Human Animals Part 18

A great feature in folk-tales and fairy stories is, of course, the talking animal. Grimm's "Tales," the "Arabian Nights," and Hans Andersen's "Marchen," have made such semi-human creatures thoroughly familiar. They appear also in the Bible and mythology. Eve and the serpent, Balaam and the ass, Achilles and his horses, Porus and the elephant, Bacchus, Phryxius and many others are notable instances. The idea of words of wisdom coming from the lips of brutes is brought to greater perfection in the fables than elsewhere, and aesop's animals are gifted with speech, traits, and passions absolutely human.

Pilpay, Lokman, Babrius, Phaedrus, and La Fontaine, most successfully of all, exploited the same theme, and a wonderful procession of animals stalks through their writings, almost every kind of zoological specimen being represented. There are rats enough to require the services of many Pied Pipers of Hamelin, lions enough to stock the equatorial forests, wolves to crowd the Steppes of Russia, bats and birds, gnats and frogs galore, and to each beast, feathered thing, or fish, a place is given in the social scale which he fills with dignity and grace, or in which he acts with wisdom and judgment, or again in which he is made to look ridiculous and becomes the laughing stock of those about him.

"If one is a wolf, one devours," wrote Walpole, referring to the fables of La Fontaine. "If one is a fox, one is cunning. If one is a monkey, one is a coxcomb."

The fox always gets the better of everyone else in the fables. He makes use of the goat to climb out of the well, and then leaves him to his fate. He is always taking the advantage of the wolf, for he has more brains, if less strength. He has no difficulty in inventing stratagems which bring the plump turkeys into his larder. He is always diplomatic, he comes smiling out of every difficulty, he is quick and energetic: his personal appearance, heightened by his bright eye and bushy tail, is in his favour. He has two qualities invaluable to the courtier, a certain dash and a certain subtlety, and above all he is _bon viveur_.

"Grand Croqueur de poulets, grands preneur de lapins."

His worst enemy is the dog, with whom his tricks are frequently wanting in success. When out walking with the cat, and boastful of his own superior resources, he finds himself at a disadvantage the moment an attack is threatened by a pack of hounds. The cat quickly climbs a lofty tree.

"The fox his hundred ruses tried, And yet no safety found: A hundred times he falsified The nose of every hound.

Was here, and there, and everywhere, Above and underground."

In the end they are too clever for him, and he meets his death.

The story of Reynard the fox is a novel of adventure in which animals play the part of men and usually bear men's names, and who does not know and love the tale of Brer Rabbit and Brer B'ar and their relations with Uncle Remus, or the equally human animals of Alice's "Adventures."

These fictitious beings combine human and animal mental characteristics, but there is another class, the fabulous animals, of which the physical attributes are taken partly from man, partly from animal types. They are no doubt symbolic of occult truths, and much time and labour might be spent in formulating their relationship.


[80] Adapted from "Village Folk-tales of Ceylon," by H. Parker, 1910, Vol. I, pp. 308-10.

[81] Frere, M., "Old Deccan Days," 1889, pp. 83-193.

[82] Stokes, M. S. H., 1880, p. 41.

[83] "Folk Tales of Hindustan," p. 54 ff.

[84] Swynnerton, C., 1908, p. 464.

[85] Lady Burton's edition, 1887, Vol. III, p. 417.

[86] Variants of this basic legend are included in the chapter on "Bird-Women," where they properly belong.

[87] There is a Tamil proverb: "Be quiet or I shall show you my original shape."

[88] "Indian Folk Tales," 1908, p. 90.

[89] Giles, H. A., "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio," 1909, p.


[90] Bompas, "Folklore of the Santal Pagarnas," 1909, p. 201 ff.

[91] "Punjab Notes and Queries," May, 1885, p. 134.

[92] _Ibid._, p. 171.

[93] 1912, p. 237.

[94] Salverte, E., "The Philosophy of Magic," 1846, Vol. I, p. 289.

[95] "Zoological Mythology," 1872, Vol. I, p. xviii.

[96] Herodotus, Book II, Chap. 123.

[97] p. 430.



The most important among fabulous animals which are partly human beings are the centaur, half-man and half-horse; the harpy, half-woman and half-vulture; the sphinx, which has the head of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle, and the satyr, an old man with goat's legs and tail.

"Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimaeras--dire stories of Celaeno and the Harpies," says Charles Lamb, "may reproduce themselves in the brain of superstition--but they were there before. They are transcripts, types--the archetypes are in us, and eternal. How else should the recital of that which we know in a waking sense to be false, come to affect us at all?--or

"Names whose sense we see not, Fray us with things that be not?

Is it that we naturally conceive terror from such objects, considered in their capacity of being able to inflict upon us bodily injury?--O, least of all! These terrors are of older standing. They date beyond body--or, without the body, they would have been the same. All the cruel, tormenting, defined devils in Dante--tearing, mangling, choking, stifling, scorching demons--are they one half so fearful to the spirit of a man, as the simple idea of a spirit unembodied following him:

"Like one that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread, For having once turn'd round, walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread.

That the kind of fear here treated of is purely spiritual--that it is strong in proportion as it is objectless upon earth--and that it predominates in the period of sinless infancy--are difficulties the solution of which might afford some probable insight into our ante-mundane condition, and a peep at least into the shadowland of pre-existence."[98]

Prentice Mulford firmly believed that the supposed fables in the ancient mythologies concerning beings half-men, half-beasts (such as centaurs or mermaids) had had their origin in spiritual truths. "Our race," he says, "has been so developed out of the animal or coarser forms of life.

Countless ages ago all forms of life were coarser than now. As these grew finer, man attracted and absorbed the spirit of the finer."

"The history of animals such as the ancients have transmitted to us,"

says Eusebe Salverte,[99] "is filled with details apparently chimerical: but which are sometimes only the consequence of a defective nomenclature. The name, Onocentaur, which seems to designate a monster, uniting the form of a man and an ass, was given to a quadrumanus which runs sometimes on four paws, but at other times uses its forepaws only as hands: merely an immense monkey covered with grey hair, particularly on the lower part of the body...."

M. Geoffroy de St. Hillaire described a polydactyle horse as having hairy fingers separated by membranes: yet when ancient authors have spoken of horses, the feet of which bore some resemblance to the hands and feet of a man, they have been accused of imposture.[100]

The Centaurs were mythical creatures which inhabited Thessaly. They were said to have sprung from a union of Ixion and a Cloud, or, according to other authorities, to be the offspring of Centaurus, son of Apollo, by Stilbia, daughter of Peneus. The famous battle of the Centaurs with the Lapithae was occasioned by a quarrel at the marriage of Hippodamia with Pirithous. The Centaurs having come to a state of intoxication, offered violence to the women present, an insult for which they received due punishment.

A vivid presentment of what changing shape from man to horse would mean is to be found in Mr. Algernon Blackwood's "The Centaur,"[101] in which story the Irish hero, Mally, watches his own transformation into the figure of the _Urwelt_, with amazement.

"All white and shining lay the sunlight over his own extended form.

Power was in his limbs; he rose above the ground in some new way; the usual little stream of breath became a river of rushing air he drew into stronger, more capacious lungs; likewise his bust grew strangely deepened, pushed the wind before it; and the sunshine glowed on shaggy flanks agleam with dew that powerfully drove the ground behind him while he ran.

"He ran yet only partly as a man runs; he found himself shot forwards through the air, upright, yet at the same time upon all fours ... it was his own feet now that made that trampling as of hoofs upon the turf."

In "Gulliver's Travels" the men-horses or Houyhnhnms are fine horses gifted with human intelligence, but the Yahoos are described by Swift as having a very peculiar shape. Their heads and breasts were covered with a thick hair, some frizzled and others lank, they had beards like goats and a long ridge of hair down their backs, and the foreparts of their legs and feet, but the rest of their bodies was bare, so that their skins, which were of a brown-buff colour, could be seen. They had no tails, and they sat on the ground as well as laid down, and often stood on their hind feet. They climbed high trees as nimbly as a squirrel, for they had strong extended claws before and behind, terminating in sharp points and hooked. They would often spring and bound and leap with prodigious agility.[102]

In speaking, the Houyhnhnms pronounced through the nose and throat, and their language approached nearest to High-Dutch or German, but was more graceful and significant.

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