The Manticore (Early Middle Persian: Martyaxwar) is a big, legendary creature of Greek and Persian myths that preferred to eat humans.
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".
A Greek physician (Pausanias) was in the the Persian court of King Artaxerxes II, and the Manticore was one of the strange animals he knew of. Pausanias commented that he thought it was simply a tiger, and other pieces were simply fanciful exaggerations, though not everyone agreed with him.
Later on, manticores (originally martichoras but mis-transcribed as manticorus) were included in Aristotle's Natrualis Historia, among other books and bestiaries, and was taken as a real creature during European middle ages.
Myths & Legends
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. The Manticore is said to be a bold creature, being able to take on multiple men at once, and often looking for such opportunities to fill it's appetite.
The manticore made a late appearance in heraldry and coats of arms, where it then later became a known among French iconography.
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. In part of the summary from Photius, Myriobiblon, the desciption is as follows:
The Martikhora...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...to all animals except the elephant. The stings are about a foot long and about as thick as a small rush.
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.
- 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.
On hunting this beast, Aelian wrote of the way the Manticore battled, as well as how the natives defeated them:
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....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.
- “manticore”. Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Classical Literature Quotes from Theoi.com