Zulāl

Variations: Snow-worm

Zulal2

The Zulāl or Snow-worm is a small worm, the length of a human finger, that breeds in snow. It has yellow spots. The water inside of a zulāl is cold, pure, and refreshing, so it is often captured by humans to drink its contents. The term zulāl is also used to mean cold water on its own, without worms involved. This is now the current use of the term in Arabic and the snow-worm is all but forgotten.

While a zulāl is a worm and unclean, the water inside it is of exceptional pureness and is perfectly safe to drink.

References

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

Jayakar, A. S. G. (1908) ad-Damiri’s Hayat al-Hayawan (A Zoological Lexicon). Luzac and Co., London.

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.

Ṣannāja

Variations: Ṣannājah, Ṣunnājah, Sannaja; Nubian Horse (erroneously)

Sannaja

The Ṣannāja, “Cymbalist” (!), is a gigantic, deadly, yet pathetic creature originally described by al-Qazwini. It can be found in the land of Tibet, making it an abominable snowman of sorts, although it has more in common with the Gorgons of Greek myth.

According to al-Qazwini, the ṣannāja is indescribably vast, such that no animal can compare to it in size. This largest of all beasts makes dens one league wide.

Neither al-Qazwini nor al-Damiri describe its appearance, so artistic depictions of ṣannājas vary. As it is described in the same section along with insects and reptiles, the Wasit manuscript shows it with six stubby legs and a segmented, shelled turtle-like body. Its red, vaguely spiderish head is blank except for hair and two large, staring eyes. The artist of the C.1300 manuscript gives the ṣannāja a tusked, leonine head with massive, spotted folds of skin all over its body. A third is more cautious, assigning it the looks of a dragon. Finally, one Egyptian account is a ṣannāja in name only, placing it in African rivers and giving it four duck feet, a horse’s mane, water-buffalo skin, and a huge mouth. Described as the “Nubian Horse” living in water and ruining crops on land, this is the only case where the name has been applied to the hippopotamus.

The most distinctive quality of the ṣannāja is its deadly gaze, which nonetheless has a peculiar quality. Any animal that sees the ṣannāja dies instantly, but if the ṣannāja sees the animal first, it is the one to expire. Thus animals of Tibet come up to ṣannājas with their eyes closed, such that the monster will see them and drop dead, guaranteeing them a feast for weeks to come.

Accounts of mammoth fossils from Central Asia may have inspired the enormous ṣannāja. Traditional Tibetan art and kirttimukha faces may also have had a hand in its genesis.

References

Berlekamp, P. (2011) Wonder, Image, and Cosmos in Medieval Islam. Yale University Press, New Haven.

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

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

Komaroff, L. and Carboni, S. (eds.) (2002) The Legacy of Genghis Khan. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Rapoport, Y. and Savage-Smith, E. (eds.) (2014) An Eleventh-Century Egyptian Guide to the Universe. Brill, Leiden.

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.

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.

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.