Mythical Monsters

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Shawna Knighton:
The Anaconda, in regard to which so much myth and superstition prevails among the Indians of Brazil, is thus spoken of by Condamine, in his Travels in South America. "The most rare and singular of all is a large amphibious serpent from twenty-five to thirty feet long and more than a foot thick, according to report. It is called Jacumama, or 'the mother of the waters,' by the Americans of Maynas,

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and commonly inhabits the large lakes formed by the river-water after flood." *

Ulloa, also, in his Voyage to South America, † says: In the countries watered by that vast river (the Maranon) is bred a serpent of a frightful magnitude, and of a most deleterious nature. Some, in order to give an idea of its largeness, affirm that it will swallow any beast whole, and that this has been the miserable end of many a man. But what seems still a greater wonder is the attractive quality attributed to its breath, ‡ which irresistibly draws any creature to it which happens to be within the sphere of its attraction. The Indians call it Jacumama, i.e. 'mother of water'; for, as it delights in lakes and marshy places, it may in some sense be considered as amphibious. I have taken a great deal of pains to inquire into this particular, and all I can say is that the reptile's magnitude is really surprising."

John Nieuhoff, in his Voyages to Brazil, § speaking of the serpent Guaku or Liboya, says: "It is questionless the biggest of all serpents, some being eighteen, twenty-four, nay thirty feet long, and of the thickness of a man in his middle. The Portuguese call it Kobra Detrado, or the roebuck serpent, because it will swallow a whole roebuck, or any other deer it meets with; after they have swallowed such a deer, they fall asleep, and so are catched. Such a one I saw at Paraiba, which was thirty feet long, and as big as a barrel. This serpent, being a very devouring creature, greedy of prey, leaps from amongst the hedges and woods, and standing upright upon its tail, wrestles both with men and wild

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beasts; sometimes it leaps from the trees upon the traveller, whom it fastens upon, and beats the breath out of his body with its tail."

The largest (water boa) ever met with by a European appears to be that described by a botanist, Dr. Gardiner, in his Travels in Brazil. It had devoured a horse, and was found dead, entangled in the branches of a tree overhanging a river, into which it had been carried by a flood; it was nearly forty feet long.

Shawna Knighton:

FIG. 35.—EGYPTIAN FOUR-WINGED SERPENT, CHANUPHIS, OR BAIT. (From “Serpent Myths of Ancient Egypt,” by W. R. Cooper.)

Shawna Knighton:
Winged Serpents.
The next section relates to winged serpents, a belief in which was prevalent in early ages, and is strongly supported by several independent works.

To my mind, Herodotus speaks without the slightest doubt upon the subject in the following passages. "Arabia * is the last of inhabited lands towards the south, and it is the only country which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, and ledanum." "The frankincense they procure by means of the gum styrax, which the Greeks get from the Phœnicians. This they burn, and thereby obtain the spice; for the trees which bear the frankincense are guarded by

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winged serpents, small in size, and of various colours, whereof vast numbers hang about every tree. They are of the same kind as the serpents that invade Egypt, and there is nothing but the smoke of the styrax which will drive them from the trees."

Shawna Knighton:


Shawna Knighton:
Again, * "the Arabians say that the whole world would swarm with these serpents, if they were not kept in check, in the way in which I know that vipers are." "Now, with respect to the vipers and the winged snakes of Arabia, if they increased as fast as their nature would allow, impossible were it for man to maintain himself upon the earth. Accordingly, it is found that when the male and female come together, at the very moment of impregnation, the female seizes the male by the neck, and having once fastened cannot be brought to leave go till she has bit the neck entirely through, and so the male perishes; but after a while he is avenged upon the female by means of the young, which, while still unborn, gnaw a passage through the womb and then through the belly of their mother. Contrariwise, other snakes, which are harmless, lay eggs and hatch a vast number of young. Vipers are found in all parts of the world, but the winged serpents are nowhere seen except in Arabia, where they are all congregated together; this makes them appear so numerous."

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Herodotus had so far interested himself in ascertaining the probability of their existence as to visit Arabia for the purpose of inquiry; he says, * "I went once to a certain place in Arabia, almost exactly opposite the city of Buto, to make inquiries concerning the winged serpents. On my arrival I saw the back-bones and ribs of serpents in such numbers as it is impossible to describe; of the ribs there were a multitude of heaps, some great, some small, some middle-sized. The place where the bones lie is at the entrance of a narrow gorge between steep mountains, which there open upon a spacious plain communicating with the great plains of Egypt. The story goes, that with the spring the snakes come flying from Arabia towards Egypt, but are met in this gorge by the birds called ibises, who forbid their entrance and destroy them all. The Arabians assert, and the Egyptians also admit, that it is on account of the service thus rendered that the Egyptians hold the ibis in so much reverence." He further † describes the winged serpent as being shaped like the water-snake, and states that its wings are not feathered, but resemble very closely those of the bat.


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