Greek Mythology >> Bestiary >> Legendary Tribes >> Cynocephali (Kynokephaloi)


Greek Name




Latin Spelling



(kyôn, kephalê)

Cynocephalus from the Nuremburg Chronicle (1493)
Cynocephalus from the Nuremburg Chronicle (1493)

THE KYNOKEPHALOI (Cynocephali) were a tribe of dog-headed men native to Africa and India. The name Kynokephalos means dog-headed from the Greek words kuôn "dog" and kephalos "head".

The legend probably originated in ancient travellers' accounts of African baboons which were mistaken for a tribe of men. Indeed the name Kynokephalos was later used by the Greeks for this very animal.


Human tribe descended from EPAPHOS & GAIA (Hesiod Catalogues Frag 40A)


Greek Name








Latin Spelling





(hemi-, kyôn)

(kyôn, prosôpos)

(kyôn, molgos)


Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 40A (from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1358) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"[The Boreades pursued the Harpyiai (Harpies)] to the lands of the Massagetai and of the proud Hemikunes (Hemicynes) (Half-Dog Men), of the Katoudaioi (Catoudaei) (Underground-Folk) . . . Huge Gaia (Gaea, the Earth) bare these to Epaphos . . . Aithiopes (Ethiopians) and Libys (Libyans)." [N.B. Gaia was the mother by Epaphos of all the tribes of Africa.]

Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 44 :
"No one would accuse Hesiod of ignorance though he speaks of the Hemikunes (Hemicynes) (Half-Dog People) and the Makrokephaloi (Macrocephali) (Great-Headed People) and the Pygmaioi (Pygmies)."

Herodotus, Histories 4. 191. 3 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"For the eastern region of Libya, which the Nomads inhabit, is low-lying and sandy as far as the Triton river; but the land west of this, where the farmers live, is exceedingly mountainous and wooded and full of wild beasts. In that country are the huge snakes and the lions, and the elephants and bears and asps, the horned asses, the Kunokephaloi (Cynocephali) (Dog-Headed) and the Headless Men that have their eyes in their chests, as the Libyans say, and the wild men and women, besides many other creatures not fabulous."

Ctesias, Indica Fragment (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 72) (trans. Freese) (Greek historian C4th B.C.) :
"On these [the Indian] mountains there live men with the head of a dog, whose clothing is the skin of wild beasts. They speak no language, but bark like dogs, and in this manner make themselves understood by each other. Their teeth are larger than those of dogs, their nails like those of these animals, but longer and rounder. They inhabit the mountains as far as the river Indos. Their complexion is swarthy. They are extremely just, like the rest of the Indians with whom they associate. They understand the Indian language but are unable to converse, only barking or making signs with their hands and fingers by way of reply, like the deaf and dumb. They are called by the Indians Kalystrii, in Greek Kynocephaloi (Cynocephali) (Dog-Headed). They live on raw meat and number about 120,000 . . .
The Kynokephaloi living on the mountains do not practise any trade but live by hunting. When they have killed an animal they roast it in the sun. They also rear numbers of sheep, goats, and asses, drinking the milk of the sheep and whey made from it. They eat the fruit of the Siptakhora (Siptachora), whence amber is procured, since it is sweet. They also dry it and keep it in baskets, as the Greeks keep their dried grapes. They make rafts which they load with this fruit together with well-cleaned purple flowers and 260 talents of amber, with the same quantity of the purple dye, and 1000 additional talents of amber, which they send annually to the king of India. They exchange the rest for bread, flour, and cotton stuffs with the Indians, from whom they also buy swords for hunting wild beasts, bows, and arrows, being very skilful in drawing the bow and hurling the spear. They cannot be defeated in war, since they inhabit lofty and inaccessible mountains. Every five years the king sends them a present of 300,000 bows, as many spears, 120,000 shields, and 50,000 swords.
They do not live in houses, but in caves. They set out for the chase with bows and spears, and as they are very swift of foot, they pursue and soon overtake their quarry. The women have a bath once a month, the men do not have a bath at all, but only wash their hands. They anoint themselves three times a month with oil made from milk and wipe themselves with skins. The clothes of men and women alike are not skins with the hair on, but skins tanned and very fine. The richest wear linen clothes, but they are few in number. They have no beds, but sleep on leaves or grass. He who possesses the greatest number of sheep is considered the richest, and so in regard to their other possessions. All, both men and women, have tails above their hips, like dogs, but longer and more hairy. They are just, and live longer than any other men, 170, sometimes 200 years."

Aelian, On Animals 4. 46 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
"In the same part of India as the [crimson-dye] beetles, are born the Kynokephaloi (Cynocephali) (Dog-Heads), as they are called--a name which they owe to their physical appearance and nature. For the rest they are of human shape and go about clothes in the skins of beasts; and they are upright and injure no man; and though they have no speech they howl; yet they understand the Indian language. Wild animals are their food, and they catch them with the utmost ease, for they are exceedingly swift of foot; and when they have caught them they kill and cook them, not over a fire but by exposing them to the sun's heat after they have shredded them into pieces. They also keep goats and sheep, and while their food is the flesh of wild beasts, their drink is the milk of the animals they keep. I have mentioned them along with brute beasts, as is logical, for their speech is inarticulate, unintelligible, and not that of man."

Aelian, On Animals 10. 25 :
"After traversing the Egyptian oasis one is confronted for seven whole days with utter desert. Beyond this live the human Kynoprosopoi (Cynoprosopi) (Dog-Faces) along the road that leads to Aithiopia (Ethiopia). It seems that these creatures live by hunting gazelles and antelopes; further, they are black in appearance, and they have the head and teeth of a dog. And since they resemble this animal, it is very natural that I should mention them here [in a book on Animals]. They are however not endowed with speech, but utter a shrill squeal. Beneath their chin hangs down a beard; we may compare it with the beards of Drakones (Serpents), and strong and very sharp nails cover their hands. Their whole body is covered with hair--another respect in which they resemble dogs. They are very swift of foot and know the regions that are inaccessible: that is why they appear so hard to capture."

Aelian, On Animals 10. 30 :
"It occurs to me now to mention the following additional facts relating to Kynokephaloi (Cynocephali). If a Kynokephalos finds some edible object with a shell on it (I mean almonds, acorns, nuts) its strips the shell off and cleans it out, after first breaking it most intelligently, and it knows that the contents are good to eat but that the outside is to be thrown away. And it will drink whine, and if boiled or cooked meat is served to it, it will eat its fill; and it likes well-seasoned food, but food boiled without any care it dislikes. If it wears clothes, it is careful of them; and it does everything else that I have described. If you put it while still tiny to a woman's breast, it will suck the milk like a baby." [N.B. This passage is probably derived from travellers' accounts of baboons.]

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 6. 194 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
"On the African side [of the Ethiopian kingdom of Meroe] are the Medimni, and then a Nomad tribe that lives on the milk of the Dog-Faced Baboon (Cynocephali), the Alabi, and the Syrbotae who are said to be 12 feet high."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 6. 195 :
"Then come regions [of Africa] that are purely imaginary : towards the west [of the Ethiopian kingdom of Meroe] are . . . the Cynamolgi (Dog-Milkers), who have dogs' heads."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7. 23 :
"Megasthenes [a Greek historian C4th B.C.] states that . . . [in the Indian] mountains there is a tribe of human beings with dogs' heads, who wear a covering of wild beasts skins, whose speech is a bark and who live on the produce of hunting and fowling, for which they sue their nails as weapons; he says that they numbered more than 120,000 when he published his work."






A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.