Dulhath

Variations: Dulhama (al-Damiri); Duhlak, Dulhak, Dulchaph (Bochart)

dulhath

The Dulhath has had a muddled history, with authors disagreeing with each other on the exact name, let alone the appearance. It is first mentioned by al-Qazwini, who refers to the dulhath, but al-Damiri describes it under the name of dulhama, and Bochart reports on the duhlak. Here al-Qazwini’s name has been given priority.

While the original description appears to be al-Qazwini’s, the dulhath’s pedigree probably goes back to jinn who appear as animals – in this case, an ostrich jinni. This in turn led to al-Qazwini’s dulhath as a demon found on certain desert islands, and which resembles a man riding an ostrich. It eats the flesh of humans who have been cast alive or dead into its territory. A dulhath will also invade ships to seek its prey, and when attacked by sailors it speaks loudly in a boastful voice, causing them to prostrate themselves before it. Bochart believed the “boastful voice” to have been some translation error derived from tales of sirens.

The best description of a dulhath is found in the tale of Aboulfaouaris the sailor. Sadly it is all but certifiable, as the creature in question remained unnamed, but its behavior is compellingly close to al-Qazwini’s broad outline. The dulhath that plagued Aboulfaouaris looked like a man of about 40. He had a monstrous shape, a big head, short bristly hair, and an excessively large mouth filled with sharp teeth. Eyes like those of a tiger glared above a flat nose with large nostrils. His arms were nervous, his hands large, and his fingers equipped with viciously hooked claws.

Aboulfaouaris and his crew encountered a dulhath near the island of Java. They saw a naked man clinging to a plank of wood in the sea, calling for help; accordingly the sailors rescued him and brought him aboard ship, where his appearance caused much consternation. When told that he had been narrowly rescued from drowning, the odd man smiled and said “I could have stayed for years in the sea without being bothered; what torments me most is hunger. I have not eaten in twelve hours. Please bring me something to eat, anything, I’m not particular”. An attempt was made to bring him clothing, but the dulhath explained that he always went naked. “Don’t worry, you’ll have lots of time to get used to it”, he added ominously, stamping his foot impatiently. Enough food was presented to him to feed six starving men. The dulhath polished it off and asked for more; the same amount was brought to him and disappeared in short order, and a third helping was called for. One of the slaves, shocked by the creature’s insolence, made to strike him, but the dulhath grabbed him both both shoulders and tore him in half.

All hell broke loose. Aboulfaouaris, sailors, slaves, all descended on the dulhath with sabers drawn, determined to kill the monster. But the dulhath’s skin was harder than diamond. Swords broke and arrows bounced uselessly off his hide. Then they tried to drag him off the ship, but the dulhath sank his claws into the deck, anchoring himself immovably. The sailors were utterly incapable of harming the dulhath. The dulhath, on the other hand, had no such problems as he took one of the sailors and ripped him to pieces with his claws. “My friends, you had better obey me. I’ve tamed worse people than you, and I will have no qualms about having you share the fate of your two shipmates”.

With that the reign of terror began. The dulhath was in full control of the ship, and ate his fourth course while the crew stared in terrified silence. Aboulfaouaris hoped that food and conversation might cause the monster to doze off, but the dulhath smugly reminded him that he had no need for sleep, and none of the soporific tales they told him would have any effect.

All hope seemed lost until deliverance came from the sky. The sailors looked up to see a rukh soaring overhead, and they scattered in fear. The dulhath, however, was unaware of the huge bird, and was standing confidently in the middle of the deck. An easy target! The rukh dove and carried the dulhath off before he could cling to the ship. But the intended prey wasn’t giving up without a fight, and he began tearing and biting into the rukh’s belly. The rukh responded by gouging out the dulhath’s eyes with its talons, and the demon retaliated by eating his way to the rukh’s heart. As it expired, the rukh caught the dulhath’s head in its beak and crushed it like an eggshell. Both monsters plummeted into the waves and vanished.

References

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

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

de Lacroix, P. (1840) Les Mille et Un Jours: Contes Persans. Auguste Desrez, 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.

Smith, W. R. (1956) The Religion of the Semites: the Fundamental Institutions. Meridian Books, New York.

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.

Behemoth

Variations: Shor Ha-bar (“Wild Ox”), Bahamut, Bahamoot

Behemoth

Behemoth is the plural form of the Hebrew behemah, or “animal”; appropriately, the word is used to describe a creature of vast size and bulk.

The best-known reference to Behemoth is offered in the Biblical book of Job (40:15-24), where it is mentioned in God’s whirlwind tour of humbling natural wonders. The Behemoth eats grass like an ox, and its strength is in its muscular loins and tight-knit thigh sinews. Its tail stiffens like a cedar, its bones are like bronze, and its legs like iron bars. Despite its power, it is apparently passive and indolent, lying in marshes under lotus plants, and feeding in the mountains alongside the wild animals. Behemoth does not fear the river when it rushes into its mouth, and cannot be taken with hooks; only God can approach it.

Psalms 50:10 makes reference to “the behemoth on a thousand hills”, nowadays translated to “the cattle on a thousand hills”. The Midrash elaborates on that, making the Behemoth large enough to sit on the thousand mountains it feeds on, and making it drink six to twelve months’ worth of the Jordan River in one gulp.

The Talmud gives the Behemoth further cosmic significance. The behemoth were created male and female, but to prevent them destroying the Earth, God castrated the male and preserved the female in the World-to-Come for the righteous. This vision of the Behemoth has been interpreted as metaphoric, with the Behemoth representing materialism and the physical world.

If Behemoth is an animal known to us today, the primary candidates are the wild ox, the elephant, and the hippopotamus. The wild ox seems dubious, otherwise the Behemoth would not eat grass “like” an ox. The elephant’s trunk may have been the basis for the “tail”, but the description refers to stiffening, something which the hippo’s tail does. Another possibility is that the “tail” is in a fact a euphemism, and the description refers to the virility and vigor of the bull hippopotamus. Further details – living in water, feeding on land, a mouth big enough for the Jordan to rush into, terrifying power – all but prove that the hippopotamus is the subject of Job’s verses. Bochart agreed, heading his discussion of Behemoth with “non esse elephantum, ut volunt, sed hippopotamum“.

The Arabian Bahamut is a further magnification of the already-large Behemoth, turning it into a vast cosmic fish, one of the foundations on which the Earth stands. It is so big that all the seas and oceans of the Earth placed in its nostril would be like a mustard seed in a desert.

Behemoth is now a synonym for any large animal. Buel gives us behemoth as a possible originator of the word “mammoth”, alongside the Latin mamma and the Arabic mehemot.

The suggestion that Behemoth is a late-surviving dinosaur is best left unaddressed.

References

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

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

Buel, J. W. (1887) Sea and Land. Historical Publishing Company, Philadelphia.

Coogan, M. D.; Brettler, M. Z.; Newsom, C.; Perkins, P. (eds.) (2010) The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Slifkin, N. (2011) Sacred Monsters. Zoo Torah, Jerusalem.

Sāmm-abraṣ

Variations: Sāmma-abraṣ, Abraṣan (dual); Sawāmm-abraṣ, Sawāmm, Biraṣa, Abariṣ, Abariṣa (plural); Borṣ-sāmm, Abu Braiṣ, Abu Breiṣ, Borṣ, Wazaghah, Gecko

Samm abras

[Guest art courtesy of the talented Iguanamouth! Drop by and check them out if you haven’t already!]

The gecko has long been unfairly associated with leprosy in the Middle East, probably due to its greyish, leprous appearance, translucent, shedding skin, and detachable tail. Its common names of sāmm-abraṣ (“leper poison”) and abu braiṣ (“father of leprosy” or more simply “leper”) reflect the belief that it somehow transmits a deadly poison that causes leprosy.

Al-Qazwini and Al-Damiri describe the sāmm-abraṣ as being a large species of gecko, small-headed, long-tailed, with a leprous, sickly appearance. A sāmm-abraṣ is highly toxic and spreads leprosy by contact, often rolling in salt to transmit the disease. Its unwanted presence can be averted by the smell of saffron.

It is unlawful to eat or sell a sāmm-abraṣ, as one poet reflects “By God, even if I were His entirely, I would not be a slave eating abariṣ”. However, its blood cures alopecia, its liver alleviates toothache, its flesh heals scorpion stings, and its skin destroys hernias.

A sāmm-abraṣ in a dream is believed to represent poverty, anxiety, and toxic slander.

In India it is told that a gecko crawling over a sleeper’s body forebodes their imminent death, and a gecko falling on someone’s face makes them an albino. Ganges water and “gold water” in which gold has been placed counter the gecko’s poison, but it still ruins any food it touches.

The unwarranted evil reputation of the gecko, while deep-rooted, has not always been the case. Geckos feature in ancient Egyptian art in an apotropaic function, protecting the deceased from scavenging insects.

References

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

Fremgen, J. (1996) The Folklore of Geckos: Ethnographic Data from South and West Asia. Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 55, pp. 135-143.

Guilhou, N. (2009) Lézards et geckos dans l’Égypte ancienne. IVe Rencontres archéozoologiques de Lattes, UMR 5140 – CNRS, Université Paul-Valéry
Montpellier 3.

Jayakar, A. S. G. (1908) Ad-Damiri’s Hayat al-Hayawan (A Zoological Lexicon), vol. II, part I. Luzac and Co., London.

Orr, J. (1915) The New Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume III. The Howard-Severance Company, Chicago.

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.

Yedua

Variations: Jeduah, Jidoa, Feduah, Fedoui, Fadua, Adne Hasadeh, Adnei Ha-sadeh, Adne Sadeh, Abne Hasadeh, Avnei Ha-sadeh, Bar Nash D’tur, Jidra (erroneously)

Yedua

The Talmudic equivalent of the Barometz, the Barnacle Goose, and other zoophytes is the Yedua. This name was used by Rabbi Meir, and these creatures are the yidoni of Leviticus 31:19, often translated to “wizards” in English. The exact pronunciation of the name is debatable, although one variation (“Jidra”) appears to be a misreading of Jidoa as used by Lewysohn. The yedua is also known as Adne Hasadeh (“lords of the field” or “men of the field”), Abne Hasadeh (“stones of the field”), or Bar Nash D’Tur (“man of the field”).

The size of the yedua is unspecified, but it has a human shape, having a face, body, arms, and feet.  However, Rabbi Jochanan, following Moses Chusensis of Ethiopia on the authority of Rabbi Simeon, believed the yedua to be a vegetable lamb, perhaps after confusion with the barometz. This wild man of the mountains lives through its navel, which connects it to the ground with a stem like that of a gourd or pumpkin. If this umbilicus is cut or uprooted the yedua dies. It will maul and kill any living thing within the radius of its stem, and will eat all vegetation within that circle. It is impure, and its body causes spiritual impurity in buildings.

It is valuable in witchcraft, as its bones placed in the mouth, along with certain incantations, allow one to see the future. Yedua hunters killed their quarry by shooting arrows into the navel-stem from a safe distance.

The account of the yedua can be read as an early observation of apes. Rabbi Lipschutz believed the yedua to be inspired by relict populations of chimpanzees or orangutans in the Lebanese cedar forests. The origin of the creature appears to have come about by a simple misspelling that turned tur (“field”) into tavur (“navel”).

References

Coogan, M. D.; Brettler, M. Z.; Newsom, C.; Perkins, P. (eds.) (2010) The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Laufer, B. (1915) The Story of the Pinna and the Syrian Lamb. The Journal of American Folk-lore, vol. XXVIII, no. CVIII, pp. 103-128.

Lee, H. (1887) The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, London.

Lewysohn, L. (1858) Die Zoologie des Talmuds. Joseph Baer, Frankfurt.

Ley, W. (1959) Exotic Zoology. The Viking Press, New York.

Slifkin, N. (2011) Sacred Monsters. Zoo Torah, Jerusalem.

Orabou

Variations: Orobon (erroneously)

Orabou

Mount Marzouan, once known as Mount Orabou, was described by Thevet in his Cosmographie. It is home to a small population of Arabs, and the waters of the sea there house a fish known as Orabou, for which the mountain was once named.

Not much is known of the orabou’s appearance. Thevet only states that it is nine to ten feet long, and is plated with armor like a brigandine, although its scales are not as tough as a crocodile’s hide. The depiction of the orabou provided gives it a humpbacked, rather feline appearance.

Orabou flesh is particularly foul-tasting, and Thevet believed that old camel meat and Livonian mastiff were preferable to the execrable orabou. Eating it also results in kidney and bladder stones. Despite that, the inahabitants of Mount Marzouan eat it anyway, treating their stones with a diuretic concoction of orabou fat, two handfuls of false gold dust, and cyclamen.

Paré takes the orabou from Thevet, but misspells its name as the phonetically-similar “orobon” and its locality as “Mount Mazouan”. Ever the embellisher, he also adds that it is extremely ferocious towards other fish.

The orabou may have been inspired by crocodiles, although Thevet makes a distinction between the two. Another possibility is a monitor lizard, like a similar creature encountered by Sir Andrew de Toulongeon and Pierre de Vaudrei in the desert of Palestine. It was a three-foot-long green lizardlike animal covered with sturgeon-like scales, having feet like the hands of a child, a head like a hare’s, and a long lizard’s tail. It made sounds like a cat, and was feared by the Arabs accompanying the knights. Naturally this affront to the natural order was promptly slain.

References

Butazzoni, F. (1997) Los Ensayos del Orobon. Ariel, Montevideo.

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

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

Wright, T. (1848) Early Travels in Palestine. Henry G. Bohn, London.

Rukh

Variations: Rokh, Rukhkh, Roc, Ruc; Griffon, Griffin, Gryphon

Rukh

The lineage of the Rukh (or, less correctly, Roc) is an ancient and venerable one, with tales of enormous birds stretching back into ancient Egypt. Generally believed to live in Madagascar (or possibly at the top of Mount Qaf), it is another iteration of the Arabian ‘Anqa, the Persian Simurgh, and the Indian Garuda and Cyena. The name rukh itself may have come about by a corruption of simurgh, which in turn came from cyena.

There is little defining the appearance of the rukh; it is a gigantic bird of prey, but what exactly that entails has varied from artist to artist. The only indisputable feature is that it is enormous. A rukh is as big as the storyteller needs it to be, leading to accounts of a hatchling rukh with wings a thousand fathoms (over 1800 meters) in length!

Rukhs are uncontested predators capable of feeding on the largest and most dangerous land animals. They have a particular fondness for giant serpents, elephants, and karkadanns or rhinoceroses. Sindbad observed that when a karkadann spears an elephant on its horn, the elephant’s fat runs into the rhino’s eyes and blinds it; a rukh will then swoop down and carry both combatants off to feed its chicks. Rukhs also appear to have some degree of intelligence, using boulders to smash prey.

The best-known interactions with rukhs were those of Sindbad the Sailor, who encountered them on his second and fifth voyages. The first time around, Sindbad found himself alone on a deserted island – not an uncommon occurrence in his life – and discovered a strange white dome, some fifty paces in circumference. As he pondered what the structure might be, the sky darkened as a huge rukh appeared. The dome was none other than its egg. Fortunately for Sindbad, it showed no interest in him as it sat on the egg and dozed off, and Sindbad tied himself to its leg with his turban, figuring that it might fly him to more civilized lands. In time the rukh awoke, screeched, and took off on the most terrifying ride of Sindbad’s life. When it finally landed he untied himself as fast as he could and ran for cover, while the rukh busied itself seizing a giant serpent in its talons and flying off with its prey.

Sindbad’s fifth voyage was even more catastrophic. This time, Sindbad’s crew went ashore without him and found the white dome of a rukh’s egg. Despite Sindbad’s warnings, they broke the egg and killed the chick inside. As they butchered the chick, the two parent rukhs appeared, their angry calls louder than thunder. When the sailors tried to flee in their ship, the birds returned with enormous boulders in their talons. The male’s rock narrowly missed the ship, but the female scored a direct hit, sinking the vessel. All sailors on board died with the exception of Sindbad, who drifted off towards further adventures.

In the tale of Aladdin, the evil necromancer attempts to convince Aladdin to demand a rukh egg to hang from the ceiling, a request which infuriates the genie. “You want me to hang our Liege Lady for your pleasure?” he roared, before informing them that such a wicked request could only have come from their enemy. In this case the author combined the rukh with the ineffably pure and holy simurgh.

Abd al-Rahman the Maghrebi, who had travelled far and wide across the world, obtained a rukh chick’s feather quill capable of holding a goatskin’s worth of water. He and his companions obtained it from a rukh chick that they cut out of an egg a hundred cubits long. The parent rukh flew after them and dropped a rock on their ship, but unlike Sindbad’s crew they successfully avoided it and went on their way. All those who had eaten the baby rukh’s flesh remained youthful and never grew old.

Ibn Battuta saw a rukh soaring over the China Seas. It was sufficiently far away to be mistaken for a flying mountain, and he and his companions were thankful that it did not notice them.

Marco Polo had the opportunity to observe rukhs on Madagascar; he believed them to be griffons, and specified that they were not half lion and half bird as he was led to believe, but simply enormous eagles. They had wings 30 paces long with feathers 12 paces long, and would pick up elephants and carry them into the air, dropping them onto the ground from great heights and feeding on the pulverized remains. A rukh feather was brought as a gift to the Great Khan, who was greatly pleased with it.

The rukh is not to be confused with al-Marwazi’s camel-like urine-spouting animal of the same name, described as zabraq by al-Mas’udi and as phalmant by Bochart. This grounded rukh may also be related to the rook chess piece, but both are far removed from the giant raptor.

The giant elephant bird Aepyornis of Madagascar, or its remains, was feasibly the origin of the rukh. It was, however, flightless, harmless, and non-elephantivorous. The rukh feathers that circulated as curiosities during the Middle Ages were fronds from the Madagascan Raphia vinifera palms.

References

Adler, M. N. (1907) The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. Oxford University Press, London.

Bianconi, G. G. (1862) Degli scritti di Marco Polo e dell’uccello ruc da lui menzionato. Tipi Gamberini e Parmeggiani, Bologna.

Burton, R. F. (1885) The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, vol. V. Burton Club, London.

Burton, R. F. (1887) Supplemental Nights to the Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, vol. III. Kamashastra Society, London.

Casartelli, L. C. (1891) Cyena-Simurgh-Roc: Un Chapitre d’Evolution Mythologique et Philologique. Compte Rendu du Congres Scientifique International des Catholiques, Alphonse Picard, Paris.

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

Golénischeff, W. (1906) Le Papyrus No. 1115 de l’Ermitage Impérial. Recueil de Travaux Relatifs a la Philologie et a l’Archéologie Egyptiennes et Assyriennes, v. 12, pp. 73-112.

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

Payne, J. (1901) The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, vol. V. Herat, London.

Yule, C. B. (1875) The Book of Ser Marco Polo. John Murray, London.