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A legendary creature (also known as a ''mythological'', ''mythic'' or ''fabulous'' creature) is a
supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the laws of nature. This term is attributed to non-physical entities, such as angel An angel is a supernatural spiritual being who, according to v ...

supernatural
animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biology), biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals Heterotroph, consume organic material, Cellular respiration#Aerobic respiration, ...

animal
or
paranormal Paranormal events are purported phenomena described in popular culture, Folk culture, folk, and other non-scientific bodies of knowledge, whose existence within these contexts is described as beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. ...
entity Entity may refer to: Computing * Character entity reference, replacement text for a character in HTML or XML * Entity class, a thing of interest within an entity–relationship model or diagram * SGML entity, a primitive data type in Standard Gen ...
, generally a
hybrid Hybrid may refer to: Economics and finance * Hybrid market, a system allowing stock trades to be completed either electronically or manually * Hybrid security, a type of economic instrument Technology Electrical power generation * Hybrid generato ...
, sometimes part
human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligence allowing the use of culture, language and tools. They are the only Extant taxon, ...

human
(such as sirens), whose existence has not or cannot be proven and that is described in
folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition ab ...

folklore
(including
myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually non-humans, such as gods, demigods, and other supernatural figures. ...
s and
legend A legend is a genre of folklore that consists of a narrative featuring human actions perceived or believed both by teller and listeners to have taken place within human history. Narratives in this genre may demonstrate human values, and posses ...

legend
s), but also may be featured in historical accounts before
modernity Modernity, a topic in the humanities and social sciences, is both a historical period (the modern era) and the ensemble of particular socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices that arose in the wake of the Renaissance The Renaissance ...

modernity
. In the classical era, monstrous creatures such as the
Cyclops In Greek mythology and later Roman mythology, the Cyclopes ( ; el, Κύκλωπες, ''Kýklōpes'', "Circle-eyes" or "Round-eyes"; singular Cyclops ; , ''Kýklōps'') are giant one-eyed creatures. Three groups of Cyclopes can be distinguished ...

Cyclops
and the
Minotaur In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklore. These stories concern the Cosmogony, origin and Cosmology#Metaphysical cosmology, nature ...

Minotaur
appear in
hero File:Wilhelm Tell Denkmal Altdorf um 1900.jpeg, upWilliam Tell, a popular folk hero of Switzerland. A hero (heroine in its feminine form) is a real person or a main fictional character who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through f ...
ic tales for the protagonist to destroy. Other creatures, such as the
unicorn The unicorn is a legendary creature A legendary or mythological creature, also called fabulous creature and fabulous beast, is a supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena that are not subject to the laws of nature.htt ...

unicorn
, were claimed in accounts of
natural history Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms, including animals, fungus, fungi, and plants, in their natural environment, leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. A person who studies natural history ...

natural history
by various scholars of antiquity. Some legendary creatures have their origin in traditional
mythology Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually non-humans, such as gods, demigods, and other supernatural figures. ...

mythology
and were believed to be real creatures, for example
dragon A dragon is a large, snake, serpentine, legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Beliefs about dragons vary considerably through regions, but European dragon, dragons in western cultures since the High Midd ...

dragon
s,
griffin The griffin, griffon, or gryphon (Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into ...

griffin
s, and
unicorn The unicorn is a legendary creature A legendary or mythological creature, also called fabulous creature and fabulous beast, is a supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena that are not subject to the laws of nature.htt ...

unicorn
s. Others were based on real encounters, originating in garbled accounts of travelers' tales, such as the
Vegetable Lamb of Tartary The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the pow ...
, which supposedly grew tethered to the earth.


Creatures

A variety of mythical animals appear in the art and stories of the Classical era. For example, in the ''
Odyssey The ''Odyssey'' (; grc, Ὀδύσσεια, Odýsseia, ) is one of two major Ancient Greek literature, ancient Greek Epic poetry, epic poems attributed to Homer. It is one of the oldest extant works of literature still widely read by modern ...
'', monstrous creatures include the
Cyclops In Greek mythology and later Roman mythology, the Cyclopes ( ; el, Κύκλωπες, ''Kýklōpes'', "Circle-eyes" or "Round-eyes"; singular Cyclops ; , ''Kýklōps'') are giant one-eyed creatures. Three groups of Cyclopes can be distinguished ...

Cyclops
,
Scylla tail and dog heads sprouting from her body. Detail from a red-figure bell-crater in the Louvre, 450–425 B.C. This form of Scylla was prevalent in ancient depictions, though very different from the description in Homer, where she is land-based an ...
and
Charybdis Charybdis (; Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: Myce ...

Charybdis
for the hero
Odysseus Odysseus ( ; grc-gre, Ὀδυσσεύς, Ὀδυσεύς, OdysseúsOdyseús, ), also known by the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was orig ...

Odysseus
to confront. In other tales there appear the
Medusa In Greek mythology, Medusa (; Ancient Greek: Μέδουσα "guardian, protectress") also called Gorgo, was one of the three monstrous Gorgons, generally described as winged human females with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those w ...
to be defeated by
Perseus In Greek mythology, Perseus (; grc-gre, Περσεύς, Perseús) is the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty. He was, alongside Cadmus and Bellerophon, the greatest Greek hero and slayer of monsters before the days of Hera ...

Perseus
, the (human/bull)
Minotaur In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklore. These stories concern the Cosmogony, origin and Cosmology#Metaphysical cosmology, nature ...

Minotaur
to be destroyed by
Theseus Theseus (, ; grc-gre, Θησεύς ) was the myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually gods, de ...

Theseus
, and the Hydra to be killed by
Heracles Heracles ( ; grc-gre, Ἡρακλῆς, , glory/fame of Hera Hera (; grc-gre, Ἥρᾱ, ''Hērā''; , ''Hērē'' in Ionic and Homeric Greek) is the goddess of women, marriage, family and childbirth in ancient Greek religion and ...

Heracles
, while
Aeneas In Greco-Roman mythology, Aeneas (, ; from Greek: Αἰνείας, ''Aineíās'') was a Trojan hero, the son of the Trojan prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite (equivalent to the Roman Venus Venus is the second planet from the S ...
battles with the
harpies In Greek mythology and Roman mythology, a wikt:harpy#English, harpy (plural harpies, , ; lat, harpȳia) is a half-human and half-bird personification of storm winds. They feature in Homer, Homeric poems. Descriptions They were generally depi ...
. These monsters thus have the basic function of emphasizing the greatness of the
hero File:Wilhelm Tell Denkmal Altdorf um 1900.jpeg, upWilliam Tell, a popular folk hero of Switzerland. A hero (heroine in its feminine form) is a real person or a main fictional character who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through f ...
es involved. Some classical era creatures, such as the (horse/human)
centaur A centaur ( ; grc, κένταυρος, kéntauros; ), or occasionally hippocentaur, is a creature from Greek mythology with the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse. Centaurs are thought of in many Greek myths as being a ...

centaur
,
chimaera Chimaeras are cartilaginous fish in the order Chimaeriformes , known informally as ghost sharks, rat fish, spookfish, or rabbit fish; the last three names are not to be confused with rattails, Opisthoproctidae, or Siganidae, respectively. A ...
,
Triton Triton commonly refers to: * Triton (mythology), a Greek god * Triton (moon), a satellite of Neptune Triton may also refer to: Biology * Triton cockatoo, a parrot * Triton (gastropod), a group of sea snails * ''Triton'', a synonym of ''Triturus'', ...
and the
flying horse The following is a list of fictional or mythological winged horses. Mythology *The ancient Pegasus is a mythological winged horse. *Devadatta is the winged flying white horse of Kalki in Hinduism. Bestowed by the God Shiva. *The Valkyrie rode w ...

flying horse
, are found also in
Indian art Indian art consists of a variety of art forms, including Indian painting, painting, sculpture in the Indian subcontinent, sculpture, Indian pottery, pottery, and textile arts such as Silk in the Indian subcontinent#Origin, woven silk. Geographica ...

Indian art
. Similarly,
sphinx A sphinx ( , grc, σφίγξ , Aeolic Greek, Boeotian: , plural sphinxes or sphinges) is a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion with the wings of a falcon. In Culture of Greece, Greek tradition, the sphinx has the ...

sphinx
es appear as winged lions in Indian art and the Piasa Bird of North America. In medieval art, animals, both real and mythical, played important roles. These included decorative forms as in medieval jewellery, sometimes with their limbs intricately interlaced. Animal forms were used to add humor or majesty to objects. In
Christian art Christian art is sacred art which uses themes and imagery from Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teac ...
, animals carried symbolic meanings, where for example the lamb symbolized Christ, a dove indicated the
Holy Spirit In Abrahamic religions, the Holy Spirit is an aspect or agent of God in Abrahamic religions, God, by means of which God communicates with people or acts on them. In Judaism, it refers to the divine force, quality, and influence of God over the ...

Holy Spirit
, and the classical
griffin The griffin, griffon, or gryphon (Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into ...

griffin
represented a guardian of the dead. Medieval bestiaries included animals regardless of biological reality; the
basilisk In Europe Europe is a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly regarded as continents. Order ...

basilisk
represented the
devil File:Devils-from-Rila-monastery.jpg, upA fresco detail from the Rila Monastery, in which demons are depicted as having grotesque faces and bodies. A devil is the personification of evil as it is conceived in various cultures and religious tr ...

devil
, while the
manticore The manticore or mantichore (Middle Persian, Early Middle Persian: ; fa, مردخوار ) is a Persian legendary creature similar to the Egyptian sphinx that proliferated in western European medieval art as well. It has the head of a human, the ...

manticore
symbolised temptation.


Allegory

One function of mythical animals in the Middle Ages was allegory. Unicorns, for example, were described as extraordinarily swift and uncatchable by traditional methods.Gravestock, Pamela. "Did Imaginary Animals Exist?" In ''The Mark of the Beast: The Medieval Bestiary in Art, Life, and Literature''. New York: Garland. 1999. It was believed that the only way for one to catch this beast was to lead a virgin to its dwelling. Then, the unicorn was supposed to leap into her lap and go to sleep, at which point a hunter could finally capture it. In terms of symbolism, the unicorn was a metaphor for Christ. Unicorns represented the idea of innocence and purity. In the
King James Bible The King James Version (KJV), also the King James Bible (KJB) and the Authorized Version, is an English translation English usually refers to: * English language * English people English may also refer to: Peoples, culture, and langu ...

King James Bible
, Psalm 92:10 states, "My horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn." This is because the translators of the King James erroneously translated the Hebrew word
re'em Detail of a former floor mosaic dating from year 1213, Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista, Ravenna. A re'em, also reëm ( he, רְאֵם), is an animal mentioned nine times in the Hebrew Bible The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (; Hebrew: , or ), ...
as unicorn. Later versions translate this as wild ox.J. L. Schrader. ''The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin'', New Series, Vol. 44, No. 1, "A Medieval Bestiary" (Summer, 1986), pp. 1+12–55, 17. The unicorn's small size signifies the humility of Christ. Another common legendary creature which served allegorical functions within the Middle Ages was the
dragon A dragon is a large, snake, serpentine, legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Beliefs about dragons vary considerably through regions, but European dragon, dragons in western cultures since the High Midd ...

dragon
. Dragons were identified with serpents, though their attributes were greatly intensified. The dragon was supposed to have been larger than all other animals. It was believed that the dragon had no harmful poison but was able to slay anything it embraced without any need for venom. Biblical scriptures speak of the dragon in reference to the devil, and they were used to denote sin in general during the Middle Ages. Dragons were said to have dwelled in places like Ethiopia and India, based on the idea that there was always heat present in these locations. Physical detail was not the central focus of the artists depicting such animals, and medieval bestiaries were not conceived as biological categorizations. Creatures like the unicorn and
griffin The griffin, griffon, or gryphon (Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into ...

griffin
were not categorized in a separate "mythological" section in medieval bestiaries,Flores, Nona C., "The Mirror of Nature Distorted: The Medieval Artist's Dilemma in Depicting Animals". In ''The Medieval World of Nature''. New York: Garland. 1993. as the symbolic implications were of primary importance. Animals we know to have existed were still presented with a fantastical approach. It seems the religious and moral implications of animals were far more significant than matching a physical likeness in these renderings. Nona C. Flores explains, "By the tenth century, artists were increasingly bound by allegorical interpretation, and abandoned naturalistic depictions."


See also

*
Non-physical entity In ontology Ontology is the branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind ...
* Lists of legendary creatures *
List of legendary creatures by type This is a list of legendary creatures from mythology, folklore and fairy tales, sorted by their classification or affiliation. Creatures from modern fantasy fiction and role-playing games are not included. Animals, creatures associated with Aqua ...
* Fearsome critters *
List of cryptids This is a list of cryptids, which are animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biology), biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals Heterotroph, consume organic ...


References


External links

{{Authority control Mythological archetypes