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The most fearsome monsters of the ‘classic world’ that still haunt our imagination

The history of monsters can be traced back to the beginning of time and the first centuries of the Christian era, an example of which is Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, an immense encyclopedia.

Probably most of us have lost sleep more than once thinking about monsters or beings beyond our imagination that have manifested themselves in our nightmares. Cinema has also contributed to the creation of these beings, and countless books, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, have provoked feelings of fear, terror, nostalgia, and even pity.

The Natural History of Pliny the Elder is an immense encyclopedia, in whose texts appear monstrous human-like creatures and animals that would later be disseminated in various encyclopedias of the Middle Ages.

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We have also heard legends about giants, which the Greeks considered to be terrestrial, or born of the earth itself, which gave birth to them with its immense mass. And it is precisely in the ‘classical world’, which corresponds to the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans, where beliefs and beings that could cause more terror than we thought are described in mythologies and texts.

The classical world was sensitive to portents and prodigies, symbols of misfortunes. They were apocalyptic events such as rains of blood, flames in the sky, abnormal births, and double-sexed children.

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It is probable that Plato himself, in his work The Banquet was inspired by these anomalies to imagine the original androgynous being, a being that united the male and female sexes in his body. This being, according to the myth, tried to invade Mount Olympus, where the gods live. When Zeus found out, he threw a thunderbolt, dividing him into male and female, and since then, he has been searching for his other half.

Here are some monsters examples and mythical creatures:

Fauns

In the eighth century, fauns were described as beings born from worms that form between the bark and the trunk of trees; then, they crawl to the ground, get wings and finally lose them.

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They are forest dwellers and are also called fantur because they have the power to prophesy the future. They are human-shaped from head to the navel, although they hide in their heads two horns that curl up to the nose and are said to be goat-like at the extremities.

Sciapods

It is said that there was a race of men called by the Greeks, sciapods, because they protected themselves from the sun’s rays by lying on their backs, in the shadow of their own feet. As mentioned, they have only one foot and can be really very fast, the knee they have is rigid, it does not bend at all, and they can make huge strides.

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Unicorns

We all have an image of unicorns, beautiful white steeds with one horn and wings. However, in Greek mythology this vision was far removed, they were similar to buffalo coats, while their legs resembled elephants, they have a horn in the middle of the forehead, large and black, which they did not use as an offensive weapon.

Instead, they defended themselves with their tongues and knees. The origin of unicorns is believed to be Indian rhinoceroses.

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Blemmyes

This mythological race is headless men, which have eyes on the shoulders and mouths on the torso. According to mythology, they could be found in southern Egypt, northern Sudan, and North Africa.

Their strange description may be linked to the clothing of the African people in the confines of Egypt. Their image would spread mainly to India, and many anecdotes were written, such as that of the medieval English writer Jean de Mandeville, author of The Wonders of the World, who would describe them as headless people, with their eyes and face on their backs.

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Monsters nowadays

Nowadays, after having gone through Dracula, Mr. Hyde, King Kong, Godzilla, and werewolves, and being surrounded by series about the living dead and aliens. The reality is that these beings have been necessary for every era and culture in the world. They may be rejected, they may be seen as grotesque beings; however, just as beauty needs ugliness, humanity needs to create and continue imagining these incredible beings.

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva.

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