Utelif

Variations: Uletif (Paré), Pristis, Saw-fish, Sawfish

Utelif

Thevet describes the monstrous Utelif as a fish found along the African coast, from Guinea to Ethiopia. It has a three-foot long, four-finger wide saw on its forehead. This weapon is very sharp on both sides. It is much like a killer whale, but its skin is scaly instead of leathery. Thevet includes a drawing of it and contrasts it with that of Rondelet, who was sadly mistaken in putting the saw on the creature’s nose.

Ambroise Paré predictably copies Thevet’s account but changes the name to uletif. Like Thevet, he is in possession of the remarkable saw, a serrated horn weighing five pounds with fifty-one sharp teeth divided on either side (25 on one, 26 on the other). It is colored like a sole above and is white below. As the uletif is believed to be a marine unicorn, its horn has the same antivenomous qualities as that of the unicorn. He dismisses the popular claim that the saw is a snake’s tongue.

Aldrovandi includes the likeness of the utelif in his discussion of the Pristis or sawfish.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1613) De Piscibus, Libri V. Bononiae.

Paré, A. (1582) Discours d’Ambroise Paré – De la Licorne. Gabriel Buon, Paris.

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

Rondelet (1554) Libri de Piscibus Marinis. Matthiam Bonhomme, Lyon.

Vallot, D. M. (1821) Explication des Caricatures en Histoire Naturelle. Mémoires de l’Academie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-lettres de Dijon.

Serra

Variations: Serre, Pristis, Vivella, Sawfish, Saw-fish, Flying Fish

Serra

The Serra (“saw”) or Saw-fish is a mainstay of bestiaries. Traditionally identified with the sawfish, it also includes features of the flying fish and comes with a ready moral message for the benefit of faithful readers.

Pliny mentions a fish named Pristis which is two hundred cubits (over 90 meters) long, is viviparous, and seemingly covered with hair. Pristis was also a common name given by Romans to ships. Isidore of Seville gives us the ur-description of the serra as a fish with a serrated (serratus) crest which cuts through boats as it swims under them.

Later additions expanded on this account. The serra is a huge seagoing fish or monster with gigantic fins. When it sees a ship, it spreads its fins, catching the wind, and chases after the vessel in an attempt to outspeed it. After two hundred yards the serra gets bored, folds its wings, and sinks back into the ocean. The ship represents the Righteous, who press on in the face of adversity, while the serra represents fickle and lazy people who start out trying to be Christians but discourage easily.

Why the serra chases after the ship is uncertain. The moral suggests jealousy, but the propensity of the serra to slice up ships with its saw-crest implies a more malevolent motive. Other accounts describe it as more bloodthirsty, sinking ships to feast on sailors, while some (perhaps confused with dolphins?) are said to take pity on sinking ships and lift them out of the waves.

The serra does not fly, instead using its massive fins move like a sailboat, but medieval artists commonly show it flying above ships anyway. Eventually the serra’s iconography was muddled with the dragon’s, and it became another dog-like or reptilian winged monster.

The position of the saw has also been a subject of contention. Isidore of Seville’s crest (crista) was interpreted in ways ranging from a rooster’s comb to a saw-edged dorsal fin. None of them locate the saw on the end of the nose.

Buel regards the sawfish as an innocent and inoffensive creature. The occasional attacks on boats are attributed to parasitic copepods, whose burrowing into the sawfish’s flesh drives the creature into delirious agony and causes it to lash out at anything nearby.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1613) De Piscibus, Libri V. Bononiae.

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

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

Druce, G. C. (1919) On the Legend of the Serra or Saw-fish. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Second Series, v. 31.

Hippeau, C. (1852) Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie. A. Hardel, Caen.

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.

Pliny; Bostock, J. and Riley, H. T. trans. (1900) The Natural History of Pliny, v. II. George Bell and Sons, London.

White, T. H. (1984) The Book of Beasts. Dover Publications, New York.

Chicheface

Variations: Chiche-face, Chiche Face, Chichefache, Chechiface, Chincheface, Chiche; Chichevache, Chichivache (erroneously), Thingut, Pinch-Belly (English)

Chicheface

Chicheface is as starved as its counterpart Bigorne is satisfied. This etiolated creature was said to feed solely on wives who obeyed their husbands, and as such was skeletal and malnourished. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.

Some confusion has resulted over the name. Chiche face means “thin face”, possibly derived from the Spanish chico, “small” (although Chapoulaud suggests a separate derivation from the patois chichou, “puppy”). Corruption of this word through intermediaries like chichefache has led to the alternate spelling of chichevache, “thin cow”, popularized in English.

There is very little of the bovine in Chicheface. It is somewhat like a terrifyingly thin werewolf, barely skin and bones. Its head and body are those of a wolf, its forelegs are clawed and its hindlegs are hooved.

Satire featuring Chicheface revolves around the lack of good and submissive women, and usually begs wives to remain independent and willful. Le dit de Chicheface (“The say of Chicheface”), preserved in the Auvergne mural, depicts Chicheface with its prey in its mouth. Chicheface laments its lot in life – Moy que lon appelle Chiche Face / Très maigre de coleur et de face (“I who am called Chiche Face / Very thin of color and face”). The woman held in its jaws is the only thing it’s found to eat in ten thousand years. Des ans il y a plus de deux cens / Que ceste tiens entre mes dens / Et sy ne lose avaler / De peur de trop longtemps jeuner (“For more than two hundred years / I’ve been holding her between my teeth / And I dare not swallow her / For fear of fasting too long”). As for the long-suffering woman, she regrets her decisions in life, having done everything her husband told her to do, and begs wives not to do the same – Vous qui vivez au demourant / Ne veulez pas come moi faire (“You who live at home / Do not do as I did”).

Jubinal’s satirical poem on the life of Saint Genevieve mentions Chicheface in a warning addressed to the saint: Gardez-vous de la Chicheface / El vous mordra, s’el vous rencontre (“Beware of the Chicheface / It will bite you, if it meets you”). In the Life of Saint Christoffle, we are given the curse Va, que tu soys confondu / Orde, sanglante chiche face! (“Go, may you be confounded / Vile, bloody chiche face!”). Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In the Clerk’s Tale, “noble wives full of high prudence” are warned not to imitate the good and patient Griselda “lest Chichevache you swallow in her entrail”. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles.

The skinnier Chicheface has proven more enduring than its rotund companion. Various carved grotesques have been described as the Chiche without further elaboration. In all likelihood Chicheface’s existence may have preceded the misogynistic legend attached to it, and it continued to exist in the popular mind as a sort of hideous bogey.

References

Allou, C. N. (1821) Description des Monumens des Differens Ages. F. Chapoulaud, Limoges.

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

Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.

Jubinal, A. (1837) Mystères Inédits du Quinzième Siècle, t. II. Téchener, Paris.

Michel, F. (1856) Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.

de Soultrait, G. (1849) Notice sur le Chateau de Villeneuve en Auvergne. Bulletin Monumental, s. 2, t. 5, Derache, Rue du Bouloy, Paris.

Tyrthwitt, T. (1868) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. George Routledge and Sons, London.

Bigorne

Variations: Bugorne; Bicorne, Bycorne, Bulchin, Fill-Gutt (English); Biurro, Biarro, Biligornia, Tantafera (Italian)

Bigorne

Bigorne is as corpulent as its counterpart Chicheface is emaciated. This bloated creature was said to feed solely on husbands who obeyed their wives, and as such was fat and well-fed. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.

The name Bigorne is presumably derived from bicornis, “two-horned”, and also refers to a two-horned anvil. Bigorne itself claims to hail from the fictitious land of Bigornois. The word and variations of it have also been used to refer to debauched old women, to navy infantrymen (bigorniaux or bigreniaux), and to periwinkle snails (bigornebigorneau).

Representations of Bigorne show a massive creature taking clear inspiration from the better-known Tarasque. It has overlapping scales on its rounded back, a smooth belly with lozenge-like scales, clawed bestial forepaws, webbed hindpaws, and a tufted tail. Its face is somewhat human in appearance, unlike that of Chicheface. Alas, no horns are present.

Bigorne has no shortage of patient and submissive husbands to feed on. In its signature poem, Le dit de Bigorne (“The say of Bigorne”), it states that Bons hommes sont bons a manger (“Good men are good to eat”). It is accosted by a desperate man who seeks deliverance from his wife, begging it to eat him; the Bigorne has to excuse itself as it’s still working on its last meal – Attens ong peu beau damoyseau / Laisse mavaller ce morceau / Qui est tresbon ie ten asseure / Et puis a toy ie parleray / Et voulentiers tescouteray (“Wait a bit handsome youth / Let me swallow this morsel / Which is quite delicious I assure you / And then I will talk to you / And gladly listen”). It refers to women and Chicheface disdainfully and brags of its gluttony: Ils viennent a moy a milliers / Aussi grans comme de pilliers (“They come to me in the thousands / Each as big as a pillar”). It finally consents to eat the man; this being a medieval farce, the poem ends on a suitably crude tone as the Bigorne requests that he not break wind or urinate while it swallows him. Il ne te fault point deschausser / Ni despoiller, cest ma nature / Bons hommes font ma nourriture (“You needn’t remove your shoes / Or undress, for it’s my nature / Good men are my food”).

Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles. A masquerade in Florence in the first half of the 16th century saw the likeness of a monstrous beast paraded through the streets. Dubbed Biurro, it bore a sign on its chest proclaiming: Io son Biurro che mangio coloro che fanno a modo delle mogli loro (“I am Biurro and I eat those who do their wives’ bidding”).

The uglier Chicheface has proven more popular than its content companion. Stripped of its chauvinistic overtones, the Bigorne is also a fearsome black beast that roams around Saintonge at night.

References

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

de Chesnel, A. (1857) Dictionnaire de Technologie, t. I. J. P. Migne, Rue d’Amboise, Paris.

Gay, J. (1871) Bibliographie des ouvrages relatifs a l’amour, t. II. J. Gay et Fils, Turin.

Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.

Michel, F. (1856) Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.

Silvestre, L. C. (1840) Bigorne qui mange tous les hommes qui font le commandement de leurs femmes. Crapelet, Paris.

de Soultrait, G. (1849) Notice sur le Chateau de Villeneuve en Auvergne. Bulletin Monumental, s. 2, t. 5, Derache, Rue du Bouloy, Paris.

Tyrthwitt, T. (1868) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. George Routledge and Sons, London.

Amphisbaena

Variations: Amphisbaina, Alchismus, Amphisilene, Ankesime, Auksimem, Double-head, Double-marcheur (French); Doble Andadora (possibly)

amphisbaena

The Amphisbaena, “goes both ways”, is one of the many snakes encountered by Lucan and his army in the deserts of Libya. It has also been reported from Lemnus, but it is unknown to the Germans. Unlike its biological namesake, the harmless burrowing lizards known as amphisbaenas, the Libyan amphisbaena is venomous and deadly, producing double the amount of venom a regular snake would.

Two heads are an amphisbaena’s distinguishing feature, with one head in the normal place and one at the end of the tail. How these heads affect locomotion is unclear. An amphisbaena may move like a regular snake, one head trailing behind, but changing directions instantly and going forward or backwards with equal ease. Alternatively, both heads could lead, leaving the body following behind in a loop. An amphisbaena’s sight is poor, but its eyes glow. Physically it resembles an earthworm, with an indistinguishable head and tail. It is blackish earth-colored, with a rough, spotted skin.

In addition to the amphisbaena described above, Pammenes tells of two-headed snakes with two feet near the tail in Egypt. Borges reports a creature from the Antilles called the doble andadora (“goes both ways”), also known as the two-headed snake and the mother of ants. It feeds on ants and can reattach itself if chopped in half. However, there is little outside of Borges’ account to corroborate it. The medieval amphisbaena became a two-headed dragon, in a wide variety of forms. Any creature in medieval art with an extra head on the end of its tail can be safely labeled an amphisbaena, although at this point the Greek two-headed snake is long forgotten.

Amphisbaenas are very cold-resistant, and are the first snakes to come out after winter, ahead of the first cuckoo song. Their temperament is correspondingly hotter than that of other snakes. Solinus believed amphisbaenas gave birth through the tail-end mouth. They take good care of their eggs, guarding them until they hatch and showing love to their offspring.

Amphisbaena venom is unremarkable and causes the same symptoms as viper bites – inflammation and slow, painful death. Besides drinking coriander, the antidotes for amphisbaena bite are the same as those used for vipers. Amphisbaenas themselves are hard to kill, except with a vine-branch. One amphisbaena woke Dionysus from his rest, and in retaliation he crushed it with a vine-branch.

Several remedies have been derived from amphisbaenas. A walking-stick covered with amphisbaena skin keeps away venomous animals, and an olive branch wrapped in amphisbaena skin cures cold shiverings. An amphisbaena attached to a tree will ensure that the logger will not get cold and the tree will fall easily. If a pregnant woman steps over a dead amphisbaena, she will abort instantly, as the vapor arising from the dead snake is so toxic as to suffocate the fetus. However, if a pregnant woman carries a live amphisbaena in a box with her, the effect is nullified.

The two heads of the amphisbaena understandably led to a healthy amount of criticism. Thomas Browne denied that amphisbaenas could exist, stating that an animal with two anteriors was impossible. Al-Jahiz recounts an interview with a man who swore that he saw an amphisbaena, and, unconvinced, chalked it up to fear-induced exaggeration. “From which end does it move?” he asked the man. “Where does it eat from, and where does it bite from?” The man replied “It doesn’t move forward, but it gets around by rolling, like boys roll on sand. As for eating, it eats lunch with one head and dinner with the other. And as for biting, it bites with both heads at the same time!”

References

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

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

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

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

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

Druce, G. C. (1910) The Amphisbaena and its Connexions in Ecclesiastical Art and Architecture. Archaeological Journal, v. 67, pp. 285-317.

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.

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

Lucan, trans. Rowe, N. (1720) Pharsalia. T. Johnson, London.

Pliny; Bostock, J. and Riley, H. T. trans. (1857) The Natural History of Pliny, v. III. Henry G. Bohn, London.

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

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.

Cenchris

Variations: Cenchros, Cenchrines, Cenchridion, Cenchrites, Cenchria; Millet; Milliaris (from millet); Punter-schlang, Berg-schlang (German); Lyon (due to its color and ferocity); Famusus, Aracis, Falivisus (Topsell gives those last three as barbarous versions)

Cenchris

The Cenchris or Millet is one of the many venomous snakes spawned from the blood of Medusa that live in the Sahara desert. It was listed in the catalog of serpents assailing Cato and his men, but did not receive a separate account describing the effects of its deadly venom. Situated in Libya according to Lucan, Topsell stated it to hail from Lemnus and Samothracia.

The most obvious characteristic of a cenchris is that it always move in a straight line, and does not coil or flex its body. For this reason it can travel fast in a straight line, but cannot make sharp turns. In color it is a dusky yellow, looking like the color of millet seed, but Aldrovandi suggests it to be at least partly green. Regardless of the color, the cenchris is attractively spotted and speckled, bringing to mind millet or marbled columns. The pointed tail is turned upwards, like a lion’s. A cenchris grows to two cubits (about one meter) long.

The cenchris is most active and aggressive when millet is at the peak of its growth, and head to the mountains in the summer. Unlike other venomous snakes, it will use its entire body when attacking, wrapping around its victim and beating it; meanwhile, it fastens its fangs in its prey and sucks its blood out.

Cenchris venom rots and putrefies flesh, causing lethargy, stomachache, and death within two days if left untreated. Lettuce, flax-seed, savory, rue, betony, and daffodil in three cups of wine, followed by two drams of centaury, gentian, hartwort, nosewort, or sesame, makes a good antidote.

While not easy to narrow to a single species, the rectilinear locomotion suggests the cenchris to be inspired by large, heavy-bodied vipers such as the puff adder.

References

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

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.

Lucan, trans. Rowe, N. (1720) Pharsalia. T. Johnson, London.

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