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3 January 2010

Monday's Word

I haven't had a 'Mondays word for a couple of weeks, owing to Christmas and New Years posts taking precidence, however with the festivities over, I will once more wish everyone a joyous 2010 and get back to the 'usual format'.

As a fantasy/futuristic writer, I enjoy coming up with weird animals, especially if they have something about them that Earth bound readrs can recognise, without having to stretch their credulity too far. Of course there is a rich source of fabulous and mythical animals in literature and legends and I was interested in this creature which popped up in Michael Quinion's 'World Wide Words' this week, the manticore. The name can be traced back to an Old Persian word meaning a man-eater, and first appeared in English in John Trevisa's text. This is what else he has to say about it:

"This mythical beast is a favourite villain in fantasy stories and games, so much so that it is surely more widely known today than it has ever been. As one example, Harry Potter fans will know thatHagrid bred those nasty blast-ended skrewts from manticores.

The manticore was first mentioned in classical Greek writings 2,500 years ago, which reported rumours from the east. This is the way it was described in a famous medieval work by an English writer, which he based on Greek sources:

'It is said, that in India is a beast wonderly shapen, and is like to the bear in body and in hair, and to a man in face. And hath a right red head, and a full great mouth, and an horrible, and in either jaw three rows of teeth distinguished atween. The outer limbs thereof be as it were the outer limbs of a lion, and his tail is like to a wild scorpion, with a sting, and smiteth with hard bristle pricks as a wild swine, and hath an horrible voice, as the voice of a trumpet, and he runneth full
swiftly, and eateth men.'
(De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Order of Things), by Bartholomaeus Anglicus, written about 1240. )"

Apparantly other writers and illustratorshave described the manticore as having wings, or the body of a tiger (which led to his name occasionally being rendered through folk etymology as "mantiger") he has been said to come from Africa as well as India.

All accounts agree that the manticore preyed on human flesh and would devour its victim leaving no trace behind - not a bad cover up for a murder in a fantasy story - at least it would give the poor old dragon a rest from being blamed for every mysterious disappearance!

(Illustration from Medieval Bestiary)

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2009. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org