Trollgädda

Variations: Trollgäddor (pl.); Jättegädda (Giant Pike); Krongädda (Crown Pike); Skällgädda (Bell Pike); Sjörå

The lakes and waterways of Sweden are home to Trollgäddor, “troll pike”. These variable supernatural creatures take the form of a large pike, and cause problems ranging from being nuisances to attacking people.

Sometimes the pikes are associated with the Sjörå, the Mistress of the Lake; some may even be Sjörå themselves. More frequently they are the pets of the Sjörå. The water-spirit dresses them up with bells like cows, and the fish are called skällgäddor or “bell pikes”. Anglers who return those pikes upon capture are rewarded with success at fishing; those who kill them incur the Mistress’ wrath and find their livestock dying off.

The krongädda or “crown pike” is another of the Sjörå’s pets. It is a pike with a crown, and is regarded to be the Sjörå’s prized possession. The exact nature of the “crown” is unclear. It has been suggested that the crown is actually the remains of a bird’s talons embedded in the fish’s skull, left behind by an unfortunate osprey drowned by its “catch”.

Other times the trollgädda’s appears as a normal pike with no distinguishing characteristics. A pike captured in Lake Odensjön was large enough, but as the angler returned home it grew heavier and heavier. By the time he entered the house he had to drop it, and it started thrashing about as it grew big enough to destroy the house. Fortunately the angler had the presence of mind to let it out; the fish squirmed and flopped its way back into the water and disappeared.

Trollgädda tales vary by locale. The Kvittinge pike kills a human every year. In Lake Mjörn there is a huge, hairy, and bearded pike tied up with an iron chain. In Skåne there are pikes as big as wooden beams. The Dalsland pike has eyes as big as saucers and scales as big as roof tiles. It barely fits in the coves, and seeing it is a clear sign that fishing will be futile.

The pike of Lake Bolmen is as long as the lake is wide, and can barely move. It is so big that its back looks like a rocky island, and so old that a willow shrub grows on its head and neck. An enterprising angler tried to catch the pike using a rope for a fishing line and a dead foal for bait. When the trollgädda bit, the angler fastened the rope to a lakeside barn and went to get help. They returned to find the barn dragged out into the lake.

References

Gustavsson, P. (2008) Laskiga vidunder och sallsamma djur. Alfabeta, Stockholm.

Hansing, F. (pers. comm.)

Svanberg, I. (2000) Havsrattor, kuttluckor och rabboxar. Bokforlaget Arena, Falth & Hassler, Smedjebacken.

Pairío

The Kúbání-kikáva reef in Papua New Guinea is home to Pairío, an enormous catfish. She attacks anyone who dares approach the reef by raising up her back, which is armed with spines that can rip a canoe in half. If people see a spine sticking out of the water, they know to change course as fast as possible. Sometimes Pairío will chase after those canoes, one of her spines pointing at the vessel, and the crew have to paddle for their lives.

Pairío herself was not always a catfish. She was once a malignant female spirit known to the islanders as a dógai-órobo, something like the híwai-abére of mainland Papua New Guinea. Her home was on Márukára Island. One day she was attacked by a cloud of butterflies which she could not shoo away; they settled on her thickly until she was completely covered. In desperation she threw herself into the water, where she transformed into a catfish. The butterflies clinging to her soaked through, their wings became hard and spiny, and they turned into stonefishes and catfishes as brightly colored as any butterfly.

References

Landtman, G. (1917) The Folk-tales of the Kiwai Papuans. Acta Societatis Scientiarium Fennicae, t. XLVII, Helsingfors.

Landtman, G. (1927) The Kiwai Papuans of British New Guinea. MacMillan and Co. Limited, London.

Hoga

Variations: Andura

Tenochtitlan, the great city of Mexico, is built on pilings on Lake Texcoco, much like Venice. In that lake is found numbers of the fish known as Hoga by the natives of the land and the Spaniards, and as Andura (vampire bat!) by natives further south.

A hoga has a head and ears very like those of a hog. It is the size of a seal or porpoise. There are five half-foot-long barbels around its mouth. When swimming it seems to change color from red to yellow to green like a chameleon. It gives birth to live young like a whale does.

Hogas are omnivorous. They live close to the shore where they feed on the leaves of the hoga tree. They are highly aggressive, as dangerous as the velachif, and will kill and eat animals larger than them, which is why they are hunted relentlessly. Their flesh is delicious and tastes like albacore.

The hoga skin in Thevet’s possession was destroyed by vermin, but fortunately he claims to have seen the creature alive in person.

Delaunay believed the lake not to be Lake Texcoco, but rather the nearby Lake Chalco. The Hoga could not be positively identified.

References

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

Paré, A.; Pallister, J. L. trans. (1982) On Monsters and Marvels. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

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

Funkwe

The Funkwe is a colossal snake from the folklore of the Lambas of Zambia. It is approximately eighty miles in length and has a tail like that of a fish. These serpents live at the sources of the Kafulafuta and Itabwa rivers, coiled up in holes deep beneath the surface.

When a funkwe wants fish to be abundant, it starts swimming downstream, followed by schools of fish. Eventually its head reaches the great Kafue river while its tail is still at the source of the Kafulafuta – a span of eighty miles. It returns from the big river and brings the big fish with it.

References

Doke, C. M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia. George G. Harrap and Company Ltd., London.

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.