March 14, 2022

A is for Anthropophagus

         My A to Z theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.  I always start early, but I promise that I’ll end with Z on April 30, just like everyone else.  Be sure to check out the list of other participating blogs HERE.
        Anthropophagus is a fancy word meaning “eats humans,” and that’s the number one quickest and easiest way to make a monster.  Of course real animals that eat humans, such as tigers or crocodiles, are scary enough, but a man-eating horse becomes an insta-monster, a baby-eating crone becomes a wicked witch, and the problem with giants isn’t that they’re big, but that they’ll grind your bones to make their bread.  I don’t need to go into any deep explanation of why we find this trait monstrous, or why, if we want to tell stories about monsters, we give this trait to the villains to make them even scarier.
        Of course it doesn’t take magic for a creature to eat humans, but the anthropophagus trait is often given to creatures that wouldn’t normally be carnivorous, thus turning them from ordinary animals into something outside the bounds of the natural world.  The Mares of Diomedes and the Stymphalian Birds which Hercules had to conquer are classical examples, and a more modern example is the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
        Furthermore, for all the dangerous beasts in the world, there are few that really hunt humans as a first choice.  So when you tell stories of a monster that deliberately favors human flesh, that makes it more than an everyday carnivore.  The manticore is particularly known for its voracious man-eating nature, and indeed its name derives from the Persian for “man-eater.”  It has the body of a blood-red lion, but the head of a man, and a tail with poisonous quills or a scorpion stinger.  It has a triple row of super-sharp teeth, and it devours its victims bones and all.  A single manticore will hunt people up to three or four at a time, and chomp them all down, leaving not a trace.
        Ogres are cannabalistic humanoids who consider human babies to be a particular delicacy.  They’re usually large (sometimes basically giants), hairy and clumsy-looking, with great strength, but the eating of humans is their primary trait.
        The wendigo of Algonquian-family First Nations peoples is also defined largely by its insatiable desire for human flesh.  It looks like an emaciated walking corpse.  It is a spirit of both gluttony and famine, as its cannibalistic hunger merely increases, the more people it devours.
The isiququmadevu of Zulu folklore swallows not just individual people, but entire armies and entire villages, men, women, children, cattle, dogs, and all.  Luckily, in a trait shared by a number of anthropophagus monsters, if you can manage to kill her, you can let out all the victims in her belly, and they will be none the worse for wear.
The Hidebehind, a Fearsome Critter, hunts loggers and other humans in the woods, and particularly favors eating their intestines.  It’s impossible to see one stalking you, because no matter how quickly you turn around, it’s always able to hide behind a tree… or you.
        A couple other anthropophagus monsters you can read more about in previous posts are the Ninki Nanka and the rakshasa, and of course many of the monsters we’ll run into throughout the rest of this year’s A to Z may also eat you if you don’t watch out.  It’s easy to see why people all around the world and throughout history have told stories about creatures that are more than ordinary man-eaters.  They serve as warnings, nightmare fuel, and most excellent antagonists for our heroes.
        The moral of these monsters is that  no one likes to be someone else’s dinner.  But folklore from many traditions gives us a couple of Pro Tips for monster-slayers: 
1. Try to gain access by making friends with the monster’s wife or granny, and 
2. If you do defeat it, cut open the stomach to release any survivors before destroying the body.
        How would you pass the time waiting for a hero in the belly of a monster?

[Pictures: Manticore, illumination from bestiary, 1226-1250 (Image from Bodleian Libraries);
Mares of Diomedes, illumination from Recueil des histoires de Troi by Raoul Le Fevre, c 1470 (Image from Bibliotheque nationale de France);
Ogre, wood engraving by Gustave Doré from Les Contes de Perrault, 1862 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Hidebehind, ink by Jessi Jordan, c 2021 (Image from artist’s web site]


Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Love this! I can totally see writing a book with a man-eating horse in it. LOL.

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge My Languishing TBR: A

Deborah Weber said...

Oh goodness, little did I know there was such a variety of anthropophagus creatures to beware of! But I do feel better prepared knowing your tips. I'm going to ramp up my friendship-making efforts in hopes I'll have wife and granny bases covered, and I won't forget opportunities to free those trapped. Although I'll probably have to do it with my eyes closed, because of the yuck factor. If I'm the one in the belly of the beast, I hope there's enough light inside to read. I'm always prepared with a book on tap for such occasions. I really do like the Manticore image, although the severed leg is a bit of a turnoff. Great start to the challenge Anne - I look forward to the rest of your posts.

JadeLi said...

Anne, I can see I'm going to enjoy this year's A2Z of yours. Am taking notes also!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

As a storyteller, this part is very important. I hate condemning creatures in folktales just because they exist. However, when they start eating people with no remorse... then we have a story. :D
Great theme!

The Multicolored Diary

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Ronel, I might have known you'd go straight to the horses! =D
Deborah, I love the idea of reading in the belly of the beast - maybe be prepared at all times with a flashlight as well as a book. And fear not; not all this year's posts will be so gruesome.
Zalka, I so agree that it's not okay to assume that every creature you meet should be killed as an enemy. But it does seem fair to try not to get eaten.

Thanks for all the comments, and it's so nice to see all of you back this year!

Lisa said...

That ogre with the sleeping babies is terrifying! You always share the most interesting illustrations and information.

Timothy S. Brannan said...


This is going to be great I can just tell. I did Monsters last year so reading yours will be fun. I kinda hope we have some similar ones (though I know your focus is different) so I can compare and contrast.

Timothy S. Brannan
The Other Side | A to Z of Conspiracy Theories

Rob Z Tobor said...

Thanks for visiting your Blog is looking as good as ever and a great choice for the letter A. . . . . I will pop back and read a bit more in the next couple of days. It is rather late here for an old grumpy chap like myself.

Wes Ikezoe said...

Always love learning new words. And this one is delicious. At least to certain creatures.