Updated October 14, 2021
A sample of Project paper is shown below:
Half Human, Half Beast:
Mythological Figures of Ancient Times
Name: Wang Xiaohai
Student ID No.: 202000111
Abstract . … (250~300 words)
Creatures who are half-man, half-beast are found in the legends of nearly every culture on our planet. A great many of those in western culture made their first appearance in stories and plays from ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. They probably are older still: myths about sphinxes and centaurs and minotaurs told at the dinner table or in the amphitheaters were undoubtedly passed down over generations.
The strength of this archetype can be seen in the persistence of modern tales of werewolves, vampires, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and a host of other monster/horror characters. Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912) wrote “Dracula” in 1897, and more than a century later the image of the vampire has installed itself as part of the popular mythology.
Oddly enough, though, the closest we have for a general word containing the meaning of half-human, half-beast hybrid is “therianthrope,” which generally refers to a shapeshifter, someone who is entirely human for part of the time and entirely animal for the other part. Other words that are used in English and other languages are specific to the blends and often refer to the legendary creatures of the myths. Here are some of the mythical half-human, half-animal creatures from stories told in past ages.
2. Mythological Figures
The story of the Minotaur is ancient Cretan, a tale of jealousy and bestiality, of divine hunger and human sacrifice. The Minotaur is one of the tales of the hero Theseus, who was saved from the monster by means of a ball of yarn; it is also a tale of Daedalus, the magician. The story harbors three references to bulls, which is a subject of academic curiosity.
Appearance and Reputation --- Depending on what source you use, the Minotaur was a monster with a human body and a bull’s head or a bull’s body with a human head. The classical form, human body and bull’s head, is most often found illustrated on Greek vases and later works of art.
The Origin of the Minotaur --- Minos was one of three sons of Zeus and Europa. When he eventually left her, Zeus married her off to Asterios, the king of Crete. When Asterios died, Zeus’ three sons battled for the throne of Crete, and Minos won. To prove he was worthy of the rule of Crete, he made a deal with Poseidon, the king of the sea. If Poseidon would give him a beautiful bull each year, Minos would sacrifice the bull and the people of Greece would know he was the rightful king of Crete.
But one year, Poseidon sent Minos such a beautiful bull that Minos couldn’t bear to kill him, so he substituted a bull from his own herd. In a rage, Poseidon made Minos’ wife Pasiphae, the daughter of the sun god Helios, develop a great passion for the beautiful bull.
Desperate to consummate her ardor, Pasiphae asked for help from Daedalus (Daidalos), a famous Athenian sorcerer and scientist who was hiding out on Crete. Daedalus built her a wooden cow covered with cowhide and instructed her to take the cow near the bull and hide inside it. The child born of Pasiphae’s passion was Asterion or Asterios, more famously known as the Minotaur.
Keeping the Minotaur --- The Minotaur was monstrous, so Minos had Daedalus build an enormous maze called the Labyrinth to keep him hidden away. After Minos went to war with the Athenians he forced them to send seven youths and seven maidens each year (or once every nine years) to be led into the Labyrinth where the Minotaur would tear them to pieces and eat them.
Theseus was the son of Aegeus, the king of Athens (or perhaps a son of Poseidon), and he either volunteered, was chosen by lot, or was chosen by Minos to be among the third set of young people sent to the Minotaur. Theseus promised his father that if he survived a battle with the Minotaur, he would change the sails of his ship from black to white on the return trip. Theseus sailed to Crete, where he met Ariadne, one of Minos’ daughters, and she and Daedalus found a way to get Theseus back out of the Labyrinth: he would bring a ball of yarn, tie one end to the door of the great maze and, once he had killed the Minotaur, he would follow the thread back to the door. For her help, Theseus promised to marry her.
Death of the Minotaur --- Theseus did kill the Minotaur, and he led Ariadne and the other youths and maidens out and down to the harbor where the ship was waiting. On the way home, they stopped at Naxos, where Theseus abandoned Ariadne, because a) he was in love with somebody else; or b) he was a heartless jerk; or c) Dionysos wanted Ariadne as his wife, and Athena or Hermes appeared to Theseus in a dream to let him know; or d) Dionysus carried her away while Theseus slept.
And of course, Theseus failed to change the sails of his ship, and when his father Ageus glimpsed the black sails, he threw himself off the Acropolis --- or into the sea, which was named in his honor, the Aegean.
The Minotaur in Modern Culture --- The Minotaur is one of the most evocative of Greek myths, and in modern culture, the story has been told by painters (such as Picasso, who illustrated himself as the Minotaur); poets (Ted Hughes, Jorge Luis Borges, Dante); and filmmakers (Jonathan English’s “Minotaur” and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”). It is a symbol of unconscious impulses, a creature that can see in the dark but is blinded by natural light, the result of unnatural passions and erotic fantasies. The minotaur as a creature of legend has been durable, appearing in Dante’s Hell Boy, first appearing in 1993 comics, is a modern version of the Minotaur. One might argue that the Beast character from the tale of Beauty and the Beast is another version of the same myth.
2.2 The Centaur
One of the most famous hybrid creatures is the centaur, the horse-man of Greek legend. An interesting theory about the origin of the centaur is that they were created when people of the Minoan culture, who were unfamiliar with horses, first met tribes of horse-riders and were so impressed with the skill that they created stories of horse-humans.
Whatever the origin, the legend of the centaur endured into Roman times, during which time there was a great scientific debate over whether the creatures indeed existed --- much the way the existence of the yeti is argued today. And the centaur has been present in story-telling ever since, even appearing in the Harry Potter books and films.
Echidna is a half-woman, half-snake from Greek mythology, where she was known as the mate of the fearsome snake-man Typhon, and mother of many of the most horrible monsters of all time. The first reference of Echidna is in the Greek mythology of Hesiod called Theogony, written probably around the turn of the 7th-8th century BCE. Some scholars believe that stories of dragons in medieval Europe are in part based on Echidna.
In Greek and Roman stories, the harpy was described as a bird with the head of a woman. The earliest existing reference comes from Hesiod, and the poet Ovid described them as human vultures. In legend, they are known as the source of destructive winds. Even today, a woman may be known behind her back as a harpy if others find her annoying, and an alternative verb for “nag” is “harp.”
2.5 The Gorgons
Another therianthrope from Greek mythology is the Gorgons, three sisters (Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa) who were entirely human in every way --- except that their hair was made up of writhing, hissing snakes. So fearsome were these creatures that anyone gazing on them directly was turned to stone. Similar characters appear in the earliest centuries of Greek story-telling, in which gorgon-like creatures also had scales and claws, not just reptilian hair.
Some people suggest that the irrational horror of snakes that some people exhibit might be related to early horror stories like that of the Gorgons.
The Mandrake is a rare instance in which a hybrid creature is a blend of a plant and human. The mandrake plant is an actual group of plants (genus Mandragora) found in the Mediterranean region, which has the peculiar property of having roots that look like a human face. This, combined with the fact that the plant has hallucinogenic properties, lead to the mandrake’s entry into human folklore. In legend, when the plant is dug up, its screams can kill anyone who hears it.
Harry Potter fans will undoubtedly remember that mandrakes appear in those books and movies. The story clearly has staying power.
The first legend of the Mermaid, a creature with the head and upper body of a human woman and the lower body and tail of a fish comes from a legend from ancient Assyria, in which the goddess Atargatis transformed herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. Since then, mermaids have appeared in stories throughout all ages, and they are not always recognized as fictional. Christopher Columbus swore that he saw real-life mermaids on his voyage to the new world, but then, he’d been at sea for quite a while.
There’s an Irish and Scottish version of a mermaid, half-seal, half-woman, known as a selkie. The Danish storyteller Hans Christian Anderson used the mermaid legend to tell of a hopeless romance between a mermaid and a human man. His 1837 tale has also inspired several movies, including director Ron Howard’s 1984
Another fantasy creature from Greek stories is the satyr, a creature who is part goat, part man. Unlike many hybrid creatures of legend, the satyr (or the late Roman manifestation, the faun), is not dangerous --- except perhaps to human women, as a creature hedonistically and raucously devoted to pleasure.
Even today, to call someone a satyr is to imply they are impishly obsessed with physical pleasure.
In ancient Greek stories, the siren was a creature with the head and upper body of a human woman and the legs and tail of a bird. She was an especially dangerous creature for sailors, singing from rocky shores which hid dangerous reefs and luring the sailors onto them. When Odysseus returned from Troy in Homer’s famous epic, “The Odyssey,” he tied himself to the mast of his ship in order to resist their lures.
The legend has persisted for quite a while. Several centuries later, the Roman Historian Pliny the Elder was making the case for regarding Sirens as imaginary, fictional beings rather than actual creatures. They made a reappearance in the writings of 17th century Jesuit priests, who believed them to be real, and even today, a woman thought to be dangerously seductive is sometimes referred to as a siren, and an entrancing idea as a “siren song.”
The sphinx is a creature with the head of a human and the body and haunches of a lion and sometimes the wings of an eagle and tail of a snake. It is most commonly associated with ancient Egypt, due to the famous Sphinx monument that can be visited today at Giza. But the sphinx was also a character in Greek story-telling. Wherever it appears, the Sphinx is a dangerous creature that challenges humans to answer questions, then devours them when they fail to answer correctly.
The Sphinx figures prominently in the tragedy of Oedipus, who answered the riddle of the Sphinx correctly and suffered mightily because of it. In Greek stories, the Sphinx has the head of a woman; in Egyptian stories, the Sphinx is a man.
A similar creature with the head of a man and body of a lion is also present in the mythology of Southeast Asia.
What does it mean? Psychologists and scholars of comparative mythology have long debated why human culture is so fascinated by hybrid creatures that combine attributes of both humans and animals. Scholars of folklore and mythology such as Joseph Campbell maintain that these are psychological archetypes, ways of expressing our innate love-hate relationship with the animal side of ourselves from which we evolved. Others would view them less seriously, as merely entertaining myths and stories offering scary fun that requires no analysis.
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