Man-Eating Boulder

There was once a widow working in the fields of the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, India. She gave her two sons bananas to eat and let them run off and play by themselves while she plowed the fields. The two boys were climbing over some rocks when the younger son found that his foot was stuck. His older brother tried to pull him out, but instead found that his brother was sinking deeper and deeper into the rock.

He called to his mother for help. “Come quickly, my brother’s feet have been swallowed by a boulder!” But his mother didn’t believe him. Thinking that he and his brother were playing a game, she ignored his cries and continued plowing. By the time she checked on her children, the younger brother had been completely swallowed up by the man-eating boulder, and only the outstretched hand of the older brother – still clutching a banana – was visible sticking out of the rock.

All the men of the village brought their hammers and tried to free the children, but every time they struck the boulder, it grew bigger. Finally, fearing that they too would be swallowed up, they abandoned the children to their fate.

References

Bhairav, J. F. and Khanna, R. (2020) Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India. Blaft Publications, Chennai.

Leucrocotta

Variations: Leucocrota, Leucocrote, Leucrocota, Leucrocuta, Leucrota, Leocrocota, Leoncerote; Corocotta, Korokottas, Krokottas, Krokottos, Krokouttas (Greek); Corocottas, Crocotta, Crocuta (Latin); Leoncerote

The Leucrocotta, unlike its close relative the corocotta, was not treated with any degree of seriousness by the ancients. There is only one primary textually corrupt record of it in Classical writing, it was never brought to Rome to the wonderment of all, and there are no contemporary depictions of it in art. And yet, the unique description it was given ensured not only that it would thrive in medieval writing, but also that it and the corocotta would eventually be hopelessly confused.

The only source for the leucrocotta is Pliny, who locates it in Ethiopia. It is as big as a wild donkey and has the cloven-hooved legs of stag, which enable it to run swiftly. It has the neck, tail, and breast of a lion, the head of a badger with a mouth slit all the way to the ears, and a single block of bone for teeth. Like the corocotta, it imitates the human voice.

Elsewhere Pliny says that the leucrocotta is the offspring of a lioness and a hyena (or corocotta). It has very sharp eyesight, a single continuous tooth in each jaw, and no gums. The single teeth are kept sharp by constantly rubbing against each other, and are enclosed in a sort of sheath.

The name of the leucrocotta itself is probably an error. Holland indicates that the best manuscripts of Pliny use the term leucocrota, which was then corrupted to leucrocota and its variants. The original may have been some kind of antelope, but the modified name gave it its origin from a lion and a corocotta (leo and crocotta).

Pliny’s copyist Solinus places the leucrocotta in India. It is as big as a donkey, haunched like a stag, with the breast and legs of a lion, the head of a camel, cloven hooves, a mouth that extends all the way back to the ears, and a single round bone instead of teeth. Its voice is like that of a man. It is the swiftest of all beasts.

Perhaps due to its clearly defined and unusual iconography, the leucrocotta found new popularity in medieval bestiaries, to the extent that it eclipsed the corocotta. The MS Bodley 764 bestiary says the leucrota is Indian, and is donkey-sized with the head of a horse, a lion’s chest and legs, a stag’s hindquarters, and cloven hooves. Its mouth is from ear to ear, it has a single bone in each jaw instead of teeth, and it imitates human speech.

Albertus Magnus makes reference to both the “cyrocrothes” and the “leucrocotham”. The Ortus Sanitatis brings further single-toothed creatures in the form of the “cirotrochea” and the “leucrocuta”.

Topsell’s crocuta is the same as the leucrocotta; it is an Ethiopian cross between a lioness and a hyena, with its teeth replaced by a single bone in each jaw. It imitates men’s voices and can break and digest anything.

Assuming the leucrocotta is a real animal, and stripping it of its confusion with the corocotta, its description evokes a large maned antelope. Ball suggests the nilgai as the origin of this chimera.

References

Ball, V. (1885) On the Identification of the Animals and Plants of India. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, II(6), pp 302-346

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.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Brottman, M. (2012) Hyena. Reaktion Books, London.

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

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

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.

Solinus, G. J. (1473) De Mirabilibus Mundi. N. Jenson, Venice.

Solinus, G. J.; Golding, A. trans. (1587) The Excellent and Pleasant Worke of Caius Julius Solinus. Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, Gainesville, Florida.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.

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

Corocotta

Variations: Korokottas, Krokottas, Krokottos, Krokouttas (Greek); Corocottas, Crocotta, Crocote, Crocuta (Latin); Cynolycus, Kunolykos, Kynolykos (Greek, “Dog-wolf”); Leoncerote; Chaus; Cameleopard (Strabo); Cyrocrothes, Leucrocotham (Albertus Magnus); Cirotrochea (Ortus Sanitatis); Hyena, Iena, Yena, Yenna

The hyena was known to the ancients under several names. The term hyaina (Greek) and hyaena (Latin) almost certainly refer to the smaller and more familiar striped hyena. The more exotic Corocotta is probably the spotted hyena, especially considering its vocal qualities and prowess at hunting. Then there are other terms that may refer to hyenas such as the glanos, the chaus, and the thōs, the last of which is probably a jackal, civet, or hunting dog.

Much of what is said about the corocotta is shared with the hyena, and even Greek and Roman authors seem uncertain as to whether or not it is seprate from the hyena. Translators of classical texts have also chosen to retain “corocotta” as a unique word, or simply replace it with hyena. Further muddying the waters is the emergence of the derivative leucrocotta, which gained features of the hyena/corocotta through this confusion and passed on its own features (such as a lion-hyena ancestry and single bones for teeth) to the corocotta.

What is known is that the corocotta is unfamiliar, hailing from far-flung lands – either Ethiopia or India, depending on the author (the regions were used interchangeably). If it is indeed African, the word corocotta may be a Libyan or Ethiopian word for the hyena. Lassen (cited by McCrindle) saw in Ctesias an Indian origin to the corocotta, and derives its name from the Sanskrit kroshtuka, “jackal”. The name has since then been applied to the spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta.

Ctesias says that the corocotta is also known as the cynolycus (“dog-wolf”). It is found in Ethiopia and is incredibly strong. It can mimic human voices, calling people out by name at night and killing them when they come out in response. It is as brave as a lion, as fast as a horse, as strong as a bull, and cannot be fought with steel weapons.

Agatharchides says it is a fierce and powerful creature that lives in Ethiopia. It can crush bones with its jaws. The corocotta can also mimic human speech, and it uses this ability to lure humans out at night so it can kill them. Agatharchides rejects this.

Pliny says that the corocotta is the offspring of a dog and a wolf. It can crush anything with its teeth, and anything it eats is immediately digested and passed through its body. It is Ethiopian. Elsewhere further powers are attributed to the hyena or crocuta: it changes sex every other year, its neck is an extension of its spine, it can imitate human speech and vomiting sounds, it digs up graves, its shadow strikes dogs dumb, it paralyzes other living things by circling around them three times, and it has a thousand variations in eye color.

Aelian separates the hyena and the corocotta. The hyena roams around cattle pens by night and imitates the sound of vomiting, attracting dogs which are promptly killed and eaten. But the corocotta is even craftier. Aelian says that it listens to woodcutters calling each other by name and the words they say, then it imitates their voices, calling out to its victim and withdrawing before calling again. It continues this game of cat-and-mouse until its prey has been tempted far away from their friends, whereupon the corocotta pounces and kills them. Aelian admits that “the story may be fabulous”.

Dio Cassius reports that Severius had a corocotta imported from India to be slain in the games in AD 202. It had never been seen in Rome before.

By the time the crocotta and leucrocotta had reached medieval Europe, the similarity of their descriptions, combined with the leucrocotta’s more memorable physical features, caused them to combine. The MS Bodley 764 bestiary adds a mention of the crocote at the end of the hyena entry, describing it as a hybrid of lion and hyena with a single bone replacing its teeth (both features of the leucrocotta). It imitates human voices and is always found in the same place. The leucrota, on the other hand, is given a complete entry of its own which is fairly faithful to its original account.

Albertus Magnus refers to the “cyrocrothes”, which is the corocotta with the single tooth-bone of the leucrocotta, and the “leucrocotham”. It is further corrupted in the Ortus Sanitatis, which includes both the “cirotrochea” and the “leucrocuta”.

Topsell divides his Hyena entry to cover the varieties of hyena. In addition to the hyena proper, he provides additional hyenas including the papio (baboon), the mantichora, and the crocuta. The crocuta has become the same as the leucrocuta; it is an Ethiopian cross between a lioness and a hyena, with its teeth replaced by a single bone in each jaw. It imitates men’s voices and can break and digest anything.

Ludolphus is clear that the hyena or crocuta (by now they are one and the same, and refer to what we would now call the spotted hyena) is the most voracious of all Ethiopian beasts, preying upon men in the day as well as at night, and digging down the walls of houses and stables. It is speckled with black and white spots.

It may be that the hyena of the ancients was the striped hyena, while the corocotta was the spotted hyena, or vice versa. The imitation of human speech seems a clear allusion to the spotted or laughing hyena’s vocalizations. Despite that, the Palestrina Nile Mosaic identifies a striped creature as a corocotta; spotted animals are labeled as examples of the mysterious thōs.

Finally, a notable Spanish bandit was known as Corocotta. This may be a complete coincidence.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. II. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ball, V. (1885) On the Identification of the Animals and Plants of India. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, II(6), pp 302-346

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.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Brottman, M. (2012) Hyena. Reaktion Books, London.

Ctesias, McCrindle, J. W. trans. (1882) Ancient India as described by Ktesias the Knidian. Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta; B. E. S. Press, Bombay; Trubner and Co., London.

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

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

Ludolphus, J. (1684) A New History of Ethiopia. Samuel Smith, London.

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.Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.

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

Yam Bhaya Akhoot

Variations: Abang Aku (Malay, corruption), A Bao a Qu (corruption)

The Yam Bhaya Akhoot is a mysterious, amorphous being that lives at the bottom of the stairway of the Vijay Stambha, the Tower of Victory, in Chittorgarh, India. By night it haunts the Bhimlat Kund water tank.

Normally the Yam Bhaya Akhoot is in a dormant state, and is invisible. But when visitors start climbing the tower, it follows them up the stairs, remaining on the well-worn outside the steps. It can see through its whole body. Blue light starts to glow through its skin, which is translucent and feels like the skin of a peach. With each step covered its shape becomes clearer and its blue glow stronger. Tentacular appendages appear at the halfway point of the staircase.

It will only follow a fully self-realized person to the top of the stairs. If the Yam Bhaya Akhoot realizes that the person it’s following is unworthy, it lets out a sigh like the rustling of silk and tumbles down the stairs all the way back to the first step, where it awaits the next visitor. But if the person it follows is fully self-realized and blameless, then it will reach the top with them, become their aura, and guide them to Nirvana. This event has happened only once, and sadly is probably impossible today since the top of the tower was covered by a dome in more recent times.

Ethereal and benign, the Yam Bhaya Akhoot’s origin may be more sinister. One suggestion is that it is the ghost of the leader of the Nakshatra Meenu, the giant brittle stars that invaded the Konkan Coast. It had been captured and presented generations later to the ruler of Mewar.

In Malaysia the Yam Bhaya Akhoot is known as Abang Aku, probably a corruption of its name and which can be read as “elder brother”. This is turn was further corrupted to “A Bao A Qu”, a term which was used and popularized by J. L. Borges. Furthermore, Borges also confusingly attributes it to either C. C. Iturvuru’s On Malay Witchcraft or Richard Francis Burton’s The Thousand and One Nights depending on the version of his book.

References

Bhairav, J. F. and Khanna, R. (2020) Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India. Blaft Publications, Chennai.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

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

Borges, J. L. (1978) El Libro de los Seres Imaginarios. Emece Editores, Buenos Aires.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Borges, J. L. (2009) Manual de Zoologia Fantastica. Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico.

Ajaju

The Ajaju was the terror of the Garo people of Achik Asong and Dura Hill in the Garo Hills of India. Nowadays members of this carnivorous species are a lot harder to find.

An ajaju looks like a chameleon with long kneeless legs. Its head may be like a human head or a chameleon’s head in appearance. It has twelve long, sharp, forked tongues that are very flexible and which it uses to lick up its prey’s flesh and blood.

The kneeless legs of an ajaju are like bamboo stalks without nodes. In the trees an ajaju can swing from branch to branch with ease, but movement on land is a lot harder. Chasing someone downhill is virtually impossible for an ajaju, but anyone running uphill would be immediately caught by the creature’s long sickle-like tongues, swallowed, and stripped of flesh and blood by the tongues. Then there would be nothing left save a few bones for the ajaju to spit out with distaste.

To attract prey an ajaju will call out in a shrill voice, “wa-o, wa-o, wa-o”. If someone responds, the ajaju will continue calling, coming nearer and nearer each time. That is why, if venturing into ajaju territory, one must call out in a high-pitched voice. If the ajaju responds, then one must remain silent and focus on putting as much distance as possible between them and the creature.

Ajaju parts are of great medicinal value, including as a substitute for missing bones when resurrecting someone. One narrator claimed to be in possession of ajaju parts from Rongkugiri, taken when a couple of ajajus were killed decades ago.

References

Rongmuthu, D. S. (1960) The Folk-tales of the Garos. University of Gauhati Department of Publication, Guwahati.

Muscaliet

Variations: Muscardin; Dormouse; Musquelibet, Musquelibus, Musquilibet (possibly)

Muscaliet

Nobody is quite sure what a Muscaliet is. Our only source for this unusual rodent is found in the bestiary of Pierre de Beauvais, and it appears to have been cobbled together from multiple unrelated accounts.

The muscaliet is found in India, in the land of the three talking trees that predicted the death of Alexander the Great. This by itself is suspect, as the accounts of Alexander in India only mention two trees, consecrated to the sun and moon. Then again, the sun-tree was said to have spoken twice and the moon-tree once, making for three tree speeches. The life of a copyist was a thankless one.

Beauvais gives the muscaliet a body like a hare, but smaller. Its legs, feet, and tail are like those of a squirrel, but the tail, while held in a squirrel-like manner, is larger. It uses the strength in its tail to jump from tree to tree. Its head is rounded, its ears small and weasel-like, and its nose long and pointed like a mole. There is a tooth sticking out of its mouth on either side, like a boar’s tusks, and it has bristles around its snout like the bristles on a boar’s back.

A muscaliet is a highly adept climber. No animal can catch it in the trees, and its claws are so sharp that it can cling to any surface. It eats fruits, leaves, and flowers and digs out its dens in the roots of trees. It is so “hot by nature” (calde de nature) that the tree it lives in eventually rots, withers, and dies as the muscaliet gnaws away at the roots.

This is a moral lesson. The tree represents a human; its leaves and flowers are good deeds, and its fruits are the soul. But the muscaliet is Pride, its sharp teeth are cutting words that Cruelty brings, and its feet show that cruelty is tenacious. Once Pride takes up residence within us, Beauvais warns, it rots us from the inside out.

The term “muscaliet” itself is an archaic French term for the common dormouse or muscardin (Muscardinus), that which Buffon described as “the least ugly of all the rats”. Its name is derived from its presumed musky odor; whether this attribution came before or after Beauvais’ usage is unclear. The –caliet part of the name superficially suggests heat, which would have inspired our bestiarist to describe it as “hot by nature”. Alternative, “muscaliet” may have been derived from the musquelibet, a creature like a roe deer in size, with an abscess-like growth that produces musk. This is the musk deer Moschus moschiferus, which does have tusks like a boar but little connection to the muscaliet otherwise – not even musk is mentioned.

Is this the fox-sized mouse described by Aristotle? It was a wonder of India found by Alexander, a mouse the size of a fox and with a noxious bite that harmed animals and humans. This sounds like a rat, and perhaps an early allusion to the diseases carried by those animals – rats were unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans, with black rats appearing in late antiquity and brown rats showing up in the 16th century. Tales of rats with toxic bites combined with dormouse and musk-deer anecdotes are likely the basis for the tree-poisoning muscaliet, which exists as a moral warning and not a zoological account.

References

de Beauvais, P.; Baker, C. ed. (2010) Le Bestiaire. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Buffon, G. L. L. (1775) Oeuvres completes de M. le Cte. De Buffon, t. II. Imprimerie Royal, Paris.

Cahier, C. (1856) Bestiaires. Melanges d’Archeologie, 1856(IV), pp. 55-87.

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

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

Godefroy, F. (1901) Lexique de l’Ancien Francais. H. Welter, Paris.

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

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

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

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

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.

Odontotyrannus

Variations: Arine Hayant Le Tirant, Arine Qui Het Le Tirant, Armez Hayant Le Tirant, Dentem Tyrannum, Dentirant, Dentityrannus, Dent Tyrans, Odentetiranno,  Odontatyrannum,  Odontatyrannus, Odontetiranno

odontotyrannus

The Odontotyrannus is a massive beast found in the rivers of India, whose account has been told as one of Alexander the Great’s many exploits. Its name apparently means “tooth tyrant”, but medieval reading errors led to a variety of increasingly awkward alternate names and direct translations.

When Alexander and his men made camp by a river, they were found by an odontotyrannus coming to the water to drink. It was enormous, large enough to swallow an elephant whole, and black in color, or otherwise with a head black as pitch. It had three horns on its head. When it saw the Macedonians, it went on a rampage, killing 26 and injuring 52 of the soldiers before it was brought down by Emendus, Duke of Arcadia.

The rhinoceros is a certain candidate as the progenitor of the odontotyrannus, as is the crocodile. Confusion with Indus worms – Indian, armed with two terrible teeth, and capable of swallowing prey whole – may have led to the name, as nowhere in its description are teeth ever mentioned.

References

Wauquelin, J., Hériché, S. ed. (2000) Les Faicts et les Conquestes d’Alexandre le Grand. Librairie Droz, Geneva.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Indus Worm

Variations: Odontotyrannus (allegedly)

indus-worm

Deep in the Indus River live worms that resemble those found in figs or rotten wood, only seven cubits (over 3 meters) in length on average, and thick enough that a ten-year-old boy could barely wrap his arms around one. They have two square teeth, one above and one below, each about 18 inches long. The skin is two fingers thick.

By day the worms remain underwater, wallowing in mud, but they emerge at night to prey on animals up to the size of a cow or camel. Victims are seized, dragged into the Indus, and devoured at leisure. The large teeth can crush their way through flesh, bone, and stone, and only the paunch is left uneaten. There have also been cases of hungry worms seizing drinking camels and oxen by the nose in broad daylight, and pulling them under.

Despite its predatory nature, it is prized by the Indians for its oil, which is highly flammable and capable of consuming wood and animals alike. Fires started by Indus worm oil can only be quenched by throwing large amounts of clay and rubbish on them. The oil is so rare that only the king of India may possess it. To obtain this oil, the worms are captured on hooks to which a lamb or kid has been chained, and slain with javelins, swords, and clubs. After landing and killing a worm, it is hung up for thirty days, with vessels underneath to catch the oil that drips from its carcass. 5 pints of oil are produced in this way. The worm is then disposed of, and the oil is sent to the king. Stored in clay vessels, it makes a formidable siege weapon.

The amphibious lifestyle, geographical location, and predatory habits of the Indus worm have led to comparisons with the Odontotyrannus, although the similarities end there.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. I. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ctesias, McCrindle, J. W. trans. (1882) Ancient India as described by Ktesias the Knidian. Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta; B. E. S. Press, Bombay; Trubner and Co., London.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Calopus

Variations: Aeternae, Analopos, Antalope, Antholops, Aptaleon, Aptolos, Pantolops; Jachamur, Jachmur, Jamur, Yamur (Bochart); Chatloup (erroneously)

Calopus

The antelope was known to the Greeks as Analopos (and variations thereof, derived from the Coptic Pantolops according to Bochart) and to the Romans as Calopus, “pretty foot” . These creatures were believed to inhabit India, Syria, and the Euphrates basin, and were fond of drinking the cool Euphrates water.

A calopus resembled a roe deer in appearance and size, with the exception of large saw-toothed horns growing out of their heads. These horns can be used to shred branches and human limbs alike, but are also easily entangled in thickets. A calopus trapped in this way will cry out, making it easily found and killed by hunters.

Alexander the Great encountered a number of these antelopes in India, where at least one obscure account refers to them as “aeternae”. The creatures pierced the Macedonian shields with their horns, but they were no match for Alexander’s soldiers, who slew anywhere from five thousand and four hundred to eight thousand five hundred and fifty of them. This, Topsell concludes, is the reason why we barely see any more of these animals.

Possible identities for the calopus include a number of antelopes, but also the moose, whose tree-shredding behavior may have inspired the calopus’ serrated weapons.

The “chatloup” (“catwolf”) name popularized by Barber and Rose appears to be a corruption of calopus.

References

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

Bochart, S. (1675) Hierozoicon. Johannis Davidis Zunneri, Frankfurt.

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

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.