Saturday, December 12, 2009

Heinous Hybrids

Legends of goatmen have circulated since the time of the ancient Greeks, who told of goat-legged satyrs lurking in their wooded areas. (Troy Therrien)
The mythic image of the goatman has butted heads with reality since the ancient Greeks told of horned, goat-legged satyrs that terrorized their forests. Satyrs were known as enthusiastic party animals that loved to carouse until dawn.

The son of the Greek god Hermes, Pan, looked much like the satyrs and although famous for playing beautiful music on his reed pipes, could pitch a frightening fit when angered. The Roman god of rural land, Faunus, was a sort of a cousin to Pan. His goatman offspring, the fauns or fauni, also resembled satyrs but enjoyed a more wholesome reputation. Their one negative trait was the ability to trigger nightmares by sneaking into a human’s bedroom.

The idea of combining man and beast into a single being does not stop with goats. Ancient legends overfl ow with a bizarre zoo of manimals, or half-and-half creatures. One of the oldest ideas is that of the dog-headed man, or cynocephali. Dating this strain of hybrids back to the jackal-headed death god of the Egyptians, Anubis, author Patricia Dale-Green refers to the culture of humanized canines as “dogmanity.”

As early as the fifth century bce, the Greek doctor Ctésias wrote a book about India in which he described a race of dog-headed people that cooked their prey by sun-baking it. Explorer Marco Polo also claimed around 1300 ce that a region near India’s Bay of Bengal was home to a nation of cynocephali that worshipped oxen.

Old Irish legends include a tribe of dog-headed Celts called the Concheannaich, and as late as the Middle Ages, Greek Orthodox churches portrayed the martyr St. Christopher (circa 300 ce) as a dog-headed man. According to legend, the saint had prayed that God would make him ugly to keep himself from the sin of vanity. Christopher received his wish in the form of a hound’s head. Although he was considered the patron saint of travelers for many years, in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church removed Christopher’s feast day from its calendar due to lack of historical evidence of his existence.

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