Bestiary 12

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Hippogriff

Spelling varies. Fabulous beast, cross between a horse and an eagle, in form of a griffin. The original idea came from Virgil: to signify impossibility or incongruence, he spoke of breeding horses with gryphons, which came from Rhiphaen Mountains far beyond the ice bound seas.

Hippogriff was unknown in antiquity. He was created in the middle ages and became famous only after Arioso made him a mount of the pagan knight Roggiero in the “Orlando Furioso”.

Hippogriff was a winged steed of the wizard Atlas. Knight Rogero blundered into the castle of Atlas and got trapped in its maze. Rogero’s lover, warrior-maid Bradamant, rode in to rescue him. But Rogero has been caught because he believed that he heard Bradamant’s voice from within the castle. He has to follow the phantom voice forever because the infinite chambers of the labyrinth he was wandering in were the creation of his own mind. Bradamant, hearing Rogero’s voice, is about to be ensnarled herself, when another of the Palladins, brave Astolfo, arrives with a magic horn, the sound of which dispels all fantasy. With one blast of the horn the magic castle of Atlas disappears. Rogero, Bradamant and many other prisoners found themselves sitting on bare rocks on a mountainside. In another tale knight Orlando went mad at the time Charlemagne needed a full complement of his Palladins for a battle with the Moors. Astolfo attempts the ultimate test. He steals the hippogriff and flies on it to the Ruby Towers of the castle of the Earthy Paradise, to seek cure for his friend’s madness. In Paradise he meets St.John, who takes him to the place of lunacy – the Moon. There, in a valley, he finds Orlando’s lost senses and retrieves them. Before leaving the Moon, Astolfo is shown a vision of the Fates weaving destiny from the threads of oblivion. In one of the last cantos of “Orlando Furioso”, Astolpho unsaddles and unbridles the hippogriff and sets him free.

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Dogheads

Dogheads appear in many cultures all over the world. The most intriguing are the Koerakoonlased, group of man-beasts from the Estonian legends. They are half men and half dogs, but their bodies are divided longitudinally, with one hand and foot of a man and the other half like a dog. They could run on all fours, and their reasoning was a mixture of human and animal. They lived at the end of the world, constantly attacking and murdering humans. Men were unable to defend their homes. Only the smell of rhamnus shrub could drive the dogheads away. They would overpower people, eat them, and feast their children on human flesh. Women and children were taken captive, fattened and later slaughtered for fresh meat. In some tales they have human body and dog’s head with a single eye in the centre of the forehead.

Estonians, seeing in 1854 Bashkirs, Kalmuks and Cossacks with the Russian army for the first time, considered them dog-heads.

Pliny the Elder, in Book 7 of Historia Naturalis, speaks of Kynokephaloi, dog-headed tribe from India, who cannot speak and only bark.

Marco Polo placed them on the Island of Andaman.

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Bunyip

Swamp monster of Australian aborigines, a marsupial rat size of a house. It inhabits reedy marshes and lagoons of the interior. Numerous sightings in 19th and early 20th century declined, and there were none in the last 70 years, prompting fears that Bunyip may be extinct. Reported only from the SE corner of the continent, its description varies widely.

Dreamtime, the Aboriginal tradition, paints Bunyip as a spirit which inhabited rivers, lakes and swamps, always malevolent towards humans, defending its territory and devouring the intruders. At night Bunyip was said to pray upon women and children. All Bunyip were huge and menacing, some covered in feathers, or even in crocodile’s scales. Common feature of aboriginal drawings of Bunyip are horse-like tail, flippers and tusks of a walrus.

White settlers’ view is very different. Bunyip was seen not as a killer but a shy grazing herbivore. There were two main types reported . The most common had a dog-like face and long shaggy coat. More rare was Bunyip with a long maned neck. G.Hobler reported to Sunday Morning Herald in 1847 that “it was about size of a calf, dark brown, with long neck and pointed head, large ears, two large tusks and a thick mane of hair from the neck to the shoulders. When it ran off in a shambling gallop, you could see a large tail. Forequarters were much larger than the rear.”

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Homa

Spelling varies. Persian bird, related to good fortune and glory, crammed full of symbolism. He can fly to the highest heaven, he bestows blessings on those whom he covers with his wings. Often contrasted with an owl, who stands for curse and misfortune, or with a raven, the scavenger. Homa feeds on fragments of bone, as not to be a charge on other creatures.

In Gustav Flaubert’s “Temptation of Saint Anthony” we read a curious line: “Homa gave himself as a drink to men to communicate his strength to them.” The footnote explains that Homa was the creative word, one of whose incarnations was the Sacred Tree of Life, the stems of which were crushed to give an intoxicating juice drunk during Zoroastrian sacrifices. In this meaning “homa” is identical to sanscrit “soma”, possibly identified as plant ephedra. And we can go on and on and on. In Persia homa is a favourite subject of furniture decorations, in wood and metal.

Together with other mythical menagerie, Homa dwells on the fabled Mount Qaf.

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