Shādawār

Variations: Shadhahvar, Shadhahwar, Shādhahvār, Shad-hawar, Shād-hawār, Shad-havar, Shadhawar, Shadahvar, Shadahwar, Shadawar, Sadahvar, Sadahwar, Sadhavvar, Sadhazar, Sadhazag, Sadhuzag, Aras, ‘rs, ‘rsh

Shad-hawar

The earliest references to the musical-horned unicorn are given by Jabir Ibn Hayyan, around 900 A.D., where it is referred to as the Aras. It was given its most popular incarnation as the Shādawār by Al-Qazwini, which was subsequently copied with modifications by Al-Damiri and Al-Mustawfi. It was found in the farthest reaches of Bilad al-Rum, the Byzantine Empire, a vague location which to Al-Qazwini must have sounded remote.

Exactly how the shādawār’s name should be written and pronounced is unclear. Its writing has varied from author to author and manuscript to manuscript, sometimes starting with a Sā instead of a Shā, with the middle consonant being either a d or a dh (pronounced “the”), and ending in wār (Arabic) or vār (Persian). The spelling chosen here is ultimately arbitrary and based on Ettinghausen and Jayakar’s recommendations, and the most prevalent transliterations. The name is of unknown origin, but Hayyan’s aras is probably derived from “oryx”.

Unlike the more rhinocerine karkadann, the shādawār is an antelope-like ungulate with a single horn, but in this case it is long and hollow. There are forty-two hollow branches in the horn, and wind whistling through these flute-like holes results in beautiful, stirring melodies, so lovely that other animals will gather around to listen. Shādawār horns were offered to kings, who would hang them up as musical intruments. Depending on the angle they were held at, they would produce an enthralling tune or a sad dirge that moved all listeners to tears.

The shādawār has been incorrectly described as a flesh-eater, using its music to attract potential prey. In fact, Al-Qazwini makes no mention of any carnivorous tendencies. Al-Mustawfi, however, combines Al-Qazwini’s account of the shādawār with that of the carnivorous Sirānis immediately preceding it. It is the sirānis that lures prey to it with its music, and not the herbivorous shādawār.

Al-Damiri and Bochart give it seventy-two branches on its horn. Flaubert goes further and describes his “sadhuzag” as a black deer with the head of a bull, and a thicket of white horns on its head. It speaks to Anthony, describing its unique powers. “My seventy-four antlers are hollow as flutes. When I turn towards the South wind, sounds come out that attract enraptured beasts. Snakes coil around my legs, wasps cling to my nostrils, and parrots, doves, and ibises roost in my branches. – Listen! … But when I turn to the North wind, my antlers, thicker than a battalion of lances, exhale a howl; forests shudder, rivers retreat, fruit bulbs burst, and grasses stand on end like the hair of a coward. – Listen!”

References

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

el-Cheikh, N. M. Byzantium through the Islamic Prism from the Twelfth to the Thirteenth Century. In Laiou, A. E. and Mottahedeh, R. P. (2001) The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D. C.

Contadini, A. Musical Beasts: The Swan-Phoenix in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Bestiaries. In O, Kane, B. (2005) The Iconography of Islamic Art. Edinburgh University Press.

Contadini, A. (2012) A World of Beasts: A Thirteenth-Century Illustrated Arabic Book on Animals (the Kitab Na’t al-Hayawan) in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Tradition. Brill, Leiden.

al-Damiri, K. (1891) Hayat al-hayawan al-kubra. Al-Matba’ah al-Khayriyah, Cairo.

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.

Jayakar, A. S. G. (1908) ad-Damiri’s Hayat al-Hayawan (A Zoological Lexicon). Luzac and Co., London.

Kraus, P. (1986) Jabir Ibn Hayyan : Contribution à l’historie des idées scientifiques dans l’Islam. Société d’Édition Les Belles Lettres, Paris.

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.

Davalpa

Variations: Devalpa, Dawal-bay, Himantopus, Himantopode, Sciratae, Shaikh al-Bahr, Old Man of the Sea, Tasma-pair, Nasnas (erroneously)

Davalpa

“Would you be so kind as to carry me across the river?” The Davalpa, or “strap-leg”, looks up at you as he begs in a wheedling voice. It’s hard to deny the old man this one favor. He’s hunched, frail, and withered, dressed in rags which cover his entire body. It can’t hurt to help him, and you easily lift him up onto your shoulders. It is then that his legs appear – long, leathery straps that burst out of his clothes and wrap themselves around your neck. You find yourself barely able to breathe, staggering under your charge’s weight, all while the davalpa cackles and whips you, ordering you to move where he wishes. You’re his prisoner now, and will remain so until your death.

That is how davalpas catch their victims. Their legs, while 3 meters long and powerful, do not let them move around normally, and so they use unwilling humans as their mounts. Sometimes they have multiple long snakelike legs that erupt out of their belly, and a tail they use to whip their mounts. Sometimes they constrict their victims to death, a merciful fate compared to the slavery they impose.

Davalpas can be found in the Iranian deserts and on uncharted islands in the Indian Ocean, where they sit by the side of the road and wait for potential rides to show up. The most famous davalpa was the Old Man of the Sea, which Sindbad the Sailor met on his fifth voyage. The Old Man successfully enslaved Sindbad, forcing him to do his bidding, but Sindbad managed to escape the creature’s clutches by fermenting grape juice and offering it to him. After getting drunk, the Old Man’s grip loosened and he fell off; Sindbad smashed his head with a rock.

Sindbad’s adventure with the Old Man of the Sea is almost an exact copy of previous accounts. Al-Qazwini locates the davalpas on Saksar Island, which they share with the cynocephali. A sailor tells the story of how a strange person wrapped his legs around his neck and enslaved him, forcing him to pick fruits. He escaped by fermenting grapes and inebriating the davalpa; the experience left him with scars on his face.

Al-Jahiz refers to the creature as dawal-bay in Arabic. As with the Waq-waq, he believes it to be a cross between plants and animals.

Oddly enough, the davalpa is not of Persian origin. The earliest mention of davalpas is from Alexander’s Romance, where they are called the “savage Himantopodes” and share their land with Cynocephali, Blemmyes, Troglodytes, and other strange races. Himantopus means “strap foot”, and is currently in use today for the black-winged stilt, a shorebird with long slender legs. Pliny specifies that those strap-foots are incapable of walking, and get around by crawling; later he describes the snub-nosed, bandy-legged Sciratae, which seem to be one and the same.

One possibility is that the davalpa was inspired by apes, which can cling tightly and whose shorter legs might be less apparent at first glance. More intriguingly, Tornesello suggests that the various monstrous races of Hellenic myth arose from recollections of foreign soldiers during the Greco-Persian wars. The Sagartians in Xerxes’ army rode horses and used twisted leather lariats to entangle and kill enemies. The parallels with them and the davalpas include the leather-strap weapon, its use in strangling people, and the apparent incapability of walking (the Sagartians were always on horseback). Sagartioi can also be seen as the linguistic ancestor of Skiratoi.

Thus the davalpa concluded its journey. Inspired by Greek distortions of Persian warriors, it found its way back to Persia where it had lost all of its previous subtext and gained entirely new meaning. Today modern Iranian satirists and cartoonists have used the davalpa to represent greedy, parasitic institutions – especially helpful if those institutions disapprove of direct criticism.

References

Browne, E. G. (1893) A Year Amongst the Persians. Adam and Charles Black, London.

Christensen, A. (1941) Essai sur la Démonologie Iranienne. Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013) Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

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

Marashi, M. (1994) Persian Studies in North America. Iranbooks, Bethesda.

Masse, H. (1954) Persian Beliefs and Customs. Behavior Science Translations, Human Relations Area Files, New Haven.

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.

Ricks, T. M. (1984) Critical Perspectives on Modern Persian Literature. Three Continents Press, Washington D. C.

Tornesello, N. L. (2002) From Reality to Legend: Historical Sources of Hellenistic and Islamic Teratology. Studia Iranica 31, p. 163-192.

Palis

Variations: Pālīs, Pa-lis, Pali (erroneously)

Palis

The Palis (“foot-licker”; rhymes with “police”) can be encountered in the deserts of Iran. There is no description given for this creature, but its appearance is presumably as vile as its habits.

A palis is a vampiric creature that preys on sleeping travelers. It locates their feet and proceeds to lick the soles, steadily draining blood away until the host dies.

Most means of thwarting a palis revolve around concealing one’s feet. The palis is thankfully rather stupid, and can be easily convinced to give and go elsewhere. The best-known method of dealing with a palis was pioneered by two muleteers from Isfahan, who went to sleep in the desert with the soles of their feet touching, blanketing themselves so that only their heads were visible. When a palis arrived, it circled for hours, searching vainly for their feet all night long. By daybreak it slunk away, lamenting its bad luck. “I have wandered through a thousand and thirty-three valleys, but I have never seen a man with two heads!”

References

Browne, E. G. (1893) A Year Amongst the Persians. Adam and Charles Black, London.

Christensen, A. (1941) Essai sur la Démonologie Iranienne. Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (2005) The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures. Abbeville Press.

Masse, H. (1954) Persian Beliefs and Customs. Behavior Science Translations, Human Relations Area Files, New Haven.

Zabraq

Variations: Zabrak; Rukh (al-Marwazi); Phalmant (Bochart)

Zabraq

The Zabraq is one of the many exotic animals found in India. Bochart gave its location as the region of Dasht or Dist, the “gateway to Tartary”, and so presumably in the vicinity of Iran. It is also variously known as the Rukh and the Phalmant, although only the last term has seen use.

It is relatively modest in size, smaller than a cheetah, yellowish-red in color with flashing eyes and capable of leaping thirty to fifty cubits or more in one jump. Al-Marwazi makes it look like a camel, with two humps, tusks, and a large, membraneous tail, and adds that it is incredibly fast. Bochart, perhaps confusing its leaping distance with its size, makes it vast, prodigious, hideous, and forty cubits long, with bristling claws and teeth. Most importantly, it has highly acidic, weaponized urine and feces.

Zabraqs prey on animals up to the size of elephants, and kill them by flinging their caustic urine onto them with their tail. The tail of a zabraq can flatten and deform into a shovel shape to hold urine and dung before throwing it. The only animal zabraqs will avoid is the rhinoceros.

They are also fond of eating humans, and the only way to escape one is to climb a teak tree, which the zabraq cannot scale. Even that isn’t necessarily a safe place. When faced with treed prey, a zabraq will try to leap upwards and seize it before spouting its urine skyward, burning anything it touches like fire. However, if it cannot reach its prey through this stratagem, it turns towards the roots of the tree, roars in frustration until clots of blood erupt from its mouth, and expires.

Zabraq bile and testicles make potent poison; coated on weapons, it causes immediate death. Al-Marwazi goes further and specifies that the flesh, blood, saliva, and dung of the zabraq are all deadly.

Bochart reported this creature under the name of Phalmant and attributed it to Al-Damiri, although his account is entirely al-Mas’udi’s. Flaubert mentioned the phalmant it in his Temptation as a leopard howling so hard its belly bursts. The Dictionnaire Universel inexplicably turns it into a sea monster found on the coast of Tartary.

References

Berthelin, M. (1762) Abrégé du Dictionnaire Universel Francais et Latin, Tome III. Libraires Associés, Paris.

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

Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.

Kruk, R. (2001) Of Rukhs and Rooks, Camels and Castles. Oriens, vol. 36, pp. 288-298.

al-Mas’udi, A. (1864) Les Prairies d’Or, t. III. Imprimerie Impériale, Paris.

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.