April 19, 2016

Mythical O

        Ogres and onis and orcs, o my!  

ogre - a humanoid monster that is large, hideous, and eats humans, especially babies.  The word ogre comes from French, but beyond that there are many different theories for its etymology.  Does it come from the Etruscan god Orcus, from the biblical giant Og, from the French for Hungarian?  You probably already know that a female ogre is an ogress, but did you know that their offspring is an ogree?  (Universal)

orc - This humanoid’s name is derived from one of the possible roots that may have given us ogre, by way of Old English, and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien.  (Tolkien apparently later decided he preferred the spelling ork, but not until it was too late.)  Orcs are a corrupted mockery of the noble elves, hideous, deformed, brutish, and evil.  Initially Tolkien imagined them as goblins, inspired in part by George MacDonald’s goblins, but as he studied Middle Earth further he discovered that some, at least, are considerably more powerful and less comical.  Since Tolkien, a number of other species of orc have been discovered, such as the green-skinned “noble savages” of “World of Warcraft.”  (European)

Orthrus - We’ve all heard of the three-headed dog Cerberus, but did you know he had a two-headed brother named Orthrus?  Orthrus was also a guard dog, and I can just imagine the sibling rivalry that went on in that family.  He was slain by Hercules, which is presumably why you never see two-headed guard dogs any more.  (ancient Greek)

oni - a humanoid spirit that is something like an ogre or demon, usually huge, hideous, and
horned.  Their skin is most often blue or red, and sometimes they have unusual numbers of fierce eyes or clawed fingers.  They often wear a tigerskin loincloth and carry an iron club.  They can be kept at bay by monkey statues and/or holly, which is nice to know, since we have a big holly shrub right at the corner of our house, and I have a small wooden monkey on a bookshelf.  Apparently in Japanese tag, “it” is called the “oni.”  (Japanese)

oozlum bird - This species is rare in part because once it begins a left turn, it continues to fly in ever tighter and tighter circles until it eventually flies right up itself.  Oozlum birds also sometimes fly backwards, in order to admire their own plumage.  First described in the mid-nineteenth century, it is a relatively recent discovery.  (Australian/British)

Ophiotaurus - This creature is front half bull, back half serpent.  Ovid asserts that whoever burns its entrails will get the power to defeat the gods.  (Apparently the Ophiotaurus appears in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, which I have not read, but T has.)  It would be a sad thing indeed to have everyone more interested in burning your entrails than getting to know you, but the fact is that Ovid didn’t have much to say about the Ophiotaurus’s quite-possibly-charming personality.  (ancient Greek/Roman)

        And some other O creatures that have been previously mentioned…
ouphe - imp or goblin  (English)

ouroboros - a serpent with its tail in its mouth, representing eternity  (European)

Oilliphéist - a serpentine dragonoid banished from Ireland by St Patrick  (Irish)

[Pictures: Antonio is not afraid of the Ogre, illustration by H.J. Ford from The Grey Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang, 1900 (Image from MonsterBrains);
Detail from Throwing Beans, wood block print by Kawanabe Kumajiro, 1890 (Image from the Smithsonian Institution);
Ophiotaurus, mosaic floor from a building in York, England, c 44-410 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Emblem with ouroboros (and bonus Triton) representing immortality won through literary pursuits, wood block print from Emblemata by Andrea Alciato, 1621 edition (Image from Glasgow University).]

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