Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Mythological Monster of the Month: Manticore

October’s Roman Calendar Feature

The 2019–2020 Roman Calendar features twelve mythical monsters from the 2019 edition of Martia Dementia, Bolchazy-Carducci’s annual spring bracket tournament. Visit us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and our blog) for announcements regarding the 2020 Martia Dementia.

Manticore, thirteenth-century CE manuscript (Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program)
The manticore is a mythical leonine creature with the body of a lion, the head of a human, and a tail resembling either that of a scorpion or the quills of a porcupine. Tales of the manticore originated in Persia (where it was known as the martikhoras) and spread to Greece (called μαρτιχόρας martichoras or μαντιχώρας mantichoras) and Italy (adapted into Latin as mantichora).

Medieval authors often included manticores in bestiaries, following the description in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis. The Roman Calendar’s October image accompanies a Latin description of manticores found in the Northumberland Bestiary, a mid-thirteenth-century work produced in England.

Teachers may wish to ask students to name additional mythological or fictional creatures that are composites of real animals.

Manticore chasing a man, ca. ninth–tenth century CE sculpted sandstone monument, Meigle Museum 
Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) describes the manticore in his Historia Naturalis (8.34 in the Latin edition; 8.30 in the English edition):
Apud eosdem nasci Ctesias scribit quam mantichoran appellat, triplici dentium ordine pectinatim coeuntium, facie et auriculis hominis, oculis glaucis, colore sanguineo, corpore leonis, cauda scorpionis modo spicula infigentem, vocis ut si misceatur fistulae et tubae concentus, velocitatis magnae, humani corporis vel praecipue adpetentem.

Latin text from the edition of Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff (1906) available at Perseus
Ctesias informs us, that among these same Æthiopians, there is an animal found, which he calls the mantichora [manticore]; it has a triple row of teeth, which fit into each other like those of a comb, the face and ears of a man, and azure eyes, is of the colour of blood, has the body of the lion, and a tail ending in a sting, like that of the scorpion. Its voice resembles the union of the sound of the flute and the trumpet; it is of excessive swiftness, and is particularly fond of human flesh.

translation by John Bostock (1855) available at Perseus
A manticore featured on the album cover of Pictures at an Exhibition by the rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1971)
Although the works of Ctesias (late fifth century BCE) are now fragmentary, his description in Indica of the manticore is summarized by Photios I of Constantinople (ca. 810–893 CE) in his Bibliotheke (57.7):
Καὶ περὶ τοῦ μαρτιχόρα τοῦ ἐν αὐτοῖς ὄντος θηρίου, ὡς τὸ πρόσωπον ἐοικὼς ἀνθρώπῳ μέγεθος μέν ἐστιν ὥσπερ λέων, καὶ χρόαν ἐρυθὸς ὡς κιννάβαρι· τρίστιχοι δὲ ὀδόντες· ὦτα δὲ ὥσπερ ἀνθρώπου, καὶ ὀφθαλμοὺς γλαυκοὺς ὁμοίους ἀνθρώπῳ· τὴν δὲ κέρκον ἔχει οἵανπερ σκορπίος ὁ ἠπειρώτης, ἐν ᾗ καὶ τὸ κέντρον ἔχει, μείζω ὑπάρχουσαν πήχεος. ἔχει δὲ καὶ ἐκ πλαγίου τῆς κέρκου ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα κέντρα· ἔχει δὲ καὶ ἐπ’ ἄκρῳ ὥσπερ σκορπίος, κέντρον. καὶ τούτῳ μὲν, ἐὰν προσέλθῃ τὶς, κεντεῖ τῷ κέντρῳ, καὶ πάντως ὁ κεντηθεὶς ἀποθνήσκει· ἐὰν δέ τις πόῤῥωθεν μάχηται πρὸς αὐτὸν, καὶ ἔμπροσθεν ἱστὰς τὴν οὐρὰν ὥσπερ ἀπὸ τόξου βάλλει τοῖς κέντροις, καὶ ὄπισθεν ἐπ’ εὐθείας ἀποτείνων. βάλλει δὲ ὅσον πλέθρον εἰς μῆκος· καὶ πάντας οὓς ἂν βάλῃ πάντως ἀποκτείνει, πλὴν ἐλέφαντος. τὰ δὲ κέντρα αὐτοῦ ἐστι τὸ μὲν μῆκος ὅσον ποδιαῖα, τὸ δὲ πλάτος ὅσον σχοῖνος λεπτότατος. μαρτιχόρα δὲ Ἑλληνιστὶ ἀνθρωποφάγον, ὅτι πλεῖστα ἐσθίει ἀναιρῶν ἀνθρώπους· ἐσθίει δὲ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ζῷα. μάχεται δὲ καὶ τοῖς ὄνυξι καὶ τοῖς κέντροις. τὰ δὲ κέντρα πάλιν φησὶν, ἐπειδὰν ἐκτοξευθῇ, ἀναφύεσθαι. ἔστι δὲ πολλὰ ἐν τῇ Ἰνδικῇ. ἀποκτείνουσι δὲ αὐτὰ τοῖς ἐλέφασιν ἐποχούμενοι ἄνθρωποι, κἀκεῖθεν βάλλοντες. 
He describes an animal called the martikhora, found in India. Its face is like a man’s—it is about as big as a lion, and in colour red like cinnabar. It has three rows of teeth—ears like the human—eyes of a pale-blue like the human and a tail like that of the land scorpion, armed with a sting and more than a cubit long. It has besides stings on each side of its tail, and, like the scorpion, is armed with an additional sting on the crown of its head, wherewith it stings any one who goes near it, the wound in all cases proving mortal. If attacked from a distance it defends itself both in front and in rear—in front with its tail, by up-lifting it and darting out the stings, like shafts shot from a bow, and in rear by straightening it out. It can strike to the distance of a hundred feet, and no creature can survive the wound it inflicts save only the elephant. The stings are about a foot in length, and not thicker than the finest thread. The name martikhora means in Greek ἀνθρωποφάγος (i.e. man-eater), and it is so called because it carries off men and devours them, though it no doubt preys upon other animals as well. In fighting it uses not only its stings but also its claws. Fresh stings grow up to replace those shot away in fighting. These animals are numerous in India, and are killed by the natives who hunt them with elephants, from the backs of which they attack them with darts.

translation in Ancient India as Described by Ktêsias the Knidian (1882) by J. W. McCrindle

—Laurel Draper, Editor

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