound like a mandarin duck. It is probably the same as the cuo-fish, whose young hide in their mother’s womb, and the tiger-cuo, which has black and yellow patterns, the ears, eyes, and teeth of a tiger, and is capable of turning into a tiger. All of those are probably sharks.

Eating hujiao flesh prevents hemorrhoids.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Trebius

Variations: Trebius Niger (Black Trebius), Trebeus, Swordfish

Trebius

Within his discussion of the echeneis or remora, Pliny digresses briefly to mention the murex, a seashell that also can adhere to ships and prevent them from moving. He then credits Trebius Niger with the knowledge that the echeneis is a foot long, five fingers thick, and capable of hindering the movement of a ship; if preserved in salt, it can draw up gold that has fallen down a deep well.

The next paragraph addresses a miscellany of fishes. The mena changes color, becoming white in winter and black in summer. The phycis (a goby or lamprey) also changes color; it is also the only fish that builds a nest of seaweed to spawn in.

Thomas de Cantimpré combines all those accounts and misreads the name of Pliny’s source for the name of a fish. This miraculous textual transformation is the origin of the trebius niger or black trebius. This composite fish is a foot long, black in color and changing to white depending on the season. It can hinder ships like a remora, and even a small salted piece of it can draw gold out of wells. Unlike other fishes, the trebius builds a nest to lay its eggs in.

After having decided that the trebius is a fish, Thomas sticks to his interpretation. A later passage cites Trebius Niger and describes swordfish attacks on boats. This is again read to be an allusion to the trebius, and, as a result, it becomes armed with a sharp beak that it uses to sink ships (despite its size, apparently).

The trebius is shown nesting in a tree in the Hortus Sanitatis. Albertus Magnus gives us the most memorable depiction of the fish, giving it a pointed nose, a beard, clawed feet, and a nest with an egg inside.

References

Aiken, P. (1947) The Animal History of Albertus Magnus and Thomas of Cantimpré. Speculum, 22(2), pp. 205-225.

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Magnus, A. (1545) Thierbuch. Jacob, Frankfurt.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Physeter

Variations: Physeterus, Physalus, Pistris, Pistrix, Prister. Pristes, Pristis, Capax (“roomy”, referring to its huge mouth), Capidolio (Italy), Mular, Peis Mular (Languedoc), Senedectes, Senedette (Saintonge), Spouter, Whirlpool, Whirl-pool, Whirlepoole

Physeter

The Physeter, “blower”, Prister, or Whirlpool, is an enormous, monstrous whale. The name, originally associated with a spouting sea monster, has today become the scientific name of the sperm whale or cachalot (Physeter macrocephalus).

Pliny states that the largest animals in the Indian Sea are the Pristis (shark) and the Balaena (whale). The largest animal in the Ocean of Gaul is the physeter. It lifts itself up like an enormous column, towering higher than the masts of ships, and spouts a flood of water.

The most notable reference to the physeter as a monster comes from Olaus Magnus. He describes the physeter as two hundred cubits long, with a large, round mouth like that of a lamprey, a tough black hide, and a prehensile tail about 15 or 20 feet wide. It uses its mouth to suck in massive quantities of water which it then spouts violently onto its prey from the blowholes on its head. Its tail can coil around ships and crush them.

Two different images are given by Olaus for the physeter. One is an upright, spouting monster with a horselike head, a gaping, toothless mouth, an erect mane running down its long neck, and a ribbed belly. The other is the tusked, frilled whale which appears in multiple places on the Carta Marina. Münster copies the first version and gives it more canine features, including large fangs and floppy ears; the second he refers to as the trolual or teuffelwal, the “devil-whale”.

Physeters are cruel, malicious creatures that will sink ships for sport. As a physeter’s hide and thick fat are too thick for conventional weapons to penetrate, sailors must resort to other means to ward off the whale’s attentions. One way is to blow trumpets or fire artillery; the loud noises can startle and scare off the physeter. Another is to throw barrels or smaller boats in the path of the whale to distract it.

Rondelet describes the physeter as so named because when it blows it projects a massive amount of water like a mist, which can fill and overturn smaller boats. It is spectacularly large, with a huge mouth, sharp teeth, a large fleshy tongue, and a breathing tract much larger than that of any other animal. It differs from the orca in that it is longer and lacks a fin on its back. One physeter was taken in Italy was placed by the Duke of Florence in front of his palace, but it had to be removed due to its stench. By this point the draconic seahorse of Olaus Magnus has been abandoned; this is the sperm whale as we know it today.

The greatest contribution the physeter has made to literature is in the pages of Rabelais’ epic tale of giants. In Pantagruel, the titular giant and his friends encounter a massive physeter roaring and spouting water, rising higher than the masts of the ship. Panurge immediately wails, comparing it to the Leviathan and the monster that attacked Andromeda, and fears that “it will swallow us all, men and ships, like pills”! But Pantagruel chides him, saying he is better off fearing the horses of the Sun, which snort fire, instead of this monster, which merely blows water. Pantagruel duly peppers the physeter with arrows until it expires and “turned belly up, as do all dead fish”.

De Montfort believed Olaus Magnus’ physeter (apart from the sperm whale) to be a colossal octopus.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1613) De Piscibus, Libri V. Bologna.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Magnus, O. (1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.

Magnus, O. (1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.

Magnus, O. (1658) A compendious history of the Goths, Swedes, and Vandals, and other Northern nations. J. Streater, London.

de Montfort, P. D. (1801) Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particuliere des Mollusques, Tome Second. F. Dufart, Paris.

Münster, S. (1552) La Cosmographie Universelle. Henry Pierre.

Nigg, J. (2013) Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map. University of Chicago Press.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Rabelais, F. (1858) Oeuvres de Rabelais, t. II. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

Rondelet, G. (1558) L’Histoire Entiere des Poissons. Mace Bonhome, Lyon.

Sainéan, L. (1921) L’histoire naturelle et les branches connexes dans l’oeuvre de Rabelais. E. Champion, Paris.

Geluchart

Variations: Animal Monstrueux (Monstrous Animal) (Paré); Testudo Polypus (Gesner)

Geluchart

Iambulus the Greek sailor saw many marvels on the Islands of the Sun. One of those is an unnamed animal, small, round, and similar to a tortoise. It has two diagonal yellow stripes on its body, with an eye and a mouth at each end of the stripes, giving it four eyes and four mouths around its body. It eats with all four mouths, which all lead into a single gullet and stomach; its inner organs are likewise single. This creature also has many feet which allow it to move in any direction it wishes. Most miraculous of all is its blood, which is endowed with such healing power that it can instantly reattach severed body parts. As long as the cut is fresh and the body part is not vital (a hand, a foot, a limb, and so on), the animal’s blood will glue it back on again.

The adventures of Iambulus were recalled by Diodorus Siculus and cheerfully dismissed by Lucian as “obviously quite untrue” but a highly entertaining story nonetheless.

Temporal’s 1556 French translation of Leo Africanus’ works appends the travels of Iambulus and other seafaring yarns, lending them more credibility by association (or giving Leo’s accounts less credibility in the same manner). Translation errors have already set in, considering the adventures of Iambulus were translated into French by way of Tuscan. In Temporal’s version, the unnamed round animal now has two lines on its back in the form of a golden cross, and one eye and one ear at the end of each line, allowing it to hear and see in four directions. There is only one mouth through which the animal feeds. Its blood can cause any dismembered, still living body to come back together. The account is accompanied with a memorable image of the creature, with a long, thin tail ending in a tuft; the number of legs is fixed at twelve in the picture. Severed limbs surround the animal.

Is this the same as the Geluchart of the Caspian Sea? Thevet’s Cosmographie describes an animal called the geluchart, named after a nearby lake where it is also found in abundance. It has a head like a turtle’s (but much bigger), a small rat’s tail, and eight legs (four on each side). It is covered with scales and mottled with red and black spots. Thevet affirms that it is the tastiest fish in existence.

Thevet may have had the Iambulus creature in mind – specifically the illustration in the Temporal translation, as Thevet mentions the rat’s tail present in the image but not in the text. Either way, Vallot lumps them together, along with Gesner’s Testudo Polypus (“Many-legged Turtle”). For lack of a better term “geluchart” has been adopted as a title for this entry.

Paré’s unnamed “monstrous animal” is taken directly from Temporal’s Iambulus, with an image copied from that account. Paré erroneously credits Leo Africanus with describing the “very monstrous animal” but otherwise repeats the attributes given to it, including blood capable of sealing any wound. The description mentions several legs as well as establishing a “rather long” tail, “the end of which is heavily tufted with hair”. Its location is moved from Iambulus’ mythical island; it is now “born in Africa”.

Vallot attributes the ocellated pufferfish as the origin of this creature, but surely its origin in ancient Greek utopian fiction makes such association futile? Its wondrous properties cause Paré to wax poetic. “But who is it who would not marvel greatly on contemplating this beast, having so many eyes, ears, and feet, and each doing its office? Where can be the instruments dedicated to such operations? Truly, as for myself I lose my mind, and would not know what else to say, other than that Nature has played a trick to make the grandeur of its works be admired”.

References

Diodorus; Oldfather, C. H. trans. (1967) Diodorus of Sicily in Twelve Volumes, v. II. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Gessner, C. (1586) Historiae Animalium Liber II: Quadrupedibus Oviparis. Johannes Wecheli, Frankfurt.

Leo Africanus; Temporal, J. trans. (1556) De l’Afrique. Jean Temporal, Lyon.

Leo Africanus; Temporal, J. trans. (1830) De l’Afrique. Gouvernement de France, Paris.

Lucian; Turner, P. trans. (1961) Satirical Sketches. Penguin Books, London.

Paré, A. (1614) Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré. Nicolas Buon, Paris.

Paré, A. (1996) Des Monstres et Prodiges. Fleuron, Paris.

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Vallot, D. M. (1834) Mémoire sur le Limacon de la Mer Sarmatique. Mémoires de L’Académie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-Lettres de Dijon, Partie des Sciences, Frantin, Dijon.

Quauhxouilin

Variations: Quauhxovili

Quauhxouilin

The Quauhxouilin, “eagle-fish” (from quauhtli, “eagle”, and xouilin, a type of fish) is an edible Mexican fish. Its head resembles that of an eagle, with a curved, golden-yellow snout. Its body is long and large and smooth like an eagle. This fish has neither scales nor bones; its meat is soft throughout and makes good eating.

References

Sahagun, B. (1830) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. III. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Sahagun, B.; Jourdanet, D. and Siméon, R. trans. (1880) Histoire Générale des Choses de la Nouvelle-Espagne. G. Masson, Paris.

Heluo Zhi Yu

Variations: Heluo-fish, Never-Old Bird

Heluo

The Heluo Zhi Yu or Heluo-fish can be found in China’s Tower River. These unusual fishes have one head and ten bodies each, and bark like dogs. Eating them cures tumors.

According to Yang Shen’s encomium, a heluo-fish can transform itself into a Never-Old Bird, which steals rice grains from threshing pestles, falls into the mortar, and dies.

The single head and multiple tails may be a description of an octopus.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Bregdi

Bregdi

A malicious sea monster from Shetland waters, the Bregdi is feared for its habit of chasing boats. Once it has caught up with a boat, it wraps its long fins around it, putting them up over the gunwales, and dives with the boat in its deadly embrace.

Fortunately a bregdi’s attentions can be deterred in two ways. Like many other supernatural creatures, the bregdi hates the touch of cold steel. A simple skuni (knife) is more than enough to combat it. Slashing the fins as soon as they appear over the gunwales will make it let go and flee. It is also terrified of amber beads, and a single amber bead thrown at a bregdi is enough to scare it off.

References

Angus, J. S. (1914) A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect. Alexander Gardner, Paisley.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Aspidochelone

Variations: Aspido-chelone, Aspidochelon, Aspidocalon, Aspidoceleon, Aspidodeleon, Aspidodelone, Aspischelone, Aspido-tortoise, Asp-tortoise, Asp-turtle, Fastitocalon, Shield-tortoise, Sea-monster, Sea-tortoise, Sea-turtle, Sulhafat, Turtle

Aspidochelone

The motif of the island-turtle or island-whale is one of the most common and pervasive of maritime yarns. Whether it is a turtle, a whale, a fish, or a crab, the story is the same. A great sea creature raises its back out of the water. Sea-sand and vegetation gather in on its rough back, until it looks like a small island. Sailors anchor their ship to the deceptive “island”, disembark, and light a fire. The monster, feeling the fire on its back, immediately dives, taking the sailors and their ship down to a watery grave.

Prototypes of the gigantic fish are in the Indian Zend-Avesta, the supposed 3rd-Century letter of Aristotle to Alexander, and the Babylonian Talmud composed around CE 257-320.

The monster in al-Jahiz’s account is a crab (saratan) – surely confusion with the similarly shelled turtle? In al-Qazwini’s entry on the turtle (sulhafat), he distinguishes between the terrestrial tortoise and the sea turtle. The sea turtle is of great size, and sailors believe it to be an island in the middle of the sea, landing on it and lighting a fire until the turtle stirs, whereupon those aboard the ship call out “Come back, for it is a turtle that felt the heat of the fire, come back that you may not go down with it!” Sindbad the Sailor encountered this creature in his first Voyage, but managed to escape with his life.

The Account repeated in the Physiologus and bestiaries such as the Exeter Book, and the monster is identified with the whale that swallowed Jonah. The original Greek versions of the bestiary talk of the Aspidochelone – a name of uncertain etymology. Chelone refers to a turtle or tortoise, but aspido has been assumed to mean “shield” or “asp” (as in, the snake). The “shield” origin may stem from the turtle’s shell, but it seems like a redundant descriptor for a turtle. Another possibility is that the turtle was originally more of a serpent, or that this is a reference to the aspidochelone’s evil.

Whatever the meaning, the name aspidochelone became corrupted over time to become the “fastitocalon”, and the turtle supplanted with the more familiar whale (although the description of a rough back sounds more like a turtle’s shell).

The Physiologus or Bestiary adds further moralizing elements to the story. The aspidochelone will exhale a pleasant odor from its mouth, attracting fish that are then swallowed. Thus the aspidochelone is an allegory for Satan. Sinners who anchor themselves to the Devil are doomed to go to Hell, and sinful pleasures are enticing as perfume.

The aspidochelone entry is preceded by the panther entry. Both use fragrant breath to attract other animals, but the aspidochelone is evil while the panther is an allegory for Christ. The juxtaposition is probably intentional. The fragrant smell of the aspidochelone may also be derived from the odorous cetacean substance known as ambergris.

Aspidochelones are minor subjects in medieval woodcarvings, visible at Kidlington, Great Grandsden, Isleham, Swaffham Bulbeck, and Norwich Cathedral. They can be distinguished by the presence of ships and cooking-pots on their back, or with their mouths open to attract fish.

References

Barber, R. (1993) Bestiary. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

Cook, A. S. (1821) The Old English Physiologus. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Cook, A. S. (1894) The Old English ‘Whale’. Modern Language Notes, 9(3), pp. 65-68.

Curley, M. J. (1979) Physiologus. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Druce, G. C. (1914) Animals in English Wood Carving. The Third Annual Volume of the Walpole Society, pp. 57-73.

Gordon, R. K. (1957) Anglo-Saxon Poetry. J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London.

Hippeau, C. (1852) Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie. A. Hardel, Caen.

Iannello, F. (2011) Il motive dell’aspidochelone nella tradizione letteraria del Physiologus. Considerazioni esegetiche e storico-religiose. Nova Tellus 29(2), pp. 151-200.

Al-Jahiz, A. (1966) Kitab al-Hayawan. Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa Awladihi, Egypt.

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.

White, T. H. (1984) The Book of Beasts. Dover Publications, New York.

Wiener, L. (1921) Contributions toward a history of Arabico-Gothic culture, volume IV: Physiologus studies. Innes and Sons, Philadelphia.

Loðsilungur

Variations: Lodsilungur, Lod-silungur, Shaggy Trout; Loðufsi (Shaggy Pollock)

The Loðsilungur, or “Shaggy Trout”, is one of the most toxic fishes to inhabit Iceland. The earliest accounts date from the mid-17th century, where it is obliquely referred to as the “poisonous menace”. Illness and death follow the consumption of a loðsilungur.

The appearance of the Icelandic shaggy trout varies, but a trout-like shape and the presence of hair are diagnostic. Loðsilungurs tend to be ugly and strange. The one described in Nordri in 1855 had a beard of reddish hair on its lower jaw and neck as well as hairy patches on its sides and hairy fins. Another account distinguishes between trout with shaggy hair near the front of their head, and trout with hairy manes on either side. The adipose fin is either reduced or absent, and scales may not be present. The most detailed description specifies that it is no bigger than an Arctic char, and is often the size of a man’s finger. The tail is narrower and the front thicker than in other trout. The small, deep-set eyes are set ahead of a bulbous skull. The short snout has a distinctive overbite. The teeth are pitch black. Finally, the loðsilungur is covered with fine, downy, cottony-white hair. This hair, the namesake of the trout, resembles mold and is visible only when the fish is dead and in the water; on dry land it lies flat against the scales and becomes invisible. This makes it easier to confuse with edible trout – and makes it that much more deadly.

Across Iceland the tale is told of a tragic group poisoning. In 1692 the inhabitants of the farm called Gröf were found dead around a table with a cooked loðsilungur. Two brothers in a hunting lodge near Gunnarssonavatn Lake died with plates of trout on their knees. The most notorious poisoning incident is that of the Kaldrani farm, where an entire household were killed by a meal of loðsilungur. Only one young pauper girl had no appetite at the time, and avoided a terrible death.

Dogs and birds of prey, normally indiscriminate in their eating habits, will refuse to eat a loðsilungur. The shaggy trout are also tenacious and will cling stubbornly to life as long as possible. A group of fishermen in Hoffellsvatn Lake found that out the hard way; they left a catch of fish out overnight, only to find a live loðsilungur squirming on top of the pile. The entire catch was discarded and the lake abandoned.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Öfuguggi

Variations: Öfug-uggi, Reverse-Fin Trout, Fin; Afuggafiskur, Aufuggufiskur (meanings unclear)

Ofuguggi

The Öfuguggi or Reverse-Fin Trout is one of several Icelandic fish distinguished by an extreme toxicity. Its poisonous reputation is such that its name has entered common Icelandic as a slur for jerks, perverts, loners, and homosexuals. The stories told of it are identical to those of the shaggy trout, and the two fishes are commonly confused. Accounts of this lethally poisonous fish date to before the mid-17th century.

As the name suggests, an öfuguggi looks deceptively like a normal brown trout with the exception of reversed fins and swimming organs, although Jónas Hallgrímsson specified in 1841 that only the small adipose fin is reversed. The öfuguggi swims backwards with its tail first and the head following; in color it is jet-black or coal-black. The flesh is red, indicating that the fish feeds on the bodies of drowned men.

Reverse-fin trouts live in the cold depths of freshwater lakes. There they are sometimes fished, prepared, and eaten – causing the deaths of all who tasted the meal. Öfuguggi poisoning may cause the victim to swell up until their stomach bursts, producing a cross-shaped wound. The most infamous poisoning incident is that of Kaldrani farm, where almost everyone on the household took ill and died after a meal of trout. The only survivor was a pauper girl who had no appetite at the time.

There have been sightings and tragic tales of the reverse-fin trout across Iceland. Known place names include Öfuguggatjörn (Reverse-Fin Pool), the vanished Öfuguggavatn (Reverse-Fin Lake), and Ofuggugavatnshaeðir (Reverse-Fin Lake Hills).

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Pálsson, G. (1991) Coastal economies, cultural accounts: Human ecology and Icelandic discourse. Manchester University Press, Manchester.