STATUTORY WARNING: The creatures mentioned in this essay may be dangerous. The individual attempting a research on the creatures must do so at his own risk. The author will not be responsible in any way for accidents that might occur.

Do you ever dream of a riding a winged horse or have nightmares of being bitten by werewolves? Do you enjoy reading books about dragons and giants and God knows what else-creatures that according to grown ups do not even exist? If so, be heartened. Many wise men of ancient civilization believed in them too. Here is an account of some of the fabulous creatures they encountered……

DRAGONS: A huge bat-winged fire-breathing scaly lizard or snake with a barbed tail. In the Middle East, the dragon was symbolic of the principle of evil. The Egyptian God, Apepi, for example, for example, was the great serpent of darkness. But the Greeks and Romans at times conceived them as beneficent powers-sharp-eyed dwellers of the inner parts of the Earth. The Chaldean dragon Tiamat had four legs, a scaly body and wings. Dragons were mainly feared because of their ability to breathe fire. No wonder Harry Potter feared facing such a creature!

SPHINX: It is a strange Egyptian creature with a lion’s body and a woman’s head. However it is found in Greece too. The winged sphinx of Baeotian Thebes terrorized the people by demanding the answer to a question: “What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four-footed in the morning, two-footed in the afternoon and three-footed at the dusk?” and devouring a man each time it was answered incorrectly. Eventually Oedipus Rex gave the correct answer, whereupon the sphinx killed herself. The sphinxes are omniscient and their wisdom is proverbial. By the way, try to find an answer to the riddle given, or you could be in mortal danger next time you meet a sphinx.

UNICORN: It is a horse like creature with a single horn on its forehead. Greek historian Ctesius described it as “a creature with the size of a horse, with a white body, purple head and blue eyes; on its forehead was a cubit long horn coloured red at its tip, black in the middle and white at the base”. The European unicorn is however white coloured, and has black pupils. The unicorn is very fleet footed and is therefore very difficult to capture or sighted. Legends tell of the unicorns combat with the elephant, finally speared to death with its horn, and the unicorn’s purifying of poisoned waters with its horn so that other animals may drink. Unicorns may have also been sighted in India, China and the Islamic world.

PEGASUS: A winged horse that sprang from the blood of gorgon Medusa as she was beheaded by the hero Perseus with Athena’s help. Another Greek hero Bellerophon, captured Pegasus and rode him in his first fight with the Chimera (another creature, evil by all accounts) and later for taking revenge on Anteia, who had falsely accused Bellerophon. However in his attempt to fly to heaven on the Pegasus he was killed. The great king of gods Zeus made Pegasus his servant and sent him on errands. Even now, on a clear starry night, you can see Pegasus as a constellation of stars, moving, perhaps to accomplish a mission assigned to him by Zeus. Zeus later presented it to his son Hercules after their reconciliation.

COCKATRICE: Also called Basilisk. Recall the gigantic serpent of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” who could only be controlled by the heir of Salazar Slytherin? Found in Rome and Egypt, it is said to be born from an egg laid by a hen hatched by a serpent, or in some accounts (notably HP 2) by a toad. It has deadly fangs and a murderous stare. It is capable of destroying all plant and animal life by its mere look. However it has to mortal enemies – the weasel, which secretes venom deadly to a basilisk; and the rooster (cock) whose crow is fatal to it. So remember to carry a cock in case you wander into a Basilisk infested area.

PHOENIX: A fabulous and immortal bird which is the messenger of the Egyptian God Ra. It is as large as an eagle, with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry. Only one phoenix exists in an age of the world. It has a minimum lifespan of 500 years. A dying phoenix flies to the altar of the temple of Ra in Heliopolis (city of the sun), in Egypt. There it sets fire to itself, and is consumed in the flames. From the flames sprang another new phoenix, which embalmed its father’s ashes in an egg of Myrrh, and deposited it on the altar. As stated earlier, the phoenix is one and immortal, so very few sightings are reported. You are really lucky if you have seen it.

GRIFFIN: Also called Griffon, or Gryphon, it is a creature with a lion’s body and a bird’s head, usually that of an eagle. Originated in Levant in the 2nd millennium B.C., the griffin has a mane of spiral curls. Later successors developed wings on the side of their body. It made great friends with the sphinx and the pair of them has been shown together in many ancient sculptures.

HIPPOGRIFF: Most of you must have seen one in the Prisoner of Azkaban. The real hippogriff looks very much the same. It has the foreparts of a winged griffin and hindquarters of a horse. The creature was born when Asiatic griffins mated with Arabian horses. It is thought to be the progeny of the Pegasus. Ludovico Ariosto in his “Orlando Furiosov” first reported the hippogriffs. Take care to be respectful if you meet a hippogriff. They are very proud animals, having been born of high races on both paternal and maternal sides. If you insult a hippogriff it will probably be the last mistake you ever make.

CERBERUS: The hellhound. Son of Typhon (volcanic God) and Echidna (half-woman, half serpent), brother of Orthus, Ladon, Hydra and chimaera. He is the guard of the underworld-servant of Hades, the God of the underworld. He is described as a three headed, dragon-tailed dog. Does it ring a bell? Yes, the monstrous dog guarding the philosopher’s stone at Hogwarts was modeled on Cerberus. Like Fluffy, Cerberus was also enchanted by music. Orpheus, the Greek poet, on his journey to the underworld, in quest of returning his wife Eurydice, to life, charmed Cerberus by his prowess on the harp.

CENTAUR: A race of creatures, half-man and half-horse, dwelling in the mountains of Thessaly and Arcadia. They are the children of Ixion the king of the Lapiths, and are best known for their fight against the Lapiths. They lost the battle and were driven from Mount Pelion. They were men only as far as the waist and the rest of their body resembled a horse. Hercules had to fight with them. Though they are generally wild, lawless and inhospitable beings, a race of Centaurs residing in Greece, exceeds human beings in their intelligence. They can also foresee the future; they rarely explain what they see in the stars.

WEREWOLF: Also known as Lycanthrope. A man who turns into a wolf at night and devours animals, people or corpses but returns to human form with the first rays of the rising sun. Some werewolves change shape at will but most who have acquired the condition after being bitten by one change shape involuntarily, under the influence of a full moon. The werewolves are distributed all over Europe, particularly France that was afflicted with many reports of werewolves in the 16th century.

HYDRA: The offspring of Typhon and Echidna, it is a gigantic monster with nine heads of which the central one was immortal. The monster haunted the marshes of Lena near Argos. The destruction of Hydra was one of the 12 labors of Hercules, which he accomplished with the assistance of Iolaus. As one head was severed, two grew in its place. Finally Hercules burned out the roots of heads with fire and cut off the immortal head from the body. The arrows dipped in the venomous blood of the serpentine monster inflicted fatal wounds. Lucky the creature has been killed. I would not have liked to meet this fantastic beast! Would you?

There are many other such wonderful creatures. However they cannot be accounted for in this short space, so go ahead and find them all if you can.

However, you’ve been warned, there are many fantastic beasts, most of them are nice and friendly BUT NOT ALL. If you hope to compile another account of fantastic beasts, do NOT stray too close to the trolls, the giants, the werewolves, the goblins…

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