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.

Jaculus

Variations: Iaculus, Jaculare; Sagitta (Latin); Acontia, Acontias, Saetta (Greek); Cafezati, Cafezasi, Altararat, Acoran, Altinanti (Arabic); Orchilanne (Turkish); Saettone (Calabria and Sicily); Ein Schosse Oder Angelsch Lang (German); Decurtati (Hungary)

Jaculus

The Jaculus, “javelin” or “dart”, is one of the many snakes that attacked Lucan’s forces during their march through the Libyan desert. While catalogued as a Libyan desert snake, Topsell expanded its range to include Rhodes, Lemnos, Calabria, Sicily, Germany

It can be considered a flying snake, although the “flight” is long-distance leaping over ten to thirty feet. They get into trees and bushes, bunch themselves up in bow and hoop shapes, and fling themselves at high speed onto their prey. Traveling as fast as a thrown javelin, they can puncture clothing and flesh alike. Jaculi are cunning and cruel, and will lie in ambush for human prey, but their presence is given away by the noise they make while coiling in dry plants.

The appearance of the jaculus varies, but it usually has small black ocelli, no bigger than lentils, on its body. The jaculi of Rhodes are ash-colored with a white belly and two black lines running from its head to the tip of its tail; the cafezati or “jumpers” of the Middle East are red, and have been posited as the Biblical fiery serpents. The Hungarian jaculi or decurtati are thick and short-tailed, only two hands long.

A jaculus killed Paulus, one of Lucan’s men, by darting from a distance before it could be seen. It was not venom that felled its victim, but rather the gaping hole left behind after it passed through Paulus’ head at the temples. Topsell believed it was a jaculus that attacked the apostle Paul and bit his hand. Another such snake coiled around the arm of a Zurich peasant; even though it didn’t bite, the arm ended up putrefying and requiring yearly bleeding to drain the black blood inside.

Topsell attests that the same antidotes used for viper venom can be used for jaculus bites. He adds that jaculus gall with Scythian stone yields eye-salve.

References

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

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.

Pareas

Variations: Parea, Parias, Paruas, Pharias, Parous, Baron, Pagerina, Anguis Aesculapij, Aesculapian Snake

Pareas

The Pareas is briefly mentioned in the Pharsalia’s catalogue of Libyan serpents. It always travels on its tail, leaving a furrow behind it in the ground. Its bite is harmless and gentle, and so it was consecrated to Asclepius, god of healers. Topsell classifies it among the innocent serpents.

Aelian describes it as being red with sharp eyes and a wide mouth. Topsell, on the other hand, gave its length as four spans, and its color as yellow with two long streaks down its side. Aldrovandi describes the pareas as being yellowish below and black above, with possible variations of green and white along its length. He dismisses the claim that it has a crest.

The tendency of the pareas to travel while holding itself clear of the ground has led to its association with the Eden serpent, which did not creep along the ground prior to being cursed. This claim has been contested by Alexander Neckham and Petrus Comestor, as the pareas very clearly does not conform to that curse. Petrus concluded that the curse must only have affected the individual serpent of Eden, leaving other snakes – including the pareas – uncursed.

References

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

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.

Kelly, H. A. (1971) The Metamorphoses of the Eden Serpent during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Viator, 2, pp. 301-328.

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

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

Prester

Variations: Presteros, Torridus (Torrid), Dipsas (Thirsty)

Prester

The Prester, “bellows-swelling”, “swollen veins”, or “inflater”,  is a deadly species of asp found in the deserts of Libya. Its name is derived from the gruesome effects of its venom, which were experienced firsthand by Lucan’s men. Aldrovandi believed it to be the same as the Dipsas, while Topsell saw it as distinct, since the prester kills by heat while the dipsas uses thirst.

Presters are so torrid that they keep their steaming mouth open to cool off, and foam constantly bubbles out from inside them. Topsell identifies presters with the fiery snakes that plagued the Israelites in the wilderness, but does not describe them beyond their extreme internal heat. They are fast-moving snakes, hurrying from place to place with their panting mouths wide open.

Aelian described the prester’s venom as causing profound lethargy, progressive weakness, loss of memory, inability to urinate, hair loss, choking, and eventually convulsions that lead to death. Flaubert specifies that mere contact with it causes debilitation.

Lucan describes more grotesque symptoms. The unfortunate Nasidius, upon suffering a scorching prester’s bite, feels the flames of the venom coursing through his veins. His entire body starts to swell, inflating and bloating and cutting through his armor, engulfing his limbs. The tumorous swelling ends only once Nasidius is a formless, headless heap. The remains are so disgusting that even the scavengers shun them.

Topsell recommends wild purslane, castoreum or beaver-stones, opoponax and rue in wine, and sprats as a remedy for prester bite.

References

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.

Batinski, E. (1992) Cato and the Battle with the Serpents. Syllecta Classica, Vol. 3, pp. 71-80.

Eldred, K. O. (2000) Poetry in Motion: the Snakes of Lucan. Helios 27.1, p. 63.

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

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

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

Dwarf

Variations: Dvergr, Dvergar, Duergr, Duergar (Old Norse); Dvärgher (Old Swedish); Dweorg, Dweorh (Anglo-Saxon); Twerg (Old High German); Dökkalf, Dökkalfar, Svartalf, Swartalf, Svartalfar, Swartalfar (Dark Elf, Black Elf); Dverge (Norway); Bjergfolk, Troldfolk (Denmark); Dvärg (Sweden)

Dwarf

“Dwarf” is a broad term that has been used to describe any supernatural being of short stature, often stunted and ugly in form, and living under the earth. Here it is used to refer specifically to the Scandinavian dwarfs, the chthonic master craftsmen who emerged from Ymir’s corpse, the personifications of the earth’s might and riches. They are also known as Dark Elves or Black Elves, distinguishing them from the elves living on the surface.

When Odin and his brothers slew the frost giant Ymir, they used his body to make the world. From his blood they made the seas and rivers, from his flesh the land, from his bones the mountains, and from his teeth the stones. The vault of Ymir’s skull was the heavens, and fire from the land of Múspellheim became stars.

Living inside the ruin of Ymir’s body were maggots digging through his flesh. Odin gave them consciousness and human form, but, much like maggots, they continued their existence digging through earth and stone. Odin tasked four dwarfs – North, South, East, and West – with holding up Ymir’s enormous skull.

Dwarfs were twisted, hunchbacked, bearded, short-legged, pallid like corpses, shunning the sun – which turned them to stone. As there were no female dwarfs, they carved new dwarfs out of the rock. While small and ugly by the Aesir’s standards, they were also unequaled as artisans, smiths, and jewelers.

The greatest of the Aesir’s artifacts were made by dwarfs. After Loki cut Sif’s hair as a prank, the other gods forced him under penalty of death to restore her beauty. The trickster god went to the sons of Ívaldi, who not only fashioned perfect golden hair for the goddess, but also the ship Skídbladnir, and Odin’s spear Gungnir. Impressed with their work, Loki dared the dwarfs Brokkr and Sindri to do better, wagering his own head in the process. Despite Loki’s best efforts to stop them, which included turning into a fly and biting them at crucial moments, he was unable to prevent the creation of the golden boar Gullinbursti, the gold ring Draupnir, and Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. All those gifts were presented to the gods, who decided that the hammer was the greatest item made by the dwarfs. Brokkr made for Loki’s head, but was outwitted by the god. “I wagered my head only, and not my neck. You’re welcome to it – if you do so without touching my neck”. Frustrated, Brokkr settled for stitching the impertinent Loki’s lips together.

Dwarfs also made Gleipnir, the silken ribbon that was used to bind the Fenris-wolf. It was made from a cat’s footfall, a woman’s beard, a mountain’s sinews, a rock’s roots, a fish’s breath, and a bird’s spittle. The wolf was immediately suspicious of the fragile-looking thread, and the god Tyr had to put his hand in the wolf’s mouth to humor him. As expected, the dwarfs’ cord held fast and bound the Fenris-wolf, but at the cost of Tyr’s hand.

The dwarf Alvíss, the “all-knowing”, lusted after Thor’s daughter. The god consented to give him her hand in marriage, but only if he could answer the questions he asked. Thor then proceeded to ask Alvíss questions about the world and the universe, which the wise dwarf answered proudly. In fact, Alvíss was so engrossed in showing off his intelligence that he failed to notice the approach of dawn, and the unfortunate dwarf was turned to stone by the rising sun.

Known Eddic dwarf names include Ài, Àlfr, Althjófr, Alvíss, Andvari, Austri, Báfurr, Bifurr, Bömburr, Brokkr, Dáinn, Dólgthvari, Dóri, Draupnir, Dúfr, Durinn, Dvalinn, Eikinskjaldi, Falr, Fidr, Fili, Frosti, Fundinn, Gandálfr, Ginnarr, Glóinn, Hárr, Heptifili, Hledjólfr, Hörr, Hugstari, Ívaldi, Kili, Litr, Mjödvitnir, Módsognir, Náinn, Nár, Nidi, Nípingr, Nordri, Nóri, Nýi, Nýr, Nýrádr, Óinn, Ónarr, Óri, Rádsvidr, Rekkr, Sindri, Skáfidr, Skirfir, Sudri, Svíarr, Thekkr, Thorinn, Thróinn, Thrór, Váli, Vestri, Vídr, Vindálfr, Virfir, Vitr, and Yngvi.

References

Aldington, R. and Ames, D. trans.; Guirand, F. (1972) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Appenzeller, T. and the Editors of Time-Life Books. (1985) Dwarfs. Silver Burdett Company, Morristown.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Edwards, G. (1974) Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck. John Sherratt and Son, Altrincham.

Keightley, T. (1978) The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and other Little People. Avenel Books, New York.

MacCulloch, J. A. (1964) The Mythology of All Races v. II: Eddic. Cooper Square Publishers, New York.

Sturluson, S. (1916) The Prose Edda. Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London.

Caladrius

Variations: Charadrius, Caradrius, Caladres, Kladrius, Icterus, Galgulus, Stone-curlew

Caladrius

The Caladrius is a miraculous healing bird, believed to range from Europe to Jerusalem. It is generally believed to have originated from the stone-curlew, with other influences including seagulls, falcons, herons, ibises, owls, and any of a number of plovers (Charadriidae).

A caladrius is a waterbird the size of a hen or dove. It has immaculately white plumage, with a long neck, yellow eyes, beak, and legs, and rarely straight goat’s horns. Earlier accounts refer to it as being yellow, while others grant it reddish wings, spots, and a yellow-tinged dark color. It is an unclean bird and must not be eaten.

In its simplest form, the caladrius will cure jaundice by returning the stare of a patient who gazes intently at it. This connection to jaundice was inspired by the striking, staring yellow eyes of the stone-curlew. Its dung and the marrow of its thigh-bones will cure blindness.

A caladrius knows if a patient will live or die. It will look at someone who will be cured, and look away from someone doomed to die. Sometimes all it takes to be cured is touching the caladrius. The caladrius touches its beak to the patient’s mouth, taking disease and sickness into itself, and flies into the sky, where the sun burns the illness into oblivion.

This equates the pure and flawless caladrius with Christ, as it looks at and heals the faithful, granting them life, taking sins away in the process. The caladrius was iconographically represented in the role of a healer, sitting on the bedstead of a sick person and either looking to or away from the patient.

It was often kept in the court of kings for its curative powers. The sale of live caladrius was a potentially lucrative business, but merchants had to hide their specimens to avoid having people come in to see them and get cured for free.

References

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

de Beauvais, P.; Baker, C. ed. (2010) Le Bestiaire. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Druce, G. C. (1912) The Caladrius and its Legend, Sculptured upon the Twelfth-Century Doorway of Alne Church, Yorkshire. Archaeological Journal, vol. 69, pp. 381-416.

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.

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

Wright, T. (1845) The Archaeological Album. Chapman and Hall, London.

Bonnacon

Variations: Bonasus, Bonasos, Monassos, Monops; Bison, Maned Bison, European Bison, Aurochs, Urus, Urus Bonasus

Bonnacon

The Bonnacon’s range extends from Scythia in the east to Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Germany in the West. It would be a fine prize for hunters were it not for its remarkable flatulent defenses.

A bonnacon looks like a bull, but is squatter, with reddish fur shading to black, a short tail, and the shaggy mane of a horse. Its horns curl inwardly towards the head, making them of no use in self-defense.

When attacked, the bonnacon voids the contents of its intestines over an area of 3 acres (Aristotle gives a more conservative estimate of 4 fathoms). The noxious, acrid dung ignites and burns anything it touches, leaving a trail of flame in its wake.

The European bison (Bison bonasus) is generally believed to be the basis of the bonnacon.

References

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

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

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Sainéan, L. (1921) L’histoire naturelle et les branches connexes dans l’oeuvre de Rabelais. E. Champion, Paris.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

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