biblio-excerptise:   a book unexamined is not worth having

The Book of Imaginary Beings

Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero and Norman Thomas Di Giovanni (trans.)

Borges, Jorge Luis; Margarita Guerrero; Norman Thomas Di Giovanni (trans.);

The Book of Imaginary Beings [Spanish: Manual de zoología fantástica]

Dutton, 1979, 256 pages

ISBN 0525475389, 9780525475385

topics: |  fiction | latin-america | argentina | classic

120 mythical beasts from folklore and literature.
From wikipedia: - also includes creatures like The Alicanto - (a mine shaft
dwelling bird that feeds upon gold), which does not appear here.

Á Bao A Qu - A creature that lives on the staircase of the Tower of Victory
  in Chitor. It may only move when a traveler climbs the staircase, and it
  follows close at the person's heels. Its form becomes more complete the
  closer it gets to the terrace at the tower's top. It can only achieve this
  ultimate form if the traveler has obtained Nirvana, otherwise it finds
  itself unable to continue.  It is unclear if this Chitor is in Rajasthan,
  but the source is given as On Malay Witchcraft, by C. C. Iturvuru 1937
Abtu and Anet - Two identical fish that, according to Egyptian legend, swam
  in front of the prow of the sun god Ra's ship on the lookout for danger.
The Amphisbaena - A two-headed snake, with one head being where its tail
  would normally be. It is venomous and, if chopped in half, its two parts
  can reunite.
An Animal Imagined by Kafka - A kangaroo-like animal with a flat,
  human-like face and a very long tail.
Singing Beast Imagined by C. S. Lewis - An animal that sits upon its
  haunches like a dog, but appears more like a horse. Its toes are
  camel-like, and, unable to produce its own milk, it raises its young by
  weaning them on the milk of other animals. It has an entrancing call that
  sounds almost like a glorious song. (from Perelandra)
An Animal Imagined by Poe - A small, flat animal with pure white fur and
  bright red claws and teeth. Its head is feline, except for its canine-like
Animals in the Form of Spheres - At the time of its writing, some believed
  that planets and stars were actually living beings, and that the movement
  of the heavenly bodies was voluntary.
Antelopes with Six Legs - According to Siberian myth, these six-legged
  antelopes were far too fast for human beings to catch. A divine huntsman,
  Tunk-poj, cut off the animal's rear-most legs to make the animal easier for
  humans to hunt.
The Ass with Three Legs - This massive creature is said to stand in the
  middle of the ocean. It has three legs, six eyes, nine mouths, and one
  golden horn.
Axehandle Hound
Bahamut - A huge, measureless fish which is often used to describe the
  spaces between heaven, earth, and hell.
Baldanders - Also known as Soon-Another's, these creatures can assume many
  shapes. It appears to have a human head and torso, the tail of a fish, the
  leg of a goat, and the wings and claws of a bird.
The Banshee - The "woman of the fairies" does not have a distinct shape,
  but is instead described by her keening wails.
Barometz - This "animal" is actually a plant in the shape of a lamb with
  golden fleece.
Basilisk - The basilisk's appearance has changed over the ages, but it is
  most often considered a chicken-like serpent with anywhere from four to
  eight legs. It is extremely venomous, and its gaze can turn anyone into
Behemoth - A massive creature that is often likened to an elephant or
Brownies - Small brown colored men that often visit homes while the
  inhabitants are asleep to perform various chores.
Burak - A horse-like creature with long ears and the wings and tail of a
  peacock. It may also have a man's face.
The Calchona- A creature resembling a shaggy white Newfoundland dog,
  bearded like a billy goat, which attacks mountain travelers.
Carbuncle - This creature was alleged to be seen in Latin America. Legends
  say the Carbuncle has some sort of jewel on its head.
Catoblepas - Described as a black buffalo with a hog's head, this
  creature's head is so heavy that it constantly hangs low to the ground. It
  is also believed that, like the basilisk, looking into its eyes will kill
  you instantly.
Celestial Cock - The Celestial Cock, also known as the Cock of Dawn, has
  three legs and makes its home in the Fu-sang tree, a mile-tall tree that
  grows in "the region of dawn." It is said to crow three times each day:
  once at dawn, once at midday and once when the sun sets.
Celestial Horse - A winged, white dog with a black head.
Celestial Stag - No one has ever seen a Celestial Stag. They live in
  underground mines, searching for the light of day. They will attempt to
  bribe, speak to, and even torture miners in their quest to reach the
  surface, where they turn into a deadly liquid form.
Centaur - A well-known beast with the torso of a man and the hindquarters
  of a horse. Most are portrayed as savage beasts, but others can be well
  learned in many arts.
Cerberus - A three-headed dog known to guard the gates of the underworld in
  Greek mythology.
The Cheshire Cat - A rather mischievous cat with a large, grinning face. It
  can also make itself invisible, leaving behind only its disembodied smile.
The Chimera - Although it may have several different forms, the chimera is
  most often described as a three-headed beast. Sprouting from its back is
  the head of a goat, a lion's head at its front, and a snake's head as its
The Chinese Dragon - Compared to the Western Dragon, this dragon is
  considered divine and holy. It is often seen with antler-like horns and
  protrusions running along its spine. The Chinese dragon is often pictured
  with a pearl: the source of its power.
The Chinese Fox - These foxes appear like average foxes, but may sometimes
  be seen standing on their hind legs to walk. They presumably live about a
  thousand years, and are bad omens for their mischievous ways. They are
  known to shapeshift and are able to see into the future.
The Chinese Phoenix - Two basic creatures are described as a symbol of
  eternal love: the male Feng and the female Huang. They are described as
  very beautiful birds similar to a peacock, have three legs, and live in the
Ch'ou-T'i - A legendary Chinese creature with a head both front and back.
Chronos or Heracles - This dragon-like creature is often known by two
  names. Like the chimera, it is made of three heads: a bull's head at its
  front, a god's head at its middle, and a lion's head at its rear.
The Denizens of Ch'uan-T'ou - Creatures with human heads, beaks, and bat
An Insect Imagined by C. S. Lewis - A strange, jointed insect consisting of
  a cylindrical body and many thin legs.
Crocotta and the Leucrocotta - The crocotta is described as a hybrid of a
  dog and a wolf, and may be able to imitate the voice of a person. The
  leucrocotta is similar, but described as an antelope and hyena hybrid.
A Crossbreed - An animal described by Kafka in "Description of a Struggle"
  that is half cat and half lamb. Its fur is woolly and soft, yet it has a
  cat's face and claws. It does not make any sounds, and refuses to chase
  after rats.
Dopplegänger - Also known as the Double, the Dopplegänger is best described
  as a man's exact counterpart.
Eastern Dragon - Quite similar to the Chinese dragon of the same region,
  the Eastern dragon takes roughly the same form, but may be lacking
  wings. The pearl is also the source of its power, and they can make
  themselves invisible if they so wish.
Eater of the Dead - Most commonly associated with Egyptian myth, the Eater
  attends to the "wicked". It is described as having the head of a crocodile,
  the midsection of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippo.
Eight-Forked Serpent - A massive serpent with eight heads and eight
  tails. Its eyes are a deep red, and trees are said to grow along its back.
The Elephant That Foretold the Birth of the Buddha - A white elephant with
  six tusks that appeared in a dream to, as its namesake suggests, foretell
  the birth of Buddha.
The Eloi and the Morlocks - In the future, it is suggested that humans
  evolve (or devolve) into two distinct species. The Eloi are thin and
  fragile artisans, living on fruits. The Morlocks are blind laborers, living
  underground and rising to the surface on moonless nights to feed on the
Elves - Little is known about the actual appearance of elves, but they seem
  to be very small people. They are known for causing all sorts of mischief,
  such as tangling hair and stealing cattle.
An Experimental Account of What Was Known, Seen, and Met by Mrs. Jane Lead
  in London in 1694 - A mysterious creature that lives in the world of
  Bliss. All sounds, sights, and smells to this creature appear sweet, like
  a gift "sometimes granted the Child". [from Jane Lead's The Wonders of
  God's Creation Manifested in the Variety of Eight]
The Fairies - Fairies are described as beautiful, tiny people that like to
  meddle in the affairs of humans.
Fastitocalon - A massive whale that many sailors often mistake for an
Fauna of Mirrors - It was believed that another world existed behind all
  mirrors, inhabited by a wide amount of unknown and strange
  creatures. Luckily, our worlds are now cut off from one another.
Garuda - This beast is the mount of the god Vishnu. It is half man and half
  vulture, with a white face, deep red wings, and a golden body.
Gillygaloo - A bird which nests on mountain slopes and lays square eggs,
  which lumberjacks use as dice.
Goofang - A fish( "about the size of a sunfish but much bigger") which swims
  backwards to keep the water out of its eyes.
Goofus Bird - A bird that builds its nest upside down and flies backwards.
Gnomes - Sprites of the earth and hills, gnomes are often shown as bearded
  dwarves, often with rough features. They often watch over treasure as well.
Golem - This creature was created for the purpose of doing menial chores,
  and was controlled by a magic tablet placed under its tongue. Normally
  apathetic and unaware, if uncontrolled the creature enters a wild frenzy.
Griffon - The griffon is best described as an eagle with the body of a
  lion, and it is very strong.
Haniel, Kafziel, Azriel, and Aniel - Sometimes referred to as angels, these
  four beasts also possessed four faces: a man's, a lion's, an ox's, and an
  eagle's. They also possessed four wings.
Haokah, the Thunder God - He appears as a man with large antlers, using the
  wind to beat his thunder drum.
Harpies - Creatures with a vulture's body, a woman's face, and an
  insatiable hunger. They are described as having filthy genitalia and a foul
  smell about them.
Heavenly Cock - Also known as the Bird of Dawn, this Chinese rooster has
  three legs and crows three times a day, to signal dawn, noon, and dusk.
Hide - A many-eyed octopus-like creature shaped like an animal's hide.
Hippogriff- A creature invented by Ludovico Ariosto in the 16th century in
  his epic Orlando Furioso, based on an expression of Virgil's denoting the
  impossible, "to cross griffons with horses"; the griffon [see above] being
  a cross between a lion and an eagle believed by Virgil's commentator
  Servius to loathe horses.
Hochigan- A long-ago bushman who stole the animals' gift of speech. Borges
  links this to Descartes' idea that monkeys stay silent to avoid having to
  work, and to a story by Argentinian author Lugones about a chimpanzee
  killed by the strain of learning to talk.
Hsiao - An owl-like creature with a man's face, an ape's body, and a dog's
Hsing-T'ien - A headless creature with eyes on its chest and its mouth on
  its belly.
Hua-Fish - A flying snake-fish that foretells drought.
Huallepen - A swift-moving dog with a human head, which laughs maliciously.
Hui - An amphibious sheep-like animal, which can mate with cows to produce
  deformed offspring; if a pregnant woman sees one, her child will also be
Humbaba- A giant in the Assyrian epic Gilgamesh that guards mountain
  cedars, he is scaly, with vulture claws, lion paws, bull's horns and a tail
  and penis with snakes' heads at the ends. Men-scorpions from the poem,
  which guard the mountain Mashu, are also mentioned.
Hundred-Heads - The hundred heads was said to be a gigantic fish with many
  heads, each one that of a different animal. Legend holds that the fish was
  the reincarnated spirit of a monk who had often called others "monkey-head"
  or something similar. The karma of these insults had made him return as a
The Hydra of Lernaea
Ichthyocentaur - from the waist up, this creature has the form of a man,
  but below the waist they have the fins and tail of a fish. Their forefeet
  are either in the form of a lion's or a horse's.
Jewish Demons- In Jewish tradition the world between those of the body and
  spirit is that of angels and devils, densely populated and including
  creatures from many other cultures. One of the devils is Keteb Mereri, Lord
  of the Noontide and of Scorching Summers.
Jinn- One of the three kinds of intelligent creatures created by Allah in
  Muslim tradition, Jinn are formed from fire, have five orders, can be good
  or evil and of either sex and can appear as clouds or in various forms or
  be invisible. Borges mentions various legends about them, as well as Victor
  Hugo's poem "Les Djinns", and the possible link between the Latin genius
  and Jinn.
Kami - this beast is said to be a giant cat-fish that lives beneath the
  surface of the earth, and causes earthquakes with its movements.
the Kilkenny Cats - These cats often fight with each other, devouring
  everything but the other's tail.
A King of Fire and his Steed - These were beings formed completely of the
  constantly changing flames of fire.
Kujata - A giant bull with thousands of eyes, nostrils, mouths, and feet,
  which helps to support the world (perched atop Bahamut).
The Lamed Wufniks - there are precisely thirty-six Lamed Wufniks in
  existence. It is said that, without knowing it, they support the universe
  and affirm god. If one comes to realize their purpose, they immediately die
  and are replaced by another unsuspecting man.
Lamia - Half woman and half serpent, these creatures are said to have
  sprung from one of Zeus's varied love interests. They are thought to be
  sorceresses, and although they cannot speak they whistle sweetly.
Laudatores Temporis Acti
Lemuri - The Lemuri were the souls of the evil dead, created by Romulus to
  subdue the restless spirit of his brother Remus.
The Leveler - Reputed to live on the planet Neptune, this creature is 10
  times the size of an elephant, and looks quite a bit like it. Its most
  remarkable features are its conical legs (which are flat on the
  bottom). Bricklayers employ the leveler to flatten hilly areas for
  construction projects. It is herbivorous and has few enemies.
Lilith- A woman created before Eve, according to a Hebrew document. Dante
  Gabriel Rossetti imagined her as a snake in Eden Bower and the similarity
  of her name with the Hebrew layil or night produced the Middle Age idea of
  her as a creature of the night.
The Lunar Hare- Ideas of the shapes seen in the moon range include the
  English "man in the moon", the legend of Cain eternally carrying thorns
  there, and the Chinese legend of the Lunar Hare: It jumped into a fire to
  feed the Buddha, who sent its soul to the moon, where it mixes the elixir
  of life.
Mermecolion - An ant/lion hybrid which inevitably starves because it cannot
  eat either meat or grains, although its lion half craves the former and its
  ant half craves the latter.
The Monkey of the Inkpot- an extract from Wang Tai-Hai describes a small
  creature with black fur and scarlet eyes that sits by writers and drinks
  their leftover ink.
The Monster Acheron-A giant, taller than a mountain, with three mouths and
  all of Hell in his stomach, described in the Vision of Tundale.
The Mother of Tortoises-A giant tortoise made of water and fire, on whose
  shell is written the "Universal Rule", a divine treatise.
Musical Serpent - A four-winged serpent which makes sounds similar to those
  of the "Musical Stone".
Naga - a half human half snake creature
Nasnas - A creature shaped like half a man, with one leg, one arm, one eye,
  and half a heart.
The Norns
The Nymphs
An Offspring of Leviathan - A creature of medieval legend, "a dragon that
  was half beast and half fish".
Ocean Men - Merman-like creatures of Chinese legend, who cause storms.
One-Eyed Beings
The Ouroboros
The Panther
The Phoenix
Ping Feng - A black pig with a head at each end.
Pinnacle Grouse - Has only one wing, and flies in a continuous circle
  around the top of a mountain.
Pygmies- 27-inch dwarfs mentioned by Pliny and Aristotle who inhabited the
  mountains beyond India, waging war on the cranes that attacked them for
  three months a year. The Carthaginians also had a god called Pygmy who was
  used as figurhead on warships.
Queer Arm People -People with a single arm and three eyes, who build flying
The Rain Bird -Also called the shang yang, this bird creates rain by
  carrying water from rivers in its beak.
Roperite-A pony-sized animal which uses its lariat-like beak to ensnare
The Satyrs
The Sea Horse -An aquatic horse, which sometimes surfaces to mate with land
The Shaggy Beast of La Ferte-Bernard
The Sow Harnessed with Chains -Also called the Tin Pig, this creature is
  heard rattling its chains on railroad tracks by night, but is never seen.
Strong Toad-Distinguished from other toads by its turtle-like shell, the
  Strong Toad glows like a firefly, cannot be killed except by burning, and
  can attract or repel anyone nearby with its stare.
Swedenborg's Angels - The perfected souls of the blessed and wise, living
  in a Heaven of ideal things, each reflecting the perfection of this realm.
Swedenborg's Devils - these are people which, after dying, choose to go to
  hell rather than to heaven. They are not happy there, but they are reputed
  to be more content in hell than they would have been in heaven.
The T'ao T'ieh- a dog with one (often monstrous) head attached to two
  bodies, which symbolizes the sins of gluttony and greed.
Thermal Beings- Entities composed solely of heat, from an earlier stage of
  the world's creation.
Ti-chiang -A faceless, supernatural bird with six feet and four wings.
The Tigers of Annam -Tigers who rule over the four cardinal directions,
  with the Yellow Tiger commanding them from the world's center.
The Trolls- Due to the arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia, pagan giants
  were diminished into small, malevolent, stupid, mountain-dwelling
  elves. The Elder Edda states that the giants would cross Bifrost, a great
  rainbow, at the Twilight of the Gods, breaking it with their weight and so
  destroying the world. Trolls figure in Ibsen's Peer Gynt as 'nationalist'
  creatures that view their squalour as luxury and suggest putting out Peer
  Gynt's eyes so he can avoid seeing the ugliness he is confronted with.
Two Metaphysical Beings - Condillac's sensitive statue inhabited by a
  new-formed soul which becomes human through sensory perception (starting
  with smell); a creature that can only sense the outside world through a
  moveable feeler.
The Unicorn of China
Upland Trout-Flying fish which nest in trees and fear water.
The Western Dragon
Youwarkee- The half-bird half-woman heroine of the 1751 novel Peter Wilkins
  by Robert Paltock, Youwarkee is one of the winged glumms that inhabit an
  Antarctic island. Peter Wilkins is a shipwrecked sailor who marries her and
  converts them to Christianity.
Zaratan: The tale of sailors who land on an unknown island which then sinks
  to the sea because it is An enormous fish; Borges lists many legends that
  contain versions of this story - from Sindbad to an Irish legend to a Greek
  bestiary to a Swedish tale, Paradise lost, and then a 9th century arab
  tale, which refutes it, a 13th c. Persian story, and finally the
  Anglo-Saxon Exeter book.

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at] 17 Feb 2009