is a mythical creature
, a kind of chimera
with the head of a man
— often with horns— the body of a lion
and the tail
of a dragon
, which may shoot out venomous spines to incapacitate prey (thus confusing its imagery with the cryptozoology
of a porcupine
). Occasionally, a manticore will possess wings
of some description.
The manticore was of Persian origin, a man-eater (from the Persian martya , 'man' and xvar 'to eat'), apparently passing into European mythology first through a remark by Ctesias, a Greek physician at the Persian court of King Artaxerxes II in the fourth century BCE, in his notes on India (Indika), which circulated among Greek writers on natural history, but have not survived.
The Romanized Greek Pausanias, in his Description of Greece got carried into a tangent, recalling strange animals he had seen at Rome, and mentioned
- "The beast described by Ctesias in his Indian history, which he says is called martichoras by the Indians and 'man-eater' by the Greeks, I am inclined to think is the tiger. But that it has three rows of teeth along each jaw and spikes at the tip of its tail with which it defends itself at close quarters, while it hurls them like an archer's arrows at more distant enemies; all this is, I think, a false story that the Indians pass on from one to another owing to their excessive dread of the beast.' (Description, xxi, 5)
Pliny the Elder did not share Pausanias' skepticism. He followed Aristotle
's natural history by including the 'martichoras'— mistranscribed as 'manticorus' in his copy of Aristotle and thus passing into European languages— among his descriptions of animals in Naturalis Historia
77 CE. Pliny's book was widely enjoyed and uncritically believed through the European Middle Ages
, during which the manticore was sometimes illustrated in bestiaries. The manticore made a late appearance in heraldry, during the 16th century, and it influenced some Mannerist
representations— sometimes in paintings but more often in the decorative schemes called \'grotteschi'— of the sin of Fraud, conceived as a monstrous chimera with a beautiful woman's face, and in this way it passed into the 17th and 18th century French conception of a sphinx
Nowadays, the manticore is said to inhabit the forests of Asia, particularly Indonesia. The manticore can kill instantly with a bite or a scratch, and will then eat the victim entirely, bones and all. Whenever a person disappears completely, it is said that the locals consider it the work of the manticore. An authentic eastern 'manticore' tradition would clearly have to refer to the creature as a 'marticore.'
The manticore is also known as the manticora, the mantichor, or by a folk etymology, even the mantiger. Outside occultist circles, the manticore was still an arcane creature in the Western worldwhen Gian Carlo Menotti wrote his ballet 'The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore' in 1956.