« PreviousContinue »
Pellinore's death it is Palomides that rides across the pages of romance, well in the rear of the questing beast. The Beasts of Revelation
The beasts of Revelation were but symbols; yet they moved like realities through the imagery of the Church, and, undergoing a sea change, appeared alive in the distant Atlantic Islands of Irish epic. St. John beheld the shapes of locusts like unto horses prepared for battle; "and their faces were as the faces of men, and they had hair as the hair of women, and they had tails like unto scorpions.” He saw also a beast coming up out of the earth; "and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.” Above all, John saw the beast that came up out of the sea, a leopard with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion, and with the dragon's authority; and the beast had seven heads and ten horns, “and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.” The Whore of Babylon rode this beast-composite of seven mountains and ten kings, the text explains—to world power and to downfall; and rode on into literature, and an unending controversy. American Contributions
Animal elders are America's main contribution to the collection of fabulous beasts. The Indian believed that every species had a giant ancestor like itself in form, but with
supernatural powers to protect it. Hunters who killed more animals than they needed for food felt the vengeance of the elder beasts. The latter gave a tribe its medicine, and themselves became totems. They are sometimes represented as in human form and living in stately lodges. The Pacific coast of South America has also stories of a house-haunting ram, a repulsive treedweller, a water-monster resembling a distended cowskin, and a creature with the head of a heifer and the body of a sheep.
According to members of the Forest Service, American lumberjacks have their own mythology. Product of camp-fire chaff and a whimsical humor, the creatures that people it are noted here only because, both in name and in nature, they illustrate the traditional instinct for composites that elsewhere has wrought to more serious ends. They include the tote-road shagamaw, with the head of a lion, the forepaws of a bear and the hind legs of a moose; the splinter cat, which crushes hollow trees in search of raccoons; the hugag, with buffalo body and jointless legs, which sleeps leaning against a tree; the sausagelike wapaloosie, which lives on fungi; the billdad, which kills fish with its tail; the gumberoo, which explodes when it gets too near a fire; the snoligoster, a spiked and legless crocodile, and the lachrymose squonk. A common human figure in these tales is the grotesque giant, Paul Bunyan. The Prodigies of Heraldry
In the later totemism, which is called heraldry, the following fabulous creatures with human, animal, or bird attributes, or an admixture of all of these, were represented on crests and coats of arms: allerion, chimera, cockatrice, dragon, griffin, harpy, hydra, lyon-dragon, lyon-poisson, mermaid, montygre, martlet, opinicus, pegasus, sphinx, sagittary, satyr, tarask, tityrus, unicorn, wyvern, winged lyon, winged bull.
Several of these are noted elsewhere in this study, and a word will serve for the rest. The allerion is an eagle without beak or claws. The chimera, says Bossewell, is "a beast or monstre having thre heades, one like a Lyon, an other like a Goate, the third like a Dragon.” The hydra is a seven- or nine-headed water serpent. The lyon-dragon is a composite of a lion and a dragon, and the lyon-poisson of a lion and a fish. The martlet is a swallow without feet. The opinicus is a composite of camel, dragon, and lion. The pegasus is a winged horse. The sphinx is a figure with a woman's head and breasts, a lion's body, and usually eagle's wings. The sagittary is the centaur of antiquity with the head, arms, and body of a man from the waist up, united to the body and legs of a horse. The heraldic satyr has a human face, a leonine body, and the horns and tail of an antelope. The tarask is a dragon-basilisk on the shield of Tarascon. “The tityrus is ingendred between a sheep and a buck-goat,” says Guillim. The wyvern is a serpentine dragon with a long tail and only two legs. The winged lyon is an achievement of Venice, the winged bull a memory of Assyria.
Other heraldic creatures, not so well authenticated, are mentioned by Randle Holme in his Academy of Armory. These
include the ass-bittern, the cat-fish, the devil-fish, the dragontyger, the dragon-wolf, the falcon-fish with a hound's ear, the friar-fish, the lamya, compounded of a woman, a dragon, a lion, a goat, dog, and a horse; the lyon-wyvern, the minocane or homocane, half child and half spaniel dog; the ram-eagle, the winged satyr-fish, and the wonderful pig of the ocean.
The menagerie of blazonry has been enlarged by representing nearly all of the animals at times with fish-tails, when they are said to be marined. The zodiacal sign of the capricorn, shown as half goat and half fish, is a familiar example. Sometimes the sea-horse is drawn as an enlarged hippocampus, sometimes with the forequarters of a horse and a fish tail. Griffins and unicorns are marined in German heraldry.
Chapter VI. Fable upon Wings
For the most part the winged creatures of fable are exiles from mythologies broken down or forgotten. They are imperfect and confused embodiments of the phenomena of the heavens. In them one sees, what the men who repeated stories about them did not see, the diurnal journeys of the sun into the west, the shadowing storm-cloud, the lightning flash, the fury of evil winds, the hail, and the snow. But the poetry of the air, of which these creatures are the flying shreds, is weighted with terrestrial prose. Extinct birds of colossal size, prehistoric winged reptiles, and the bones of fossil mammals are reflected in the shapes of cloudland. Few of the creatures that hover there can be called fowls at all; their wings carry bodies that belong upon the earth. Thus Pliny, in one of the most flagrant of his carelessly credulous passages, makes the casual statement that Ethiopia produces “horses with wings, and armed with horns, which are called pegasi.” Because of its human affinities the dragon must be considered by itself. The Phønix
Of the phenix, a true fowl of legend and its most renowned, Maundeville has a vivacious picture. This bird, he says, “is not much more big than an Eagle, but he hath a Crest of Feathers upon his Head more great than the Peacock hath; and his Neck is yellow after the Colour of an Oriel that is a fine shining Stone; and his Beak is coloured blue as Azure; and his wings be of purple Colour, and the Tail is yellow and red, cast in streaks across his Tail. And he is a full fair Bird to look upon, against the Sun, for he shineth full gloriously and nobly.'
Other men were not so sure about the phenix. Herodotus said he had never seen it and Pliny declared he was “not quite certain that its existence is not all a fable.” Herodotus, however, had seen its picture, and the Maundeville account is copied from him.
The bird was Arabian, its legend Egyptian. It was said that there was only one phenix in the world, and that it appeared at very long intervals. The Roman Senator, Manlius, wrote that no person had seen it eat since its food was air, that in Arabia it was sacred to the sun, and that its lifetime was five hundred and forty years. When stricken with age it built a nest of cassia and sprigs of frankincense and lay down to die; from its bones and marrow issued a worm which in time changed into a small bird. The first duty of the new bird was to perform the obsequies of its predecessor, and carry the nest containing its myrrhswathed remains to the City of the Sun in Egypt, placing it upon the altar of that divinity.
According to the more familiar account, when the phenix is full of years it flies to Heliopolis, sings its own dirge there, flaps its wings to fan the funeral pyre, and presently is utterly consumed; the next day emerges the new bird, fully feathered; and on the third day, its wings well grown, it salutes the priest and returns to the East. Still another account has it that in its old age the bird casts itself on the ground, receiving a mortal wound, and the new bird issues from the ichor.
In the censorship of the Emperor Claudius what purported to be a phenix was brought to Rome and exhibited in the Comitium, but it was adjudged an imposture. Plutarch ventures the daring statement that “the brain of the phenix is a pleasant bit, but that it causeth the headache." He may have meant the golden pheasant, or even wine from cocoanuts, but it is said that Heliogabalus made a fruitless attempt to secure this unique tidbit for his table.
Popular art reflects the phenix legend, metaphor still more. It is the favorite symbol of self-regeneration. The burned city, the ruined country or cause, “rises like the phenix from its own ashes.” Jesus, whose death coincided with one of the reported flights of the fowl to Egypt, was called the Phænix by monastic writers, and St. Clement of Alexandria cites the fowl as proof that the dead will rise again. Its effigy was taken over from the pagan urn by the Christian sarcophagus. Browne, however, thought that the notion of a solitary phænix was repugnant to Scripture, “because it infringeth the benediction of God concerning multiplication.” At one time its image hung