Greek Mythology >> Bestiary >> Legendary Creatures >> Indian Worm (Helmis Indikos)


Greek Name

Ἑλμις Ινδικος


Helmis Indikos

Latin Spelling

Helmis Indicus


Indian Worm

THE HELMIS INDIKOS (Indian Worm) was a breed of gigantic, carnivorous worm native to the River Indos (Indus) in India.


Ctesias, Indica (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 72) (trans. Freese) (Greek historian C4th B.C.) :
"In the river Indos (Indus) a worm is found resembling those which are usually found on fig-trees. Its average length is seven cubits, though some are longer, others shorter. It is so thick that a child ten years old could hardly put his arms round it. It has two teeth, one in the upper and one in the lower jaw. Everything it seizes with these teeth it devours. By day it remains in the mud of the river, but at night it comes out, seizes whatever it comes across, whether ox or camel, drags it into the river, and devours it all except the intestines. It is caught with a large hook baited with a lamb or kid attached by iron chains. After it has been caught, it is hung up for thirty days with vessels placed underneath, into which as much oil from the body drips as would fill ten Attic kotylai. At the end of the thirty days, the worm is thrown away, the vessels of oil are sealed arid taken as a present to the king of India, who alone is allowed to use it. This oil sets everything alight--wood or animals--over which it is poured, and the flame can only be extinguished by throwing a quantity of thick mud on it."

Ctesias, Indica (as summarized in Photius, Myriobiblon 72) :
"In regard to the river Indos (Indus), he [Ctesias] says that, where it is narrowest, it is forty, where it is widest, two hundred stades broad . . . He also mentions a worm found in this river, the only living creature which breeds there. Beyond India there are no countries inhabited by men. It never rains there, the country being watered by the river."

Aelian, On Animals 5. 3 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
"The river Indos (Indus) is devoid of savage creatures; the only thing that is born in it is a Worm, so they say, in appearance like those that are engendered in, and feed upon, timber. But these creatures attain to a length of as much as seven cubits, though one might find specimens both larger and smaller. Their bulk is such that a ten-year old boy could hardly encircle it with his arms. A single tooth is attached to the upper jaw, another to the lower, and both are square and about eighteen inches long; and such is the strength of their teeth that they can crush with the greatest ease anything that they get between them, be it stone, be it animal, tame or wild. During the daytime they live at the bottom of the river, wallowing in mud and slime; for that reason they are not to be seen. But at night they emerge on to the land, and whatever they encounter, whether horse or ox or ass, they crush and then drag down to their haunts and eat it in the river, devouring every member of the animal excepting its paunch. If however they are assailed by hunger during the day as well, and should a camel or an ox be drinking on the bank, they slide furtively up and seizing firmly upon its lips, haul it along with the utmost force and drag it by sheer strength into the water, where they feast upon it. Each one is covered with a hide two fingers thick. The following means have been devised for hunting and capturing them. Men let down a stout, strong hook attached to an iron chain, and to this they fasten a rope of white flax weighing a talent, and they wrap wool round both chain and rope to prevent the worm biting through them. On the hook they fix a lamb or a kid, and then let them sink in the river. As many as thirty men hold on to the rope and each of them ahs a javelin ready to hurl and a sword at his side. Wooden clubs are placed handy, should they need to deal blows, and these are of cornel-wood and very hard. Then when the worm is secured on the hook and has swallowed the bait, the men haul, and having captured it and killed it, hang it up in the sun for thirty days. From the body there drips a thick oil into earthenware vessels; and each worm yields up to ten kotylai [half a pint]. This oil they seal and bring to the Indian King; no one else is permitted to have so much as a drop. The rest of the carcase is of no use. Now the oil has this power: should you wish to burn a pile of wood and to scatter the embers, pour on a kotyle and you will set it alight without previously applying a spark. And if you want to burn a man or an animal, pour some oil over him and at once he is set on fire. With this, they say, the Indian King even takes cities that have risen against him; he does not wait for battering-rams or penthouses or any other siege-engines, for he burns them down and captures them. He fills earthen vessels, each holding one kotyle, with oil, seals them, and slings them from above against the gates. When the vessels touch the embrasures they are dashed into fragments; the oil oozes down; fire pours over the doors, and nothing can quench it. And it burns weapons and fighting men, so tremendous is its force. It is however allayed and put out if piles of rubbish are poured over it. Such is the account given by Ktesias of Knidos (Ctesias of Cnidus)."

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3. 1 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"There is also a creature in this river [Hydroates of India] which resembles a white worm. By melting down they make an oil, and from this oil, it appears, there is given off a flame such that nothing but glass can contain it. And this creature may be caught by the king alone, who utilises it for the capture of cities; for as soon as the fat in question touches the battlements, a fire is kindled which defies all the ordinary means: devised by men against combustibles."





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