The father of history, Herodotus, had a very loose filter that often failed to keep out folklore and unfounded rumor from what he considered to be historical fact. Usually, Herodotus’ bits of folklore and myth were fairly tame, like recording a creation myth for a country or telling a questionable story about the historical figures in his book. Herodotus was a religious man, so talk of deities, omens and prophecies was also included in his work. Yet, he rarely spoke about monsters or other supernatural beings, except for the gods. One major exception, however, occurred in Herodotus’ description of ancient Libya.
In book four of The Histories, Herodotus gave a brief description of various Libyan tribes that he had learned of in his travels and studies. He then went on to talk about an undefined group of nomads who lived in what he called eastern Libya. Herodotus wrote that in the east of this region, where the nomads roamed, the land was sandy and relatively flat. To the west, where the nomads refused to wander, the geography was dominated by lush hills that supported an abundance of life. Apparently, there were some strange beings living in the hills of eastern Libya.
This is what Herodotus wrote about the creatures living in this hilly region:
“It is here that the huge snakes are found—and lions, elephants, bears, asps, and horned asses, not to mention dog-headed men, headless men with eyes in their breasts (I merely repeat what the Libyans say), wild men and wild women, and a great many other creatures by no means of a fabulous kind.” (Herodotus, The Histories (Book IV),Penguin Classics, 2002).
Scholars still debate what Herodotus was trying to describe. Some suggest he may have interpreted “dog-headed men” from descriptions of religious figures found in Egypt. Others simply claim that the “wild” people may have been gorillas and that the dog-headed men could have been baboons.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Top picture attribution: (Statue of Anubis in the Vatican Museum, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and Pixabay.com)
- The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt and revised by John Marincola. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.