The Manticore (Early Middle Persian: Martyaxwar) is a big, legendary creature of Greek and Persian myths. It is similar to the Sphinx in that they are both lion-like creatures with human faces.
Origin and Etymology
The manticore myth was of Persian origin, where its name was "man-eater" (from early Middle Persian مارتیا martya "man" (as in human) and خوار xwar- "to eat"). The English term "manticore" was borrowed from Latin "mantichora", itself derived from the Greek rendering of the Persian name, "μαρτιχώρα", "martichora".
Originally documented in Persia, the feared man-eating Manticore or Manticora, has said to been sighted in places as varied as the jungles of India and Indonesia and, more rarely, the forests of North America and Europe.
It is described as having the head of a human, body of a lion and a tail of poisonous spines, similar to porcupine quills (or sometimes more akin to a scorpion's). There are some recounts that the spines can be shot like arrows, thus making the manticore a lethal predator. It eats its victims whole, using its triple rows of teeth, and leaves no bones behind. In modern times, wings have been added to the creature, despite historical records not indicating the existance of wings on the creature.
A Manticore's face is said to resemble a human's, and travelers through marshes have reported mistaking a manticore for a bearded man from a distance.
The Manticore is said to be a bold creature, being able to take on multiple men at once, and often looking for such oppurtunities to fill it's appetite.
- Manticores have a melodious call, like the lower notes on a flute blown together with a trumpet. Despite the beauty of the sound, most animals know to flee when they hear it. Humans would do well to follow their lead.
- The intelligence of the manticore varies from animal-like to being able to mimick human speech.
- The venom they secrete from their tails is highly toxic and fast acting. The sting itself is also depicted as being razor sharp and it may or may not have the ability to shoot spikes at its opponents.
- For some reason many accounts claim it is unable to kill elephants. The reason for this is never explained.
- Some accounts also claim if a baby Manticore's tail is crushed as a baby, it will be unable to grow poisonous spines, and thus be rendered weak.
It passed into European folklore first through a remark by Ctesias, a Greek physician at the Persian court of King Artaxerxes II in the fourth century BC, in his notes on India ("Indika"), which circulated among Greek writers on natural history but have not survived. The Romanised Greek Pausanias, in his Description of Greece, recalled strange animals he had seen at Rome and commented,The beast described by Ctesias in his Indian history, which he says is called martichora by the Indians and "man-eater" (androphagos) by the Greeks, I am inclined to think is the tiger. But that it has three rows of teeth along each jaw and spikes at the tip of its tail with which it defends itself at close quarters, while it hurls them like an archer's arrows at more distant enemies; all this is, I think, a false story that the Indians pass on from one to another owing to their excessive dread of the beast. (Description, xxi, 5) Pliny the Elder did not share Pausanias' skepticism.
He followed Aristotle's natural history by including the martichoras—mistranscribed as manticorus in his copy of Aristotle and thus passing into European languages—among his descriptions of animals in Naturalis Historia, c. 77 AD.Later, in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana Greek writer Flavius Philostratus (c. 170–247) wrote: And in as much as the following conversation also has been recorded by Damis as having been held upon this occasion with regard to the mythological animals and fountains and men met with in India, I must not leave it out, for there is much to be gained by neither believing nor yet disbelieving everything. Accordingly Apollonius asked the question, whether there was there an animal called the man-eater (martichoras); and Iarchas replied: "And what have you heard about the make of this animal ? For it is probable that there is some account given of its shape." "There are," replied Apollonius, "tall stories current which I cannot believe; for they say that the creature has four feet, and that his head resembles that of a man, but that in size it is comparable to a lion; while the tail of this animal puts out hairs a cubit long and sharp as thorns, which it shoots like arrows at those who hunt it."Pliny's book was widely enjoyed and uncritically believed through the European Middle Ages, during which the manticore was sometimes illustrated in bestiaries.
The manticore made a late appearance in heraldry, during the 16th century, and it influenced some Mannerist representations, as in Bronzino's allegory The Exposure of Luxury, (National Gallery, London) — but more often in the decorative schemes called "grotteschi"— of the sin of Fraud, conceived as a monstrous chimera with a beautiful woman's face, and in this way it passed by means of Cesare Ripa's Iconologia into the seventeenth and eighteenth century French conception of a sphinx.
Classical Literature Quotes
Retrieved from Theoi.com
Ctesias, Indica (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 72) (trans. Freese) (Greek historian C4th B.C.) :
- "The Martikhora (Manticore) is an animal found in this country [India]. It has a face like a man's, a skin red as cinnabar, and is as large as a lion. It has three rows of teeth, ears and light-blue eyes like those of a man; its tail is like that of a land scorpion, containing a sting more than a cubit long at the end. It has other stings on each side of its tail and one on the top of its head, like the scorpion, with which it inflicts a wound that is always fatal. If it is attacked from a distance, it sets up its tail in front and discharges its stings as if from a bow; if attacked from behind, it straightens it out and launches its stings in a direct line to the distance of a hundred feet. The wound inflicted is fatal to all animals except the elephant. The stings are about a foot long and about as thick as a small rush. The Martikhora [the Persian word for man-eater] is called in Greek Anthropophagos (Man-Eater), because, although it preys upon other animals, it kills and devours a greater number of human beings. It fights with both its claws and stings, which, according to Ktesias (Ctesias), grow again after they have been discharged. There is a great number of these animals in India, which are hunted and killed with spears or arrows by natives mounted on elephants."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 21. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
- "The beast described by Ktesias (Ctesias) in his Indian History, which he say is called Mantikhoras (Manticore) by the Indians and Androphagos (Man-Eater) by the Greeks, I am inclined to think is the tiger. But that it has three rows of teeth along each jaw and spikes at the tip of its tail with which it defends itself at close quarters, while it hurls them like an archer's arrows at more distant enemies."
Aelian, On Animals 4. 21 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
- "There is in India a wild beast, powerful, daring, as big as the largest lion, of a red colour like cinnabar, shaggy like a dog, and in the language of India it is called Martikhoras (Manticore) [Persian mardkhora ‘man-slayer’]. Its face however is not that of a wild beast but of a man, and it has three rows of teeth set in its upper jaw and three in the lower; these are exceedingly sharp and larger than the fangs of a hound. Its ears also resemble a man's except that they are larger and shaggy; its eyes are blue-grey and they too are like a man's, but its feet and claws, you must know, are those of a lion. To the end of its tail is attached the sting of a scorpion, and this might be over a cubit in length; and the tail has stings at intervals on either side. But the tip of the tail gives a fatal sting to anyone who encounters it, and death is immediate. If one pursued the beast it lets fly its stings, like arrows, sideways, and it can shoot a great distance; and when it discharges its stings straight ahead it bends bends its tail back; if however it shoots in a backward direction, as the Sakai (Sacae) do, then it stretches its tail to its full extent. Any creature that the missile hits it kills; the elephant alone it does not kill. These stings which it shoots are a foot long and the thickness of a bulrush. Now Ktesias (Ctesias) asserts--and he says that the Indians confirm his words--that in the places where those stings have been let fly others spring up, so that this evil produces a crop. And according to the same writer the Martikhoras for a choice devours human beings; indeed it will slaughter a great number; and it lies in wait not for a single man but would set upon two or even three men, and alone overcomes even that number. All other animals it defeats: the lion alone it can never bring down. That this creature takes special delight in gorging human flesh its very name testifies, for in the Greek language its means androphagos (man-eater), and its name is derived from its activities. Like the stag it is extremely swift.
- Now the Indians hunt the young of these animals while they are still without stings in their tails, which they then crush with a stone to prevent them from growing stings. The sound of their voice is as near as possible that of a trumpet.
Ktesias (Ctesias) declares that he has actually seen this animal in Persia--it had been brought from India as a present to the Persian King--if Ktesias is to be regarded as a sufficient authority on such matters. At any rate after hearing of the peculiarities of this animal, one must pay heed to the historian of Knidos (Cnidus)."
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3. 45 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
- "Apollonios [a C1st A.D. Greek philosopher who travelled to India] asked the question, whether there was there an animal called the Martikhoras (Manticore); and [the Indian sage] Iarkhas (Iarchas) replied : ‘And what have you heard about the make of this animal? For it is probable that there is some account given of its shape.’
‘There are,’ replied Apollonios, ‘tall stories current which I cannot believe; for they say that the creature has four feet, and that his head resembles that of a man, but that in size it is comparable to a lion; while the tail of this animal puts out hairs a cubit long and sharp as thorns, which it shoots like arrows at those who hunt it.’ . . . And larkhas answered his questions thus: ‘. . . I never yet heard in this country of an animal that shoots arrows.’"
Eusebius, Treatise Against Hierocles 21 (trans. Jones) (Greek rhetorician C4th A.D.) :
- "He [Apollonios of Tyana] also asked them [the Brahmans of India] . . . if they had among them a four-footed animal called a Martikhoras (Manticore), which had a head like that of a man, but rivals a lion in size, while from its tail projects hairs like thorns a cubit long, which it is accustomed to shoot out like arrows at those who hunt it . . . [and] Iarkhas (Iarchas) said that they never had existed at all."
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8. 75 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
- "Aethiopia (Ethiopia) produces . . . many monstrosities: . . . Ctesias writes that in the same country is born the creature that he calls the Mantichora (Manticore), which has a triple row of teeth meeting like the teeth of a comb, the face and ears of a human being, grey eyes, a blood-red colour, a lion's body, inflicting stings with its tail in the manner of a scorpion, with a voice like the sound of a pan-pipe blended with a trumpet, of great speed, with a special appetite for human flesh." [N.B. "Aethiopia" refers to all southern lands including both Africa and India.]
Pliny, Natural History 8. 45 :
- "Juba states that in Aethiopia (Ethiopia) the Mantichora (Manticore) also mimics human speech."
- “manticore”. Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)