March 23, 2022

C is for Chimeric

         (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’ve started early, but I promise that I’ll end with Z on April 30, just like everyone else in the April A to Z Blog Challenge.)
        The chimaera of Greek mythology was described as having parts like three disparate animals: a lion in front, a serpent in the rear, and a goat in the middle.  I would have thought this description implied a snake tail in the same way that a mermaid has a fish tail, but instead the chimera is usually depicted as having a full lion body, with a snake head on the tip of its tail and a goat head poking out of its back.  Quite early in English (late 14th century) this hybrid creature gave its name to any sort of creature composed of various parts of other animals, and later to any sort of wild fancy.  In fact, the most common and universal way to make a magical creature in cultures all around the world is to describe it by the resemblance of various traits to other creatures.  Indeed, the mythical creature that can’t be described chimera-fashion is the exception.  You can read a previous post on chimeras here.
        Loads of famous mythical beasts are chimeric.  The centaur is half man half horse, and the faun half man half goat.
        The Han Dynasty scholar Wang Fu (c. 220 CE) described lung dragons with “the nine resemblances…: his horns resemble those of a stag, his head that of a camel, his eyes those of a demon, his neck that of a snake, his belly that of a clam, his scales those of a carp, his claws those of an eagle, his soles those of a tiger, his ears those of a cow.”
        The Egyptian demon/goddess Ammit has a crocodile head, foreparts of a lion, and hindquarters of a hippo.  She eats the impure hearts of those people who, after death, fail the judgement of Osiris.
        The Mesopotamian lamassu has the body of a bull or lion, a human head, and avian wings.
        The basilisk, although originally a mere serpent, eventually developed into a chimera with the front half of a rooster added to its snake tail.  (It also may have poison breath suitable for the letter B.)
        The hippogriff is a chimera combining the hindquarters of a horse with the front half of another chimera: the griffin.  Of course, the front half of a griffin is just the front half of an eagle.  There’s also a creature called the hippalectryon that looks the reverse: front half horse, back half eagle.
        The magical Himmapan Forest in the Himalayas is populated by many magnificent chimeric creatures, including the Kunchorn Waree, which has the front half of an elephant and the back half of a fish.
The Persian simurgh is sometimes depicted as a peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion.  But some chimeras can be a bit variable.
        A creature with lots of options is the yali or vyala of India, which can combine its feline-ish body with lots of different possible heads, including elephant, lion, bird, horse, or dog.  But whatever kind of head it has, it's always strong and fierce.  (This illustration is one of mine.)
        You can find lots more chimeric creatures in previous posts, including malacomorphs, ypotryll, and welwa, as well as the jackalope and a host of similar rabbity-chimeras.  There are even chimeras that are mixes between beasts and objects, such as the umbrellaphant and the capybureau.
        The moral of these conglomerate creatures is that the easiest way to make something new is to mix up a few old things.  A Pro Tip for mad scientists is to get yourself a lab on a secluded island where no one asks awkward questions about why your pet ant-lions need their grain feed supplemented with gazelle meat.
        What creature traits would you most like to combine?  Do you have that mad-science hankering to create your own chimeras?  Try the Hybridizer, and tell us about your favorites!

[Pictures: Chimaera, Greek votive platter, 590-570 BCE (Image from Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien);
Ammit, illustration from Egyptian Book of the Dead papyrus, c 1250 BCE (Image from the British Museum);
Basilisk, wood block print by Jost Amman from Thierbuch, 1592 (Image from Library of Congress);
Kunchorn Waree, mural from Wat Gangaram, Ratchaburi, Thailand (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Simurgh, silver platter, Iran, 9th-10th century CE (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Yali (Fierce Guardian), rubber block print by AEGN, 2018;
Monster with the head of an ass (among other things!), wood block print from Monstrorum historia by Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1658 (Image from DFG viewer).]


kajmeister said...

How helpful of you to bring together such a wealth of information for anyone who might later to just slide in a little info about chimeras. *bookmark" I really appreciate the international flavor of your evidence!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Hungarian folktales have a winged wolf, which is pretty cool :) According to some researchers, it is our version of the Simurgh.
The Multicolored Diary

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Love this! I'm getting so many ideas for new creatures...

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

Timothy S. Brannan said...

The Simurgh is new to me! I am always happy to find something new when it comes to mythological monsters.

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

Sean H said...

Always nice to see chimeric creatures getting more attention, they are some of my favorites to play around with.

Prakash Hegade said...

SO much to learn here!

Sue Bursztynski said...

I never knew there were so many varieties of chimera! When I hear the word I think of the monster of Greek mythology. Thanks for such an impressive list!

Susanne Matthews said...

Great stuff.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

kajmeister, I am not very knowledgeable about some of the creatures from the non-European cultures, but I definitely try to be as inclusive as I can.

Zalka and Timothy, the simurgh seems to have an unusually broad range of variations across various cultures, so I'm not surprised to hear that a winged wolf would be among them. I will be featuring the simurgh again later (foreshadowing!) in a slightly different form.

Sue, almost any mythical creature can be described in chimeric terms!

Thanks to everyone for visiting!

Jayashree Srivatsan said...

As I was reading along, I thought of Yali and saw that you have mentioned it too. :) Have you heard of the deity Narasimha?
Hippogriff and Baselix I know from Harry Potter. I love centaurs. To answer your question , rather than combining specific traits it would be nice to have the power to transform or semi-transform by will to whatever the situation demands ..

Jayashree Srivatsan said...

Visiting from A to Z

Joy Weese Moll said...

After watching the Pixar film, Coco, I became fascinated with the alebrijes of Mexico.

JazzFeathers said...

Well, some of these creatures are quite familair, but some other are so uncommon and so mixedup, that I honestly ahve some difficulty imagining them. LOL!

The Old Shelter - Enter the New Woman

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Joy, I haven't seen Coco yet, but I do love alebrijes. I did a post on them once before on this blog:
Someday I hope to have one!