Calydonian Boar

Variations: Kalydonian Boar

Calydonian Boar

The tragedy of the Calydonian Boar started when King Oineus of Calydon made a sacrifice of firstfruits that left out Artemis. The vengeful goddess sent a monstrous boar to ravage Aitolia. This Calydonian boar was the size of a bull, with red eyes, a high stiff neck with bristles rising like spears, tusks as big as an elephant’s, and fire and lightning flashing from its mouth. It gored people and livestock, plundered the crops, burned the fields, and ruined the harvest.

Oineus begged all the heroes of Greece to save him from the boar. They responded. The team that was formed to hunt the boar included Oineus’ son Meleager, the twins Castor and Polydeuces, Theseus of Athens, Jason of Iolcos, Iphicles of Thebes, Eurytion of Phthia, and Atalanta of Arcadia, among many others. The presence of Atalanta, a woman and a skilled hunter, ruffled a few feathers; some of the men thought it beneath them to hunt with her. Meleager made sure to silence dissent before heading out to find the boar.

Althaia, mother of Meleager and wife of Oineus, watched her son leave without fear. Why would she be afraid for his life? Did the Moirai not foretell that he would only die once a certain log was burnt up – a log that she kept safely locked away in a chest? What could the boar possibly do to him? Her brothers, the sons of Thestios, also went with the party, but she had faith that nobody would come to harm.

It wasn’t hard to find the Calydonian boar. Its spoor was a wake of death and destruction. The sight of the hunting party drove the boar into a furious rage, and the hunters quickly became the hunted. Enaesimus tried to turn and run, but was hamstrung. Nestor narrowly escaped death by using his spear to pole-vault to safety. Hippasus’ thigh was gashed open. Peleus accidentally killed Eurytion with his javelin in the heat of battle. It was Atalanta that drew first blood with an arrow behind the boar’s ear, an action that earned Ancaios’ scorn. “A man’s weapons will always be better than a girl’s! Watch this!” Ancaios hefted his axe just in time to get disemboweled by the boar. Finally Meleager himself stabbed the boar’s flank, killing it.

In due course the boar was skinned and its magnificent hide taken, to be offered to the most valorous of the party. Meleager gave it to Atalanta without hesitation. The sons of Thestios, his uncles, were furious. “A mere woman does not deserve such a prize”, they grumbled. “If Meleager won’t take it, it is ours by right”. Tempers flared. The uncles took the skin by force, provoking Meleager to draw his sword and kill both of them.

Althaia did not take the news well. When she heard her brothers were dead, she seized Meleager’s log and tossed it into the fire in a fit of rage. Meleager was burned up from within and died in agony, envying Ancaios’ swift death at the boar’s tusks. Althaia went on to kill herself in a fit of conscience. Meleager’s sisters wept bitterly until Artemis transformed all but two of them into guineafowl.

So it goes.

References

Buxton, R. (2004) The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Ovid, Humphries, R. trans. (1955) Metamorphoses. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. M. (2007) Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

Erymanthian Boar

Erymanthian Boar

The Erymanthian Boar was a monstrous boar that made its home around Mount Erymanthos in Arcadia. It ravaged the land of Psophis, killing people and livestock and tearing up crops.

Heracles was commanded to bring the Erymanthian boar alive for his fourth labor. Along the way the demigod had an unfortunate and tragic encounter with the centaurs, one which would have severe repercussions in the future. Eventually Heracles found the boar and scared it out of its thicket with a mighty shout. After a long chase, the boar was tired out and and forced it into a snowdrift, where it was easily captured and brought back to Eurystheus. In a comic scene that graces many a Grecian urn, the cowardly king hid in a large storage jar until Heracles took the boar away.

After that the boar presumably met its demise, either at the hands of Heracles or elsewhere. The tusks of the Erymanthian boar were on display at the sanctuary of Apollo in Cumae, Italy, but Pausanias believed this claim to be highly dubious.

References

Buxton, R. (2004) The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Pausanias, Levi, P. trans. (1979) Guide to Greece, volume 2: Southern Greece. Penguin Books, London.

Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. M. (2007) Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

Trochus

Variations: Rota

Trochus

The Trochus, “wheel”, or Rota is a huge sea-monster known to swim close to shore in large groups. Schools (pods?) of these have been seen off Athos and Sigeum.

A trochus is fortunately timid, despite having a crest and spines of great size that show above the water. It revolves and contracts and dives deep, uncoiling and rolling and returning to the surface.

The wheel-like resemblance suggests a jellyfish or ray, but the size and behavior makes it clear that the trochus is a whale surfacing and diving.

References

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

Cerastes

Variations: Kerastes (Greek); Ceristalis, Cristalis, Sirtalis, Tristalis (corrupted from original Latin Cerastes); Cerust (Arabian); Schephiphon (Hebrew); En Geburnte Schlang (German); Ceraste, Serpent Cornu (French), Horned Serpent (English)

cerastes

The Cerastes, “horned”, is one of the many snakes born from the blood of Medusa in the Libyan desert. It receives a passing mention in Lucan’s catalogue of snakes. Another cerastes mentioned by Theophrastus and Pliny, in the form of a two-horned herbivorous worm, is obviously a caterpillar.

No more than 2 cubits (about a meter) long, the cerastes is sandy-colored and white, with red streaks across its back. The skin is very soft and stretchable. On the head are two, four, or eight horns, described as worm-like or ram-like. The fangs are like those of a viper and are not crooked. Instead of a backbone, a cerastes has a cartilaginous spine, making it the most flexible of all snakes.

The horns of a cerastes have two documented functions. They are used as lures to attract birds, with the snake buried under the sand with only the horns protruding. Horned snakes can also be found guarding wild pepper plants in Arabia, and they use their horns to gore and kill people. To harvest the pepper, fire must be set to burn out the cerastes, blackening the pepper as a result.

It is said that Helen of Troy, while eloping with Paris, stepped on a cerastes’ back and broke it. This is why they move in such a sinuous, crooked fashion, causing their scales to rustle as they go.

No other snake can endure thirst as long as the cerastes. They seldom or never drink. As for reproduction, they bring forth live young. They are solitary and aggressive towards humans, but the Psilli of Libya live in harmony with them. If one of the Psilli is lightly bitten they spit on the bite to heal it. A stronger bite requires antivenin made by gargling water and spitting it into a pot for the victim to drink. The most severe cases are cured by lying naked upon the equally naked sufferer.

Cerastes bites cause necrosis, priapism, madness, dimness of sight, scabs, sharp pain like the pricking of needles, and inevitable death within nine days. Topsell recommends cutting off stricken flesh to the bone or outright amputation. The wound should then be dressed with goat dung and vinegar or garlic, or barley-meal, or cedar, rue, or nep juice, or otherwise salt, honey, or pitch. Daffodil, rue, radish-seed, cumin, wine, castoreum, calamint, and emetics should be imbibed.

The cerastes is the namesake of the Saharan horned viper Cerastes cerastes. The viper’s knack for sidewinding seems an obvious forerunner to the cerastes’ flexibility.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1640) Serpentum, et Draconum Historiae. Antonij Bernie, Bologna.

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

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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

Lucan, trans. Riley, H. T. (1853) The Pharsalia of Lucan. Henry G. Bohn, London.

Tilbury, G.; Banks, S. E. and Binns, J. W. (eds.) (2002) Otia Imperialia. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Serpents. E. Cotes, London.

Kranokolaptes

Variations: Kephalokroustes, Sklerokephalon

kranokolaptes

Nicander classified the Kranokolaptes, the “Head Striker”, as a phalangion or spider. This is all the more puzzling because the description has nothing arachnoid about it. No doubt its deadly bites were seen as reason enough to list it after wolf spiders and malmignattes.

The kranokolaptes is an insect found in Egypt, and which develops in the persea tree (perhaps Mimusops). It has the appearance of a moth, with four downy felt-textured wings that leave an ashy dust behind. Philoumenos described it as green in color, but that is apparently a misreading of Nicander. The head of the kranokolaptes is hard, heavy, and nodding; its abdomen is thick and fat. It has a deadly stinger located below its head.

A kranokolaptes will use its stinger to attack the heads and necks of humans and cause instant death. Kranokolaptes stings are deadly unless victims are treated with its antidote – a kranokolaptes drowned in oil.

It has been suggested that hawkmoths (Sphingidae), with their impressive sizes, thick abdomens, and prominent probosces, are at the root of the kranokolaptes tale. The vampire moth Calyptra thalictri is even more compelling. Having evolved from fruit-piercing moths, vampire moths use the same methods to puncture skin and drink blood – and they rock their heads back and forth as they penetrate, explaining the “nodding” aspect. The similarities end here, however, as a bite from Calyptra merely causes swelling and irritation.

References

Beavis, I. C. (1988) Insects and other Invertebrates in Classical Antiquity. Alden Press, Osney Mead, Oxford.

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

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.