Web Theoi
THERES AITHIOPIKOI
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Θηρες Αιθιοπικοι Thêres Aithiopikoi Theres Aethiopici Ethiopian Beasts
Θηρες Λιβυες Thêres Libes Theres Libyes African Beasts

THE THERES AITHIOPIKOI & LIBYES were the wild beasts of Africa described by ancient writers. These included normal animals such as lions, elephants and camels as well as fantastical creatures like dragons, pegasi, catoblopones, and leucrotae.


NORMAL BEASTS

ELEPHANTOI Elephants were faor;uy well-known in the ancient world, in particular the now extinct sub-species then common in Mauretania (North-West Africa).

HIPPOPOTAMOI The Hippopotami of the Egyptian Nile were well known to the ancient Greeks.

HYAINAI Hyenas were sighted by the Greeks in North Africa, but descriptions of their habits were quite fanciful.

KAMELOPARDALES Giraffes (the semi-legendary "camel-leopards") were only known to the ancients from fanciful travellers' accounts prior to the introduction of a captive specimen to the Rome Circus.

KROKODILOI The Crocodiles of Egypt's Nile were well known to the ancient Greeks.

LEONTES Lions were native to Ancient Greece itself, as well as Asia Minor, the Middle East and North Africa.

ONOKENTAUROI Chimpanzees (?), the semi-legendary "donkey-centaurs," were reported in fanciful travellers' tales.

PARDALES Leopards were native to Ancient Greece itself, Asia Minor, the Middle East and Africa.

RHINOKEROTOI Rhinoceroses, the semi-legendary "Nose-Horns", were known to the ancients only from fanciful travellers' accounts prior to the introduction of specimens to the Roman Circus.


FABULOUS BEASTS

AMPHISBAINAI Fabulous two-headed serpents, one at each end of the body.

BASILISKOI Fabulous serpents whose touch alone could kill plant, animal and man.

DRAKONES AITHIOPIKOI Gigantic dragon-serpents which hunted the African elephant.

EALE Strange beasts the size of a hippo with movable horns and boar's tusks.

KATOBLEPONES Heavy-headed hoofed animals, whose gaze and noxious breath was deadly to both animals and men.

LEUKROKOTAI Fabulous hoofed animals, whose mouths were lined with a single bony plate which could crush anything like a vice. They could imitate the voices of men to lure them as prey.

MARTIKHORAI Fabulous lionine animals with the face of a man and a spiky tail which it used to fire deadly missiles.

PEGASOI AITHIOPIKOI Winged horses with a single horn extending from their forehead.

SPHINXES AITHIOPIKOI Part-lion, part-woman beasts native to Aithiopia.

TAUROI AITHIOPIKOI A species of bull whose red hide was impervious to weapons.


Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8. 72 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
"Aethiopia (Ethiopia) produces Lynxes in great numbers, and Sphinxes with brown hair and a pair of udders on the breast, and many other monstrosities--Winged Horses armed with horns, called Pegasi; Crocotas (Hyenas) like a cross between a dog and a wolf, that break everything with their teeth, swallow it at a gulp and masticate it in the belly; tailed Cercopitheci (Monkeys) with black heads, ass’s hair and a voice unlike that of any other species of ape; Boves Indici (Indian Oxen or Rhinoceroses) with one and with three horns; the Leucrocota, swiftest of wild beasts . . . the Eale (Yale) . . . the Tauros Silvestres (Forest Bulls) . . . [and] the Mantichora (Manticores) . . . In Western Aethiopia [West Africa] there is a spring, the Nigris, which most people have supposed to be the source of the Nile … In its neighbourhood there is an animal called the Catoblepas . . . [and] the Basilisci Serpentis (Basilisk Serpent) . . . is a native of the province of Cyrenaica."


HYAINAI (HYENAS)

Aelian, On Animals 7. 22 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
"It seems that the Hyaina (Hyena) and the Korokottai (Corocottae), as they call it, are viciously clever animals. At any rate the Hyaina prowls about cattle-folds by night and imitates men vomiting. And at the sound dogs come up, thinking it is a man. Whereupon it seizes and devours them."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8. 105 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
"The Hyaena (Hyena) is popularly believed to be bisexual and to become male and female in alternate years, the female bearing offspring without a male; but this is denied by Aristotle. Its neck stretches right along the backbone like a mane, and cannot bend without the whole body turning round. A number of other remarkable facts about it are reported, but the most remarkable are that among the shepherds’ homesteads it simulates human speech, and picks up the name of one of them so as to call him to come out of doors and tear him in pieces, and also that it imitates a person being sick, to attract the dogs so that it may attack them; that this animal alone digs up graves in search of corpses; that a female is seldom caught; that its yes have a thousand variations and alterations of colour; moreover that when its shadow falls on dogs they are struck dumb; and that it has certain magic arts by which it causes every animal at which it gazes three times to stand rooted to the spot."


KAMELOPARDALES (GIRAFFES)

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8. 69 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
"The Aethiopes (Ethiopians) give the name of nabun to one that has a neck like a horse, feet and legs like an ox, and a head like a camel, and is of a ruddy colour picked out with white spots, owing to which it is called a Camelopardalis; it was first seen at Rome at the games in the Circus given by Caesar when dictator. From this it has subsequently been recognised to be more remarkable for appearance than for ferocity, and consequently it has also got the name of ‘wild sheep.’"


ONOKENTAURAI (CHIMPANZEES)

Aelian, On Animals 17. 9 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
"There is a certain creature which they call an Onokentaura (Donkey-Centaur), and anybody who has seen one would never have doubted that the race of Kentauroi (Centaurs) once existed . . . But this creature of which my discourse set out to speak, I have heard described as follows. Its face is like that of a man and is surrounded by thick hair. Its neck below its face, and its chest are also those of a man, but its teats are swelling and stand out on the breast; its shoulders, arms, and forearms, its hands too, and chest down to the waist are also those of a man. But its spine, ribs, belly and hind legs closely resemble those of an ass; likewise its colour is ashen, although beneath the flanks it inclines to white. The hands of this creature serve a double purpose, for when speed is necessary they run in front of the hind legs, and it can move quite as fast as other quadrapeds. Again, if it needs to pluck something, or to put it down, or to seize and hold it tight, what were feet become hands; it no longer walks but sits down. The creature has a violent temper. At any rate if captured it will not endure servitude and in its yearning for freedom declines all food and dies of starvation.
This also is the account given by Pythagoras and attested by Krates (Crates) of Pergamon in Mysia."


Sources:

  • Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - C3rd AD
  • Pliny the Elder, Natural History - Latin Natural History C1st AD