Posts Tagged ‘Persian’

This is probably going to be a short one, partially because I’m busy with other endeavors, and partially because wordpress changed how their tracker widgit works and I now have no idea if anyone is actually reading this blog.  Really folks, a few comments so I know this is amusing to just me and two or three friends would do a writers confidence a world of good.  This is number twenty, let’s hear some shout outs.

And though this post may be short and sweet, it’s about one of my favorite cuddly wuddly balls of death ever.  Ladies and gentle-beings, my friend Manny, the manticore.

(Holds up Hand Puppet, looks at it grinning at me, and quietly puts it away and takes my meds.)

… Now, most people think manticores are Greek beasties, popularized by Pliny and spread around medieval bestiaries with the same frequency of griffin poop.   You’d have no idea how often those little balls in the floral patterns around coat of arms are really griffin feces.  Grapes?  Nuts? Abstract bits of frippery?  Don’t you believe it, griffin droppings all the way.

Actually, the manticore isn’t a Greek beastie at all, it’s up and up Persian, and at least as old as the Egyptian sphinx.  It’s name literally translates as man-eater, and that’s what it likes to do.  Crunch men, women, and tasty children between three rows of pointy teeth.  With the body of a red lion and the head of a man, that three tooth grin is what gives orthodontists the world over a case of the vapors.

After the basic form, man headed grinning lion, which is creepy enough, some later manticore gained appendages like horns, dragon’s wings, and a scorpion tail.  Of all these, the scorpion tail is the most common and most traditional.  In fact, the manticore is said to have a variety of poisonous outlets.  Its red lions fur often hides poison tipped quills, which the beast can throw with disturbing accuracy.  In some legends the manticore’s poison is some of the deadliest in the world.   Yet in others, it prefers to paralyze its victims so it has time to mock and strip away any pesky clothing that might get stuck in its teeth.  Because there is nothing quite so yummy as chilled, quivering peasant.

Now I personally have never found out just what the manticore meant in heraldry.  I half imagine that a few families, in an effort to be different, decided to shake things up from the usual hippogriff and unicorn motif.  It would be like Paris Hilton changing her little dog for a gila-monster.  It would cause talk, it would, but it  wouldn’t be exactly a wise idea.

And big surprise, later on the church made the poor dragon-winged man-eater a sign of the devil.  More amusingly, some see it as a unholy cross of the zodiac signs scorpio, aquarius, and leo.  Never mind that the Persians had a completely different astrological system.  Never mind that the manticore didn’t bother tempting people into sin or bringing about evil.  It ate people, often slowly and painfully, but that’s about it.  You might as well make a rabid polar bear the symbol of the devil.

In fact, thats a great idea for a cartoon series.  He can be chased off by the koala pope.

There have been incidents of the manticore showing up in graffiti on church walls.  Not because the manticore is evil, but because it would really piss off the church.  And I don’t mean modern graffiti either, I mean sixteenth-century graffiti.  When the crips and bloods were religious orders.

As for the manticore itself, it’s one of those sweet cute creatures I feel sorry for.  Much like the stories of man eating tigers in India. You snack on one or two wandering school children and you get a bad wrap forever.  The only reason there aren’t more stories of manticore hunters is because the Persians didn’t go chasing after their monsters like later knights.  They usually had since to leave the beasts alone in teh wilderness, and only took necessary measures when the creepy crawlies started to become a real nuisance to the livestock.

Also, a big fire breathing lizard is probably an easier target than something that grins at you after you are paralyzed.

But why can’t the poor little manticores be left alone to poison and snack on hapless people in peace, like the gods intended?  It’s not like you are going to miss a bat-winged grinning lion trying to sneak up on you.  Its grin doesn’t make it the ruddy cheshire cat, able to appear and gobble you up at a moment’s notice.  I think that time frame-needed a serious dose of PETA, Persians for Ethical Treatment of Anthropophages.

Writing Prompts

People for Ethical Treatment of Anthropophages, that’s a brilliant idea that is.

Uses for manticore quills besides poison.  I’m thinking hats.

Mythological graffiti artists.  I’m picturing huge letters above a great serpent.  THY ASS’TH BE DRAGON


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Wow, I’ve kept going for a whole month on these things, and so far the results have been positive.  Let’s keep at it.  Going for a bit of a two-fer this week.  Two creatures related in a most dubious manner. Kings of the sky, the griffin and the hippogriff.

Now the griffin is fairly well known, iconic in many ways.  With the backside of a lion and the front of an eagle, the griffin is a combination of the king of the jungle, and the king of the air.  Sometimes its shown with lion forefronts, especially in the really ancient portrayals, but the really menacing versions of it have the nasty grasping talons of the eagle and the powerful hind legs of a lion.

Depictions of griffins go back five thousand years, far longer than you might expect. The Greeks were crazy about these things, documenting them in stories and engraving them in stone.  The origins most likely go back to Persia, where you can still find some ancient statuary of them in cast bronze.  The Egyptians used them too, though if they needed a cat/bird hybrid for guardian work they were far more likely to go with the human-headed sphinx.   And despite its tendency to demonize monsters and beasts of every sort, the Catholic Church decided that their mixture of sky and earth made the griffin a fine image to represent their divine and earthly God figure.  Griffins show up in churches all over Europe, and that might be why they have played an important part in heraldry today.

It’s interesting, but despite the wings most art is of them sitting, stalking, and rearing up in a lion like pounce.  You hardly ever see them depicted in flight, and it’s not a huge wonder why.  With a lion ass hanging down in gravity, the poor bastards probably looked a bit daft.  Bet the silly things were all self conscious about it too, what with the famous pride of lions (sorry, I can’t help that pun) and the haughty vanity of eagles.

Like the roc and dragon that I’ve already touched on, you pretty much have to assume that griffins would be apex predators.  Hell, they are a blend of two extremely large and well respected carnivores.  Though they’d be more than happy to vivisect most heroes, they are usually more of a threat to livestock.  And horses, the big old sweeties just love horses, nummy hoofed treats that they are.

Which brings me to hippogriffs, which are a little rarer.  With the body of a horse and the head and wings of an eagle, these things are a little more confusing.  Would they eat meat or alfalfa?  Hell, horses can be damned delicate creatures. I’d hate to think of one of the beasts foundering in mid air.  Unless it was done with proper comedic timing, say while flying over the Kentucky derby.  And think of the droppings, ugh!  Just the thought of them anywhere near my car after it’s just been washed gives me the willies.

So where do hippogriffs come from?  You guessed it, from a griffin and a horse getting down and doing the nasty.  There actually was an expression, ‘as rare as a hippogriff’ or ‘as rare as griffins and horses mating,’ which just meant pretty damned rare.  Either way I try to picture it my head goes a little squidgy.  Would a female griffin in heat make do with some likely stallion if there weren’t anything else available?  Or did some pervert male griffin just decide to play with his food now and again?  I’m sure that some horse trader somewhere tried to force such a breeding.  Hippogriffs were said to be smarter and faster than their griffin parents.  Some liken their speed to that of Pegasus, one of the fastest mounts in the sky.  Ugh, mount… sorry my head is still in the no no place.  I so would not want to be the stable boy for that breeder, no matter how well he paid.

Griffens weren’t known to have many extraordinary properties, though there were exceptions.  Some said that their kidneys, eyes, and feathers had curative properties. Alchemists said that their feathers could be used for flight and invisibility talismans.  Others thought they guarded treasures and had hordes of precious stones, or could be cut open to find sapphires and opals in their gut, like craw stones.  I’ve heard that sometimes they were thought to have predictive abilities, able to peer their eagle eyes into the future to see what was coming.  If I was a big winged cat, I’d sure want to be able to predicted coming rainstorms at the very least.  Beyond that, I’m not sure why a griffin would need to see the future. It’s not like they’d have many threats, or need to peak at lottery numbers or anything.

They were sought after as rides and curiosities, many rich and noble fools would love a griffin in their menagerie.  Sailors tended to see them as bad omens, and hippogriffs as good, the damned horses always having that odd connection to water I mentioned in the last post.  For the first time, I’m pretty sure griffin meat would taste terrible.  They probably smelled too, rolling around in carrion will do that for you.  Oh yes, did I mention the carrion?  They were said to leave their prey up on high cliffs or trees to let it properly age.  It was one of the ways you knew a nest was close. Yet the disgusting things have still shown up on family crests as symbols of bravery and strength, proving that when you’ve got huge talons and a savage beak you don’t need to smell nice to earn respect.

Personally, I think they’d make great pets, though as insufferable as a house cat I’m sure.  Maybe if one could breed them out of other birds and cats?  A parrots and lynx hybrid would be nice, or a puma-peacock mix.  There have been some stories of similar creatures in South America, with spots and the heads of owls.   Winged cats in general of course show up all over the place, but none quite as ferocious and impressive as the original.

If you ever run into one, treat it as a dangerous and slightly dumb beast.  Try and make friends, but don’t expect any sign of reason. I bet they’d love a scritch behind their big long ears, if you didn’t lose a hand in the process.

Writing Prompts

Griffin hunting.  If the medieval nobles went after boars and great stags, you know someone somewhere developed a griffin spear.

Griffin shows. It’s like a cat show only with fewer ribbons and more flesh wounds.  You’d better show respect to the crazy old lady on the corner, she’s got seventeen of the buggers.

Cowboys and their hippogriffs?  Let’s see how the old west changes when you throw in faster transportation and the ability to herd dragons.

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Roc’n and Rolling!

So now to begin my weekly series of mythological beastie articles.  This is meant to be a fun resource of amusing takes on random creatures from legends and folklore.  Many you will recognize, many you won’t, all will be presented through my own unique filters.  I do hope people enjoy.

Presented for your amusement, and chosen at complete bloody random, lets talk about rocs.  No, not rocks, that topic is a lot more down to earth, and I don’t want to be taken for granite.  A roc is a giant bird of prey, usually likened to an eagle though occasionally depicted as snowy white.  When I say giant, I mean giant.  Horses are merely snacks to a full grown roc, and more than one legend describes them snatching elephants.

Now the logistics alone of a giant eagle with the strength to snatch Dumbo are mind boggling.  You’d need some serious juju to pull that one off, unless of course Dumbo’s magic feather really came from a roc in a first place.   The overgrown buzzards are from Persian and Arab myths, and the hot desert air is good for large wingspans designed for gliding.  I’ve heard random connections between the rocs and other large winged mythic critters, such as simurgh and the garuda, but they aren’t really all that similar. Other than its enormous size, that’s about all the creature has going for it.

Which is interesting in itself.  Almost every giant bird has at least one or two stories about its pelt granting magic properties, or it possessing ancient secrets, or some other treasure that can be gleaned if one is brave enough to confront the beast.   Thunderbird eggs were said to be able to cure any disease, and possibly even grant immortality.  The Phoenix is a treasure trove of magic, to the point that you’ve got to wonder if mad alchemists were hounding the poor thing night and day in efforts to catch the burning birdie.   Not so with rocs. They are just big birds, and the best thing to do when one strikes is get out of its way and jump the hell off the elephant.

Hmm… maybe I didn’t pick such a good random beast for a first post after all.

Never mind that!  Moving on!  The roc is mostly a beast out of antiquity, there aren’t any modern roc hunters out there.  Marco Polo claimed to have seen one, but old Marco seemed to claim a lot of things that he probably swiped from somebody else, like any good story teller does.  It played a part in the Sinbad stories of 1001 Arabian Nights, as did many interesting beasties from that region of the world.  Rationalizations of the stories range from extinct giant eagles to ostrich sightings.  Some people thought the ostrich was just a chick for some larger species.  Mostly though, it’s not easy to gauge the size of a circling vulture when one has been traveling for days and is running low on water.  Is that a moderate size bird not so high up? Or a large bird soaring higher? Or a very, Very big bird that oh my god I hope it doesn’t come closer!  We’re all out of elephants.

You’ve got to wonder how they tasted.  At least I do.  We don’t eat many birds of prey, and almost all the big birds indulge in carrion when they can get it.  Hell, part of the point of carrying off the prey is to put it somewhere and let the meat age.  Which sounds disgusting, except for that we do the same thing with steaks.  The eggs alone should make omelets to die for, and you probably would if you could manage to raid a nest.  Almost all the stories I can think of had the mega chickens roosting high, usually on a mountain top.  Makes most sense, it would be easier to glide off a cliff then get that bulk off the ground.

So there we have it, my first rambling entry.  I’d say they will get better as time goes on, and they will if I get input, but I’ll always ramble a bit.  This week’s pick was chosen at random, next week I’ll pick one of my favorite critters, and then probably one I can’t stand.  There are a lot of douches in the monster world.

All for now, roc on.


Writing prompts-

What sort of market is there for feathers longer than most men’s arms?

Imagine how other creatures, natural and non, might respond to such a large predator.  Ever see a group of sparrows chase off a hawk?

Just what the Hell was Marco Polo smoking in those far off cities?  Damn plagiarist.

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