Home Page Button Syllabus / Policies Button Composition Button Grammar Button Rhetoric Button Rhetoric Button Literature button poetry button classical button medieval button Renaissance Button Vocabulary Button

Monsters and Fabulous Beasts

from Ancient and Medieval Cultures:

ENGLISH 199 STUDENTS: For your annotated bibliography, you will pick one of the monsters below to research. If you wish, I will attach your annotated bibliography as a link to the monster, so that the entire class will have access to your work. Those marked with asterisks are the ones that I suspect will be easiest to research. Those students who wish to submit their bibliographies for the website must send me a copy in electronic format.

Click here for some basic research resources regarding medieval art, literature, history, etc.

(pl. Afriti. Also transliterated "Afreet/Afreeti" and "Efreet/Efreeti") Arabic fire spirit.
(see also Dockalfar and Liosalfar, see Elves): Norse equivalent to Elves.
A two headed venomous serpent
(alias Angka) giant bird
(plural: Anthropophagi) Cannibal humanoids thought to dwell in the East and in Africa.
(See Mermecolion)
a legendary one-eyed Scythian people who would attempt to steal gold from Griffins in order to adorn their hair.
(also spelled Aspidochelone)--a sea-monster, much like a whale, but having a turtle-shell and a snake-like head. Cf. Leviathan. In various translations, rendered cethegrande (Middle English) Cetus (Latin for whale), a grande (literally a "large"), and even a "sea-pig" by one homilist.
Ass Centaur
(alias Onocentaur) A creature with the body of a donkey and the waist, arms, and head of a human placed where the donkey's head should be. They were notorious for drunkeness and debauchery. In one version of the Physiologus, they are used as a symbol of hypocritical churchmen.

(alias a carnard): Medieval bestiaries stated that a species of goose existed that hatched out of barnacles. The French word for a barnacle goose (canard) thus became a common term for any false report.
(Compare with Cockatrice, below): A venomous reptilian creature so lethal it had the power to turn people to stone.
Bean Sidh
(often spelled "Banshee," Irish prophetic spirit)
(Headless men, also spelled Blemmyae)

Caladrius (also spelled Charadrius, see below)
pl. Canocephali (also spelled Cynocephalus): men with the heads of dogs. These dog-headed men were supposed to live somewhere in the East. Purportedly, they sent a delegation to the Pope in Avignon. In some accounts, they are carnivorous, and in others they are vegetarians who model their lives on principles akin to that of Beneditine monks. In many medieval legends, Saint Christopher is a canocephalus.
A fanciful beast with the body of a fish and the head and forelimbs of a goat, precursor to the Zodiac symbol. It may have originated in a Babylonian water-god, Ea, or the Indian myth of the Makara.
cf. Ichthyocentaur (sea-Centaur), Onocentaur (Ass-Centaur), Bucentaur, etc.
Cerberus (classical Greek)
Ch'i Lin (Oriental, see Ki-Lin, below)
Chimera (Greek)
Cinamon Bird (Cinomolgus in bestiaries)
Crocotta, cf. Leucrotta
Cockatrice Resembling a mixture of rooster and serpent, a cockatrice was created when poisonous toad sat upon an abandoned(See Basilisk)
Cyclops. See also Arimaspians
Cynocephali (see Canocephali):

Demon (Judeo-Christian examples: Asmodeus, Belial, Mamman, Grizzel Greediguts, Acheron, Mephistopholes)
Click here for Autumn Roger's bibliography on demons.
Dhampir (Serbian vampire)
(Arabic, also spelled genie) In the Arabian Nights, lived in a rose-domed city called Shadukiam. The oldest genie, by whom they swear, is named Kashkash. Ampharool is the genie who can teach men the secret of flying, according to a medieval grimmoire called The Book of Power.)
(Arabic, female djinn, see djinn)
*Dragon, Western
A fire-breathing reptile of unusual size and ferocity, often with a varying number of legs, sometimes winged. In most versions it either breathes fire, has a venomous bite, gives off noxious fumes, or some combination of these three traits. In Norse and Anglo-Saxon legends, dragons have a lust for gold and often sleep on huge piles of treasure in burial mounds. They are often linked to greed. For instance, the dragon Fafnir was originally a dwarf who killed his brothers to gain access to their treasure, and then over the years of guarding and hoarding his treasure turned into a dragon until Siegmund kills him. In Beowulf, a dragon becomes enraged when a golden cup is stolen from his treasure hoard and he goes on a rampage in King Beowulf's kingdom. In European legends, the dragons often have a taste for the flesh of young virginal princesses, and often have the loathsome habit of bathing in springs or lakes and poisoning these waters with the pollution that comes from their slimy bodies. Cf. Lung, the Oriental Dragon
(cf. Hamaryad, Greek)
*Dwarf (Norse)
Short, stalky beings that resemble European craftsmen. In Norse legends, when the Frost Giant Ymir died, his body turned into the various parts of the universe. The dwarves were the pale maggots that rose from his flesh. They are associated with the earth, both in the sense of hidden treasure or secrets and the sense of decay and death. Any hero that gains a sword from the dwarves in Norse legend is almost certainly going to find the weapon is cursed in some way, and if dwarves discover or create a magical item, it will almost certainly lead to murder.

(Greek, "ship-detaining")--a classical and bestiary fish that can stop a ship going full sail by attaching itself to the hull.
the mother of Monsters (Greek)
*Elf, Irish Tuatha de Dannan, Seelie and Unseelie varieties.
*Elf, Welsh
Ekimmu (Mesopotamian)
A bloodsucking ghost that resembles a pale giant with a bull's head on its shoulders.
Bird of the Hercynian Forest, glows in the dark.
Ettin (Norse)

*Faerie, Fairies
Click here for Annie Gately's student bibliography on faerie beings.
Faun (cf. Satyr)
Fenris Wolf, the (Norse)
Finngálkin Icelandic centaur-like creature that is part man, part horse.
Frost-Giant (Norse)
Fox-Maiden (medieval Japan)
shapeshifting seductresses. One, Jewel Maiden, Tamamo No Mae, fox-maiden who infiltrates Summer Palace of Emperor Toba, the Mikado of Japan. Fox-maidens are masters of illusion, arson, seduction; True reflection appears in water. No direct cognates appear in European medieval lit, though there is Reynard the Fox as a trickster in beast-fables.

*Gargoyle (European architecture)
Garuda (giant bird, cf. Roc, griffin, simurgh, and angka)
Ghul (Arabic, modern Ghoul)
*Giant Cf. Titan (Greek), cf. Frost-Giant (Norse)
Giant Ants of India (Greek legend, described in Herodotus)
*Golem (medieval Hebrew)
Griffin: (also Gryphon, Griffon):
A large predatory composite monster with the wings, forelimbs, and head of an eagle and the hind-parts and tail of a lion. The eagle head also has strange, pointed, upstanding ears.
*Grotesque (architectural monster)
Humorous monster in medieval manuscripts, usually depicted with two legs, a head, a tail, and no body or arms. Often furry or maned.

Hags (Celtic legend)
Hamadryad (see Dryad)
Hengeyokai (Japanese shapeshifter)
Hercynian stag--cf. Unicorn.
Hippogriff (Renaissance invention in Orlando Furioso)
Hsien In Chinese mythology, angelic "feathered folk" with winged or feathered images appearing in Chou art. The book of Chuang-Tzu pictures hsien as white-skinned, delicate superhuman beings: "These are divine persons dwelling there, whose flesh and skin resemble ice and snow, soft and delicate like sequestered girl-children; they do not eat the five cereals; they suck the wind and drink the dew; they mount on clouds and vapors and drive the flying dragons--thus they rove beyond the four seas" (quoted in Schafer 63). See Schafer, Edward H. Ancient China. Great Ages of Man: A History of the World's Cultures. NY: Time Life Books, 1967.
*Hydrus, Hydra

Ichthyocentaur (sea-Centaur) 

Jack-in-the-Green, the

Ki-Lin: Chinese equivalent to the Occidental unicorn. See Unicorn.
Ki-Rin: Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese Ki-Lin

Leshy (Russian forest spirit)
Leviathan (Hebrew sea monster)
Click here for Michael Zibelman's student bibliography on sea-monsters.
Lillith, Mother of Demons (Hebrew) Adam's first wife, before Eve in the Hebrew Midrash tradition.
Click here for Catherine Anne Gunderson's student bibliography on Lillith.
Lilit (pl. Lilitu: Hebrew succubi, the daughters of Lillith
Click here for Catherine Anne Gunderson's student bibliography on Lillith.
*Lung: (Oriental Dragon)
Click here for Jeremiah Mattson's student bibliography on Lung.

Magyr--ugly mermaids with webbed hands, deformed faces, double-chins, and fishy tales reported by Vikings around Greenland.
Malebranche Demon (Dante, Inferno)
Manticore (alias Manticora, Tiger-Lion)
Medusa-snake-haired Gorgon from Greek mythology
Melusinae--Paracelsus' term for water spirits. The name comes from Melusine, a fairy-woman who turned into a half-dragon or a mermaid, depending upon version of the legend.
Mermicolion (Greek, Ant-lion, Latin, Formicoleon)
Midgard Serpent, the (Norse) Sea-monster destined to kill Thor during the final battle of Ragnorok.
Click here for Michael Zibelman's student bibliography on sea-monsters.
*Minotaur, the (Greek)
*Monocerus (see Unicorn)
Monkfish, the
Monopod (alias sciopod or skiapod): One of the oldest versions of the the monopod legend appears in Pliny's Natural Histories, his series of Latin books dealing with the wonders of the biological and geological world. There, he describes how travellers have told him of the monopods, which have a broad-toed foot, with the toes curled upward in a shape reminiscent of a little boat. Their extraordinary method of resting was lying flat on their backs with the single leg straight up in the air like a parasol, protecting them from harsh sun or rain. They travelled by hopping from place to place, and they apparently lived in the antipodes (i.e., the southern hemisphere).
Most mythological critters of this sort were probably transmitted to medieval readers by Isidore of Seville, whose encyclopedic works, the Etymologiae, included a compendium of strange words, creatures, herbs, and gems, discussing their magical properties. Saint Augustine's discussion of them in The City of God also popularized them. The legend did not spread very widely after the Renaissance, but the monopod was resurrected in literature by C. S. Lewis' Christian fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Naming the creatures Dufflepods, he places them on the Island of the Voices, as reported in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Aside from C. S. Lewis' book in English, most of the medieval sources are in Latin, and they are not necessarily widely available in English translation.

Naga (Medieval Hindu water spirit)
Nag-Kanya (fish-tailed maiden in medieval Hindu myth)
Naiad (cf. Mermaid)
Nasir (Arabic)
Nemean Lion, the (Greek)
Ness Monster, (driven off by St. Columba in medieval legend, source of modern Loch Ness monster)

A short-lived Serbian vampire-spirit that arises from the body of a slain spirit. It "lives" in undeath for forty nights, during which time to smears dung on walls, vandalizes property, and tears the udders of cows to drink the mixture of blood and milk. It often appears as a blue ball of light or a shadow. At the end of those forty nights, it will rise as a full-fledged vampire.
huge one-horned beast in the Alexander romance. Takes 1300 soldiers to drag its body it is so huge.
Ogre, the (a specific monster in the French legend)
Ogre, generic (related to Giant)
(see Ass-centaur)

Pan, the deity
Panther of the Fresh Breath (bestiaries)
Pastinaca--gigantic fetid weasel, bigger than an elephant, mentioned in medieval bestiaries.
the demon (Assyrian)
Ethiopian bird with ears like horses. Pliny discusses them. (Not be confused with Pegasus, below)
A winged horse in Greek mythology, often associated with poetry and inspiration. Bellerophon rides the Pegasus in order to fight the Chimera (see above).
Click here for Cassie Sorenson's student bibliography on the phoenix.
enormous, lake-dwelling serpent in Irish legends
Pirobolus, (pl. Piroboli)
male and female burning rocks in the Physiologus.
Pooka (Puka, var. spellings)

Rakasha (Indian)
Roc (alias rukh, ruc) Arabic legend.

*Satyr (cf. Faun)
Sciopod (see Monopod): In classical Greek and Latin, pronounced "Skee-oh-pod," and usually written out with a masculine ending as "Sciopodius." In medieval Latin or "church Latin," it would be pronounced with an initial /s/ sound, as in "See-oh-pod," and medieval writers would usually treat it as a neuter word, so it would end with the neuter ending of "Sciopodium." Take your pick for pronunciation, or if you focus on classical sources, use classical pronunciation, and if you focus on medieval sources, use medieval pronunciation.
Scorpion-men, (Mesopotamian)
Sea-serpent. Cf. Leviathan, Jormandgundr, Tiamat, etc. Olaus Magnus' map of Scandinavia first incorporated them into artwork.
Click here for Michael Zibelman's student bibliography on sea-monsters.
Senmurv--dog-headed, barking eagle in Persian folklore.
Serra--sea-monster based on biological swordfish. In Philippe de Thaun's Bestiary, serra is a bird-lion-fish similar to the Lion-of-the-Sea.
Shang Yang (Oriental)
*Silenus, pl. Sileni
Simurgh (giant bird)
face and breasts of a woman, but bodies ending in either bird-like or fish-like shape, associated with their moon. Their sweet singing lured men to leap overboard and drown, and then the Sirens would devour their bodies. Thought to be daughters in Classical mythology of the river-god Achelous, transformed into semi-human form because of their pride in their own beauty.
Icelandic analogue to basilisk (see above). It could only be killed by the sight of another of its kind in early Icelandic legend. In later versions, it was believed that a silver bullet or the sign of the cross might also kill it.
Sleipnir, the Horse (Norse)
Odin's fantastic horse, which possesses eight legs and can run as fast as the wind.
Sphinx (Greco-Egyptian)
Stymphalian Birds, the (Greek)
*Succubus (Demonology)
Sun-Lizard (alias "Sun-Eel," Bestiary)

*Tarasque (French)
Tengu (Bird Goblins).
Playfully malicious Oriental spirits thought to plague Buddhist monks with thefts and pranks. They often took the form of crows or kites. "The Tengu road" refers to the path taken by hypocritical priests. They steal children and molest woodcutters in rural regions, but entertain some guests lavishly in their great, gold-roofed palaces. They could take on human forms, but with unusually long, beak-like noses.
T'ien Kou (pronounced tee-en-go):
Celestial dog-spirits. Flying creatures that function as terrifying, meteoric omens of catastrophe in Chinese mythology.
Typhon, the monster (Greek)
Triton, the demi-God (Greek)
*Troll (Norse/Scandinavian)
Click here for Cheyl Haning's student bibliography on trolls.
Turtle-Asp Whale (See Aspidoceleon)

*Unicorn (Western)
Click here for Martine Evan's student bibliography on unicorns.
Urobus Worm (also spelled Ourobus)

*Vampire (eastern Europe)
Vegetable Lamb (Odoric of Pordenone's journal describes it)
Vrykolakas (Greek, vampire)

Werewolf (aka lycanthrope, Le Loup-Garou)
Click here for Aaron Belloni and Jessica Wilcox's student bibliography on werewolves.
Wild-man (see Woose)
Will-of-the-Wisp, the spirit (will o' wisp)
Woose (alias Woot, Wild-man)
Woot (see Woose)
Wyvern (also Wyver):
a heraldic dragon or cockatrice that possesses only two legs, but has wings.

Yale (heraldric, also appears in Pliny).
Hippopotamus-sized creature with black fur, elephant tail, boar-jaws, and movable horns that can point forwards or backwards.
Yllerion (alias Allerion, Ilerion, Ylerion)


To Home Page
Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2017. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated January 11, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.

kwheeler@cn.edu. Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler and Jeremiah Mattson, 1999-2002.