Manticore Values

In my examination of mythical monsters, I now move on to the manticore, a beast said to live in Persia. In the fourth century BC, a Greek physician named Ctesias put forth a description of the animal. It has the body of a lion and the head of a human, with light blue eyes and a voice like a trumpet. It has three rows of teeth, and its tail is like that of a scorpion, and can kill with a single sting. It also has the ability to throw its stings at other creatures, although it apparently cannot harm elephants (although a later writer insisted that its nemesis was the lion instead). It eats it prey whole, bones and all (now I’m picturing a manticore in one of those KFC “I ate the bones?” commercials), and has a particular fondness for human flesh.

The Persian name “Martyaxwar,” which morphed into the Greek “martichora” and then the Latin “mantichora,” actually means “man-eater.” Pliny the Elder wrote the manticore into his book on natural history, and it appears that people believed in them as late as the thirteenth century. Or maybe they just included them in books because they sounded cool.

That doesn’t mean that everybody accepted the description without question, however; a writer named Pausanias in the second century AD suspected that it was simply a fancified version of a tiger, while Flavius Philostratus reported that Apollonius of Tyana was told by an Indian native (the Greek word “India” incorporated Persia as well) that the creature did not exist. Manticores were used in heraldry, and were sometimes compared to the sphinx, which also has a leonine body with a human head. More modern depictions tend to show manticores with dragon-style wings.

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