February 19, 2016

Mythical H

        H gives us some especially interesting creatures, and I haven’t yet made a block print of any mythical H beastie myself.  As I think of these possibilities I wonder which would be the most fun to draw and carve?  Which has the most life in my imagination?  Which could I do in a way that’s a little new or different?  Which is my favorite?  I just don’t know!
        Ulisse Aldrovandi is the man for illustrations of these creatures.  I don’t know what artists may have been responsible for the illustrations used in his various sixteenth century books of natural history (many of which were published after his death), but the illustrations are intriguingly poised between fantasy and realism.

hippogriff (or hippogryph) - front half eagle and back half horse, it can fly with magical speed.  From Ludovico Ariosto to J.K. Rowling, the hippogriff makes an excellent mount for the valiant hero.  (coined by Ariosto from a reference in Virgil)

hippocampus - front half horse and back half fish.  Hippocampi are especially associated with Poseidon, but some species apparently have wings, because really, isn’t everything better with wings?  I like the finny forefeet of Aldrovandi’s hippocampus even though technically it ought to have hooves.  A funny linguistic note is that in heraldry this creature is simply called
a sea-horse, while the actual natural seahorse gets the name hippocampus.  (ancient Greek and Phoenician)

harpy - front half woman and back half bird, these monsters represent the destructive power of wind, but their viciousness isn’t random.  The harpies are forces of retribution and punishment.  As with many female monsters, people have depicted them both as beautiful and as hideous - apparently men can never decide which is scarier in a woman. (ancient Greek and Roman)

hydra - The Lernaean Hydra, slain by Hercules, was a serpentine monster with seven or more heads, and each head, when chopped off, would regrow two or more heads to replace it - unless the neck was quickly cauterized to seal it.  I love the crazy lobster body of the hydra in the second of these two illustrations.  It’s certainly not what I ever imagined!  (ancient Greek)
        (And this concludes the classical portion of our H’s!)

hercinia - a bird with glowing feathers that lights the paths through the dark forests of southern Germany.  Because of their role as beacons and guides, seeing one is a lucky omen.  See my hercinia here.  (medieval European)

homunculus - miniature humanoid created by alchemy, previously discussed here.  (renaissance European)

hadhayosh - I don’t have a lot of information about this one, but it sounds interesting.  It’s a 52-foot-tall ox-like beast with brass skin, six horns, and a flaming mane.  (Persian)

[Pictures: Equus marinus monstrosus, from something by Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1570;
Harpy, from the same something by Aldrovandi, 1570 (Images from University of Oklahoma);
Hydra, from Serpentum et draconum historiae by Aldrovandi, 1640 (Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library);
Hercules Killing the Lernean Hydra, engraving by Franciscus Floris, c 1565 (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]

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