He’s Got Legs, He Knows How to Use Them

I’ve always liked descriptions of monsters. I remember when I was in high school and I checked out Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings multiple times. It covered creatures spoken of in the folklore and mythology of many different countries, arranged in a fashion as to seem like a reference book. More recently, I’ve subscribed to the RSS feed for A Book of Creatures, a website with much the same purpose. I highly recommend the site, and most of the time their descriptions are so thorough that there isn’t much I can add here on my own blog. It was pretty much impossible to resist discussing the Davalpa (sometimes spelled Devalpa), however.

Being Persian in origin, this is one of many monsters that relies on tricking people in order to achieve its ends. Not that this doesn’t happen plenty in nature, what with all the animals who rely on camouflage to catch prey. The Davalpa looks like a harmless old man, but if you agree to carry him, he will wrap his snake-like legs around you and never let go.

The most famous encounter with this creature is that of Sinbad the Sailor, who was captured by a Davalpa on the island of Saksar, near Zanzibar.

They apparently shared the island with cynocephali, but I don’t know whether they ever preyed on the dog-headed people. Anyway, Sinbad eventually escaped by getting the Davalpa drunk and bashing him on the head with a rock. The moral, I suppose, is never to help an old person. The story of Sinbad refers to the creature as the Old Man of the Sea, bringing to mind the shape-shifting Proteus from Greek mythology. The Greek name for the Davalpa was himantopus or “strap foot,” which is now used for the black-winged stilt, a small wading bird with stilt-like legs. As far as I know, however, the bird doesn’t use these legs to capture hapless people.

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