THE THERES AITHIOPIKOI and THERES LIBYES were the wild beasts of Africa as described by ancient writers. They included both common animals-such as lions, elephants and camels--as well as fantastic creatures like dragons, pegasi, catoblopones and leucrocottai.
LIST OF NORMAL ANIMALS
ELEPHANTOS Elephants were well-known in the ancient world especially the now extinct sub-species once found in Mauretania (North-West Africa).
HIPPOPOTAMOS The hippopotami of the Egyptian Nile were well known to the ancient Greeks.
HYAINA Hyenas were sighted by the Greeks in North Africa but descriptions of their habits were quite fanciful. (See below.)
KAMELOPARDALIS Giraffes, the semi-legendary "camel-leopards", were only known to the ancients from fanciful travellers' tales prior to the introduction of a captive specimen in the Roman Circus.
KROKODILOS The crocodiles of Egypt's Nile were well known to the ancient Greeks.
LEON Lions were once native to ancient Greece itself, as well as Asia Minor, the Middle East and North Africa.
PARDALIS Leopards were native to ancient Greece itself, Asia Minor, the Middle East and Africa.
RHINOKEROTOS Rhinoceroses, the semi-legendary "Nose-Horns", were known to the ancients only from fanciful travellers' tales prior to the introduction of a specimens at the Roman Circus.
LIST OF FANTASTIC CREATURES
AMPHISBAINA (Amphisbaena) A fabulous two-headed serpent, one at each end of the body.
BASILISKOS (Basilisk) A deadly serpent whose touch alone could kill plant, animal or man.
DRAKON AITHIOPIKOS (Ethiopian Dragon) A gigantic dragon-serpent which hunted the African elephant.
EALE (Yale) A strange beast the size of a hippo with movable horns and boar's tusks.
KATOBLEPS (Catoblepas) A heavy-headed hoofed animal whose gaze and noxious breath was deadly to both animals and men.
LEUKROKOTTAS (Leucrocotta) A hoofed animal whose mouth was lined with a vice-like, bony plate in place of teeth and which could imitate the voices of men.
MARTIKHORAS (Manticore) A strange leonine animals with the face of a man and a spiky, missile-firing tail.
ONOKENTAUROS (Onocentaur) The donkey-centaur, a creature which had the hybrid features of a man and an ass.
PEGASOS AITHIOPIKOS (Ethiopian Pegasus) A winged African horse with a single horn extending from its forehead.
SPHINX AITHIOPIKOS (Ethiopian Sphinx) A part-lion, part-woman beast native to Aithiopia.
TAUROS AITHIOPIKOS (Ethiopian Bull) A species of bull whose red hide was impervious to weapons.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
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."
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."
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 (Giraffe); 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.’"
- Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - 3rd A.D.
- Pliny the Elder, Natural History - Latin Encyclopedia C1st A.D.
See the individual creature pages.