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Human Animals Part 19

Swift no doubt took his idea of the men-horses from centaurs.

The Harpies were three fabulous winged monsters, offsprings of Neptune and Terra, represented with the features of a woman, the body of a vulture, and human fingers armed with sharp claws. Heraldically the harpy appears as a vulture with the head and breasts of a woman.

Neptune's daughters emitted an odious stench and polluted all they touched.

The Sphinx was another composite fabled monster, with the head and breasts of a woman, the body of a dog, the tail of a serpent, the wings of a bird, the paws of a lion, and a human voice. According to the Grecian poets the animal infested the city of Thebes, devouring the inhabitants and setting difficult riddles. It was promised, however, that on the solution of one of its enigmas the Sphinx would destroy itself. The puzzle to be solved was, "What animal walked on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?" Many people attempted to find a solution in the hope of winning Jocasta, sister of Creon, King of Thebes, in marriage, but all fell victims to their ambition until the advent of dipus, who answered the Sphinx, saying, Man crept on his hands and feet in infancy, at noon he walked erect, and in the evening of life required the support of a staff. On hearing the reply the Sphinx dashed her head against a rock and expired. In Egypt sphinxes with human heads were called Androsphinxes.

They had no wings, which were added by the Greek artists.

Hecate, the Greek goddess, was described as having three bodies or three heads, one of a horse, the second of a dog, and the third of a lion. She was a spectral being who at night sent from the lower world all kinds of demons and phantoms to teach sorcery. She wandered about with the souls of the dead and her approach was announced by the whining and howling of dogs.

Hathor was pictured sometimes as a cow, sometimes as a woman with the head of a cow, bearing the solar disc between her horns.

Other animal goddesses of curious shapes are Egyptian, such as the cat-goddess, the bird-goddess, the hippopotamus-goddess, Smet-Smet or Rert-Rert, figures of which may be seen at the British Museum.

Strange creatures too were the Gorgons, the three sisters, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa, daughters of Phorcys and Ceto. Their hairs were entwined with serpents, they had hands of brass, scales on their body, and the tusks of a wild boar. Their frightful appearance caused those who beheld them to turn to stone. They were conquered by Perseus, who was given special weapons for the purpose by the gods. He cut off Medusa's head and gave it to Minerva; as he fled through the air to Ethiopia drops of blood fell to the ground from the severed head and turned to serpents. Pegasus, the winged horse, sprang from Medusa's blood and became the favourite of the Muses. He was given to Bellerophon and helped him to conquer the Chimaera, the celebrated monster with three heads, a lion's, goat's, and dragon's, which continually sent forth flames. The forepart of its body was that of a lion, the middle of a goat, and the hind part that of a dragon.

These are the chief mythological monsters, thus rapidly enumerated, but other creatures, half-human, half-animal, are of greater interest psychologically. For instance, the Persians believe firmly in ghouls which wander in lonely and haunted places, lure travellers from their path and devour them. They are hideous in shape and give forth blood-curdling screams. Being able to assume any animal form at will, they often appear as camels or mules, or perhaps even simulate a human being well-known to their intended victim. The charm against them is to utter the name of the Prophet in all sincerity.

The Persians also believe in _divs_ or cat-headed men with horns and hoofs. _Jinns_ or _Afreets_ can turn themselves into animals at will and so no Persian likes to kill dogs or cats, lest the angry demons, whose dwelling-place they are, should haunt those responsible for evicting them.

The Satyrs were rural demi-gods, in the shape of men but with legs and feet like goats, short horns on the head and the body covered with hair. They attended on Bacchus and were given to similar excesses.

They roamed through woods, dwelt in caves, and endeavoured to gain the loves of the Nymphs. They were identical with Fauns, Panes or Sylvani, the human-goat wood-spirits. They should not be confused with the Nature-Spirits described by Paracelsus, though similar in name.

In Russia wood-spirits are believed to appear partly in human shape, but also with horns, ears, and legs of goats. They are called Ljeschi and can change their shape and size, in a forest, being large like trees; in a meadow, merely the height of the grass.

The Griffin was half-lion and half-eagle, and apparently had no human characteristics.

The Mermaid is a fabulous marine creature, partly woman and partly fish. The Nereides were sea-nymphs, daughters of Nereus, the ancient sea-god and his wife Doris. They were at least fifty in number (Propertius says a hundred), and they had green hair and fishes'

tails. The most celebrated of them all were Amphitrite, wife of Neptune, Thetis, mother of Achilles, Galatea, and Doto. They are identical with the Sirens.

Many charming stories have been told of Mermaids, and Mermaid-prophetesses.

According to the old Danish ballad a mermaid foretold the death of Queen Dagmar, wife of Valdemar II, surnamed the Victorious.

"In the year 1576," says the Chronicle of Frederick II of Denmark, "there came late in the autumn a simple old peasant from Samso to the Court then being held at Kalundborg, who related that a beautiful female had more than once come to him while working in his field by the seashore, whose figure, from the waist downwards, resembled that of a fish, and who had solemnly and strictly enjoined him to go over and announce to the king, that as God had blessed his queen so that she was pregnant of a son (afterwards Christian IV), who should be numbered among the greatest princes of the North, and, seeing that all sorts of sins were gaining ground in his kingdom, he, in honour of and in gratitude to God who had so blessed him, should wholly extirpate such sins, lest God should visit him with anger and punishment thereafter."[103]

In the Shetland Isles mermaids are said to dwell among the fishes, in the depths of the ocean, in mansions of pearl and coral. They resemble human beings, but greatly excel them in beauty. When they wish to visit the earth they put on the _ham_ or garb of some fish, but if they lose this garment, all hopes of return are annihilated and they must stay where they are.

A mermaid was found by a fisherman called Pergrin at St. Dognael's, near Cardigan, and he took her prisoner, but she wept bitterly and said to him, "If you will let me go, Pergrin, I will call to you three times at the moment of your greatest need." Moved by her distress, he obeyed and almost forgot the incident, but some weeks later he was fishing on a hot, calm day, when he heard distinctly, the call, thrice repeated, "Pergrin, take up thy nets." This he did in great haste, and by the time he reached the harbour a terrible storm had come up, and all the other fishermen who had not been warned were drowned. This story, it is claimed, belongs to other parts of Wales also.

There is said to be a castle in Finland, on the borders of a small lake, out of which, previously to the death of the Governor, an apparition in the form of a mermaid arises and makes sweet melody.

One of the most charming descriptions of a Sea-maiden is found in Hans Andersen's well-known story of "The Little Mermaid." Her skin is as soft and delicate as a rose-leaf, her eyes are as deep a blue as the sea, but like all other mermaids, she has no feet; her body ends in a tail like that of a fish. For many years she plays happily in the enchanted palace of the Mer-king, her father, but when she reaches years of discretion she visits the earth and falls in love with a handsome prince, forsaking her home and family and giving away her beautiful voice for love of him.

But she does more even than this, for she has to appeal to a witch to transform her into a maiden like the others who walk on land, and the process is a terribly painful one. The witch prepares a drink she has to take with her on her journey to the unknown country, and she is told that she must sit down on the shore and swallow the draught, and that then her tail will fall and shrink up "to the things which men call legs." When she walks or dances the pain will be as though she were walking on the sharp edge of swords or the edges of ploughshares. But she braves all these terrors and dances more gracefully than ever any earth-maiden could do, hoping that her prince will marry her and so give her the right to an immortal soul. Then the real tragedy occurs, for the prince loves her only as a beautiful child, and he marries a princess of his own kind, so that the mermaid's sacrifice seems to be thrown away.

If she wishes to return to her original state she has to kill the prince, but when she holds the knife over him as he sleeps beside his beautiful bride she cannot find it in her heart to harm him, and sooner than think of her own forlorn condition, she throws the knife into the sea and gives up, as she believes, her last hope of happiness. But then her reward comes, for she is borne into the air by the daughters of that element, and the story ends with a promise of a new and a lovelier existence.

Mr. H. G. Wells, among recent writers, has used the idea of the mermaid in his quaint story "The Sea Lady."

The famous mermaid figures in the coat-of-arms of several well-known families. Sometimes she holds a mirror, sometimes a mirror and comb. A red mermaid with yellow hair on a white field appears in the arms of the family living at Glasfryn in the south of Carnarvonshire.

Other marine monsters besides mermaids are sometimes found in the sea, which, without corresponding exactly to man, yet resemble him more than any other animals. However, like the rest of the brutes, they lack mind or soul. They have, says Paracelsus, the same relations to man as the ape and are nothing but the apes of the sea.

Merovingian princes traced their origin to a sea-monster, and Druid priestesses claimed to be able to assume animal form and to rule wind and wave. Indeed, since men first sought to classify other living organisms, they have credited nature with producing strange and weird monsters, half-human, half-animal, which exist either in their own imaginations or in realms beyond the material plane of everyday cognisance.

In the third Calmuc tale, a man who possesses but one cow unites himself to her in order that she may become fruitful, and a tailed monster is born having a man's body and a bull's head. This man-bull, who is Minotaur, goes into the forest and picks up three companions, one black, one green, one white, who accompany him. He overcomes the enchantments of a dwarf witch, and when lowered into a well by his companions, he manages to escape. Presently he meets a beautiful maiden drawing water, at whose every footstep a flower springs, and following her, finds himself in heaven.

The classical Minotaurus is said to have been the offspring of Pasiphae and a bull sent from the sea to Minos, who shut the half-human monster in the Cnossian labyrinth and fed him with the bodies of the youths and maidens sent by the Athenians as a tribute.

This monster was slain by Theseus.

Among modern writers, Mr. H. G. Wells has perhaps been the most daring in describing monsters. In "The Island of Dr. Moreau," Dr. Moreau explains to Pendrick his method of making humanised animals. "These creatures you have seen are animals carven and wrought into new shapes,"

he says. "To that--to the study of plasticity of living forms--my life has been devoted. I have studied for years, gaining knowledge as I go. I see you look horrified, yet I am telling you nothing new. It all lay in the surface of practical anatomy years ago, but no one had the temerity to touch it. It's not simply the outward form of an animal I can change.

The physiology, the chemical rhythm of the creature, may also be made to undergo an enduring modification, of which vaccination and other methods of inoculation with living or dead matter are examples that will, no doubt, be familiar to you. A similar operation is the transfusion of blood, with which subject indeed I began. These are all familiar cases.

Less so, and probably far more extensive, were the operations of those mediaeval practitioners who made dwarfs and beggar cripples and show-monsters; some vestiges of whose art still remains in the preliminary manipulation of the young mountebank or contortionist.

Victor Hugo gives an account of them in _L'Homme qui Rit_ ... but perhaps my meaning grows plain now. You begin to see that it is a possible thing to transplant tissue from one part of an animal to another, or from one animal to another, to alter its chemical reactions and methods of growth, to modify the articulations of its limbs, and indeed to change it in its most intimate structure?..."

"So for twenty years altogether--counting nine years in England--I have been going on, and there is still something in everything I do that defeats me, makes me dissatisfied, challenges me to further effort. Sometimes I rise above my level, sometimes I fall below it, but always I fall short of the things I dream. The human shape I can get now almost with ease, so that it is lithe and graceful, or thick and strong; but often there is trouble with the hands and claws--painful things that I dare not shape too freely. But it is in the subtle grafting and reshaping one must needs do to the brain that my trouble lies. The intelligence is often oddly low, with unaccountable blank ends, unexpected gaps. And least satisfactory of all is something that I cannot touch, somewhere--I cannot determine where--in the seat of the emotions. Cravings, instincts, desires that harm humanity, a strange hidden reservoir to burst suddenly and inundate the whole being of the creature with anger, hate, or fear.

These creatures of mine seemed strange and uncanny to you as soon as you began to observe them, but to me, just after I make them, they seem to be indisputably human beings. It's afterwards, as I observe them, that the persuasion fades. First one animal trait, then another, creeps to the surface and stares at me.... But I will conquer yet.

Each time I dip a living creature into the bath of burning pain, I say, this time I will burn out all the animal, this time I will make a rational creature of my own. After all, what is ten years? Man has been a hundred thousand in the making."[104]

"There were swine-men and swine-women," says Pendrick later, describing the beast-folk, "a mare rhinoceros creature, and several other females I did not ascertain. There were several Wolf creatures, a Bear-bull, and a Saint Bernard Dog Man. I have already described the Ape Man, and there was a particularly hateful (and evil-smelling) old woman made of Vixen and Bear, whom I hated from the beginning."[105]

"First to arrive was the Satyr, strangely unreal, for all that he cast a shadow, and tossed the dust with his hoofs: after him, from the brake, came a monstrous lout, a thing of horse and rhinoceros, chewing a straw as it came: and then appeared the Swine Woman and two Wolf Women: then the Fox-Bear-Witch, with her red eyes in her peaked red face, and then others all hurrying eagerly."[106]

In another imaginative work dealing with the twenty-ninth century A.D., the brute creation has been humanised in a way never before dreamt of.

"... a levy of 40,000 naturalists were engaged for years in forming a hundred different zoological armies. Each of these was, by an admirable system of drill, brought to such a high state of discipline that a brigade, consisting of a thousand elephants, a thousand rhinoceroses, 180,000 monkeys and 15,000 other beasts of draught and burden could be officered with perfect ease by as few as one thousand naturalists. Birds of burden and fish of burden were in like manner drafted into the ranks of the zoological army, and, being subjected to similar training, were brought to a similar degree of efficiency."[107]

Giraldus Cambrensis wrote of many curious monsters and strange things that happened in connection with them. He believed that occult powers came through them in some manner, and told the story of a Welshman called Melerius, who had an odd experience by which he acquired the powers of a seer. One Palm Sunday he met a damsel whom he had long loved and embraced her in the woods, when suddenly, instead of a beautiful girl, he found in his arms a hairy, rough, and hideous creature, the sight of which deprived him of his senses. On his return to sanity, many years later, he discovered that he had wonderful occult gifts of prophecy.

Giraldus also believed that people in Ireland, by magical arts, could turn "any substance about them into fat pigs," as they appeared to be, though the colour was always red, and could then sell them in the markets. They disappeared, however, "as soon as they crossed any water," and even if they were looked after carefully they never lasted as pigs for more than three days. He writes of a man-monster whose body was human, except the extremities, which were cloven like those of an ox. This monster had large round eyes like an ox and the only sound he could make was like an ox lowing. He was present at the Court of Maurice Fitzgerald in Wicklow, and took up his food between the fissures of his cloven forefeet. His fate was to be put secretly to death, a fate which might with advantage be shared, metaphorically speaking, by many of the hybrid creatures, or manufactured monstrosities, figments of unwholesome brains.

Augustine, in the sixteenth book of his "De Civitate Dei," chapter viii., speaks of monsters of the human race, born in the East, some having heads of dogs, others without heads, and eyes in their breasts.

"I myself," he adds, "at the time I was in Italy, heard it said of some district in those parts, that there the stable women who had learnt magical arts, used to give something to travellers in their cheese which transformed them into beasts of burden, and after they had performed the tasks required of them, they were allowed to resume their natural form."

One of the most fearsome among the fabulous animals is the dragon, an enormous serpent of abnormal form which is represented in ancient legends as a huge Hydra, watching as sentinel the Garden of the Hesperides. In art the dragon is the symbol of sin, and in the Bible this monster appears as the symbol of the King of Egypt and the King of Babylon. The dragon, which is the emblem of the Chinese Empire, like the legendary serpent, can assume human shape.

The basilisk is another fabulous animal of the snake tribe, which carries a jewel in its head, and in many French legends possesses human proclivities. It is the king of all the serpents and holds itself erect. Its eyes are red and fiery, the face pointed, and upon its head it wears a crest like a crown. It has, moreover, the terrible gift of killing people by the glare of its eye and other serpents are said to fly from its presence in dread.

The cockatrice is identical with the basilisk, but is perhaps not quite so human. It is produced from a "cock's egg hatched by a frog."

Lilith is the "night-monster," and according to the Rabbinical idea, she is a spectre in the figure of a woman who, entering houses in the dead of night, seizes upon the little children of the household and bears them away to murder them. According to some accounts she is not unlike Lamia, and has the form of a serpent.

FOOTNOTES:

[98] Lamb, Charles, "Essays of Elia," 1904, pp. 133-4.

[99] "The Philosophy of Magic," 1846, Vol. I, p. 67.

[100] _Ibid._, pp. 73-4.

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