Greek mythology is full of legendary creatures that continue to inspire fiction today. From the famous Cerbeus guarding the gates to the Underworld to the ghastly Hecatoncheires of immortal lineage, these beasts frequently appeared throughout the mythos. Most served as obstacles for heroes and their tales of triumph. Others served as allegories to instill fear in humans and illustrate the powers of the divine.
However, some monsters were the stuff of legends even to ancient Greeks. One example is the Mantikhoras.
The Mantikhoras was a man-eating beast of Persian origin. It did not actively appear in Greek mythology. Instead, it was brought into Greek culture by writers and onlookers. Descriptions of the legendary beast circulated among writers and scholars, making it a feared monster throughout Greece and beyond.
The First Description of the Mantikhoras
There’s little surviving text regarding this beast, but most scholars agree that one of the first Greek descriptions on the Mantikhoras came from Ctesias, or Ktesias.
Ctesias was a Greek Physician who served at the Persian court of Artaxerxes II. He wrote a book, titled “Indica,” that circulated among Greek and Roman writers. In it, he talks about the Mantikhoras.
He says that it had a man’s face with piercing blue eyes. However, its body is as big as a lion’s, and its skin is as red as cinnabar. Despite the human-like face, the Mantikhoras had three rows of ferocious teeth.
Ctesias then went on to describe the monster’s tail and fighting capabilities in great detail. He said that the end of the tail held a stinger that looked like a scorpion’s. However, it was a cubit long and always dealt fatal stings. Additional stingers sat on each side of the tail, and one emerged from the monster’s head.
The Mantikhoras was fully capable of dealing fatal blows up close. But according to Ctesias, it didn’t need to be within reach to kill you. Distant enemies were no match for its stingers. The monster reportedly shot the stingers from its tail like a bow. They could reach great distances, taking enemies out from a hundred feet. Each stinger was a foot long, inflicting fatal damage to all creatures but the elephant.
Ctesias said that the Mantikhoras preyed on many animals. But, it preferred to kill and devour humans. For some reason, it did not attack elephants. For this reason, natives hunted them down with spears using elephants as their mounts. Even still, the Mantikhoras were feared beast that locals didn’t dare to approach.
Description By Aelian
A Roman author, Aelian, mentioned the Mantikhoras as well. He wrote a book titled “Characteristics of Animals.” It was a work of non-fiction meant to detail natural history. In it, he has an entire section devoted to the Mantikhoras. Aelian adds new information, even mentioning Ctesias’ description of the beast. But, he also notes that he had not seen the monster in person, as Ctesias alleges he did.
In his description, Aelian covers many of the same characteristics. However, he provides greater detail. For example, he talks about how the three rows of teeth are arranged evenly on the upper and lower jaws. Aelian also talks about the Mantikhoras’ shaggy hair and his talon-like claws.
Aelian’s portrayal of the monster’s aggressive behavior is also more detailed. The author depicts a sideways attack with stingers, which are always fatal. Aelian also discusses the possibility of the Mantikhoras developing its own crop through the stingers. He states that the monster produces new stingers after utilizing their supply to take down prey. Each one is as fatal as the last.
Interestingly enough, this point also leads to a unique depiction of how natives deal with the monster. They reportedly hunt them down as they are young and undeveloped. When they find them, natives crush the tails with stone to prevent stingers from growing.
While those methods might have some impact, it doesn’t stop mature Mantikhoras from feasting on human flesh. According to Aelian, the beast waits for two or three men to cross its path. Even with the numbers stacked against it, the monster uses its tail, teeth, and crops to devour men in minutes.
Doubt in the Legitimacy of Mantikhoras
Later, writers seemed to have some suspicion about the true nature of Mantikhoras. One writer talks about the descriptions from both Ctesias and Aelian. In “Descriptions of Greece” by the Greek traveler, Pausanias, the portrayal is more suspicious than fearful.
Pausanias says that he believes the Mantikhoras are nothing more than a tiger. However, the false story is passed through Indian culture out of sheer fear and dread of past attacks.
Another doubter was Appolonius of Tyana. The Greek writer Flavius Philostratus wrote about a discussion Appolonius had about the beast. In it, Appalonius describes the fabled monster, concluding that the tall stories were not something he could believe.
Despite the hesitation from some, other writers swore that the Mantikhoras was real. One notable example was Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and naturalist. He followed the recordings of natural history by Aristotle by including a section for Mantikhoras. They were part of his works titled “Naturalis Historia.”
The description by Pliny the Elder became quite popular. His “Naturalis Historia” became prevalent during the European Middle Ages, and many readers believed in the more whimsical additions like the Mantikhoras. As a result, the beast became the subject of art during this period.
It appeared in many medieval bestiaries. One of the most famous was “De bestiis et aliis rebus.” However, there was some confusion over its name, with some incorrectly assuming that it was the same monster as the mantyger.
The man-eating monster even made an appearance in English heraldry! It was on the badge of William Hastings and Robert Radcliffe. Additional descriptions of the legendary beast came from Edward Topsell, who wrote a famous bestiary.
In this work, the Mantikhoras was said to be bred among Indians. He also noted its physical abilities and agility, saying that the monster could leap and run great distances. He also compared the voice of the Mantikhoras to a trumpet or pipe. Of course, the ferocity of its stingers and the insatiable lust for human flesh were also points of discussion.
The legend of the Mantikhoras wasn’t contained to one part of Europe. It started to appear everywhere. Some of the most famous depictions portray the Mantikhoras in all its beastly glory. Many exist in the British Library. There’s even a sculpture of the monster at the Church of St. Mary and St. David in Herefordshire.
You can see it on a Der Naturen Bloeme manuscript at the National Library of the Netherlands. This work shows the cinnabar-colored body of the lion and the man’s face in great detail.
Modern Works Inspired by the Mantikhoras
This monster truly is the stuff of legend. Even centuries later, it continues to inspire artists.
The beast lends its name to a heavy-metal band based in the Netherlands. They released an album titled “Joust of Destiny” in 2005.
It also appears in tabletop role-playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Magic: The Gathering.”
Of course, it also rears its ugly head in books and video games. Some of the most famous examples include “Dark Souls” and “The Witcher” series.
The Mantikhoras even shows up in television and movie projects. You can see a computer-generated monster in the show “Merlin.” While not seen directly, the beast plays a big part in the “Game of Thrones” series as well as “The Songs of Fire and Ice” books. There, the Mantiknoras is the Manticore, a poisonous scorpion-like insect with a human face.
The Mantikhoras was also known as the Manticore, Mantichore, and μαντιχορας.
The beast’s name comes from the Persian word for “man-eater.”
The Mantikhoras had a lion’s body, a male human face, and a spiked tail that shot poison arrows.
The monster ate many creatures but preferred to feast on human flesh. Interestingly enough, the only animal it did not kill were elephants.
Natives to the lands that Mantikhoras resided reportedly hunted them when they were young to destroy their stingers.
The Mantikhoras is a Persian monster. However, it appeared in English medieval art and throughout Greek mythology.
The beast’s existence entered ancient Greek and European folklore through a Greek physician named Ctesias.
Later recounts of the Mantikhoras came from Pausanias, Pliny the Elder, Flavius Philostratus, and more.
Many writers included Mantikhoras in medieval bestiaries. It also appeared in art and English heralds.
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