Scorpion people from the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the upper part they were human; instead of legs they had body and legs of scorpions. They guarded the entrance to Mashu Mountains whose peaks reach to the shores of heaven and whose roots descend to hell. Their abode was at the gate where the Sun rose. Scorpion people were awesome of knowledge, their glance was death. They were written about for millennia, but no additional details seem to have emerged.
Geryon means a “Crane” in Greek. In their mythology he was a monster with three heads, three bodies and four wings. Son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe, he was a brother of Echidna. Owner of the famous sunset-tinged cattle whom Heracles had to steal as his 10th task. Flocks were guarded by a two-headed dog Orthus and by shepherd Eurythion. Geryon’s domain was in the furthest west, on the island of Hesperia, west of Spain, where the cattle was herded together with the flocks of Hades.
In pursuit of the Geryon’s cattle Heracles ended up building the Gibraltar Strait, the Pillars of Heracles. While he was at this task, in the blazing sun, he got overheated. In anger he shot his poisonous arrows at Helios, god of Sun. Amused, or frightened, the god lent him his golden cup in which Heracles sailed over the sea to Hesperia. There he was attacked by the dog Orthos. Heracles clubbed him to death, and finished off the guardian Eurytion as well. As he was getting away with the cattle, Menoetes, herdsman of Hades who was in the next pasture, summoned Geryon. The ogre pursued Heracles as far as the river Anthemus where Heracles shot him dead. Many further incidents happened on his way back to Greece (see entries for Cacus and Echidna), before he brought the Geryon’s cattle to his master Eurystheus, who in fear sacrificed them all to Hera.
Geryon ended up as the guardian of the 8th circle of Hell. Placed in the heavens he is the constellation of Orion and his two-headed dog Orthos below him is Canis Major and Canis Minor, with brilliant Sirius as one of its eyes.
In Dante he is a symbol of fraud.
Half man and half eagle of Hindu mythology, vehicle of god Vishnu. Lord of the birds, enemy of snakes and evil-doers, destroyer of nagas. Also called Aksha.
At the beginning of time Garuda hatched from an enormous egg, 500 years after it has been laid . His father was Kasyapata, a Brahman identified with a Pole star, his mother Vinata, one of the daughters of Daksha. From the eggshell Brahma then produced the divine elephants. He has white face, red wings and golden body. His hate of snakes comes from his mother Vinata, who had a long feud with Kadru, her co-wife and mother of all snakes. Vinata lost a wager with Kadru, who demanded the Amrita, the Water of life which conferred immortality, as a ransom.
Garuda entered on a quest. Amrita was kept on a Celestial mountain, surrounded by terrible flames and violent winds. Assuming a golden body, Garuda drank up many rivers and extinguished the fires. A fiercely revolving wheel, sharp-edged and brilliant, protected Amrita, but Garuda diminished his body and entered between the spokes. Two fire-spitting snakes were the guardians. Garuda blinded them with dust and cut them up into pieces. Then, having broken the revolving wheel, he flew forth with the Amrita which was contained in a moon goblet.
Enraged gods followed in pursuit. Indra flung his thunderbolt at Garuda, but the bird suffered no pain and dropped but a single feather. The bolt of Indra was broken, though. When Garuda delivered the Water of Immortality to the demons, his mother was released, but ere the demons could drink, Indra snatched the moon-goblet and flew back to heaven. Demon snakes licked the grass where the goblet was placed by Garuda and their tongues were divided into two forks. Vishnu then chose Garuda as his vehicle and made him immortal. Wings are rare in Hindu mythology, as there is no need for them. Protagonists either soar through the space or ride the flying vehicles. Garuda is an exception. His wings are so powerful that with the wind from their motion he can stay the rotation of the three worlds.
An ancient archetype of interaction between man and nature, symbol of irrepressible life. We know green man from thousands of carvings, from ancient days to middle ages, but he is seldom found in literature.
He appears as part of Dionysian rites on the Roman triumphal arches, or as Okeanus, Bacchus with beard of seaweed. He is found on the entire European continent, from Spain in the West, all the way out to Cathedral of St.Dimitri in Vladimir, in Russia,(built 1193-7). The most impressive carvings come from the gothic cathedrals of Europe (“The Green Man of Bamberg”). Over 40 heads look through the foliage in Royal Portal of Cathedral of Charters (cca 1150). We find him on Cathedral of Poitiers (13th cen), as Mantegna’s self portrait in Ducal Palace (1474), and on the main gates to Kew Gardens, executed by D.Burton in 1843.
One of the rare appearances in literature comes from the cycle of Arthurian Legends. A completely green knight in green armour on a green horse arrives to Avalon and issues a strange challenge to the most valorous of the knights. The combatant is to cut off the head of the Green Knight, then and there, under one condition. In a year’s time the challenger is to come to the castle of the Green Knight, and the master will then cut off his head in turn. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge and beheads the Green Knight. Unperturbed, the green rider picks up his own severed head and gallops away. Naturally, honour compels Sir Gawain to keep his end of the bargain and the long story continues.
An interesting tale about the Green Man of Knowledge survived in British oral tradition, and was recorded in 1954 in Aberdeen, showing that Green man and his heritage is well and alive.
Giant cannibal of Norse legends. Part human, part sea-monster. Protected by sorcerous spells, so no weapon could pierce his hide. For 12 years he haunted the Heorot, the Golden Hall of Victory of king Hrothgar of Danemark. At night, after the satiated heroes fell into a drunken slumber, Grendel came, slaughtered them and feasted on their bodies. During the day he lived with his ogress mother in a great hall on the bottom of a deep stagnant mere in the heart of the black-dark forest. Her hall was full of serpents and misshapen creatures. Here Grendel kept the hoards of weapons and gold he stole from the murdered warriors.
Legendary English hero Beowulf came to visit the Danish king and stayed the night in Heorot, despite the warning of the king Hrothgar. That same night Grendel came to feed. Knowing that the weapons were useless against the protective spells of Grendel, Beowulf seized the monster by his arm and after a struggle he wrenched it off the shoulder. Screaming Grendel fled to die in his lair. Jubilant Danes hung his arm as a gory trophy from the rafters of Heorod. Next night the ogress mother came to claim it. Beowulf had to fight again. He descended into the mere, down to the ogress hall under the water and with his charmed sword cut her head off. Curse of Heorot was thus lifted.