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An heraldic representation of the Catoblepas

The catoblepas is a legendary creature from Ethiopia, described first by Pliny the Elder and later by Claudius Aelianus.

Etymology

From the Greek καταβλέπω, 'to look downwards'


Description

The catoblepas has the body of a buffalo and a head of a hog (swine). Its back was full of scales as a protection, and its head was always pointing downwards. Its stare or breath can either turn people into stone, or kill them.

Pliny (Natural History, 8.77) described it as a mid-sized creature, sluggish, with a heavy head and a face always turned to the ground. He thought its gaze, like that of the basilisk, was lethal, making the heaviness of its head quite fortunate.

Claudius Aelianus (On the Nature of Animals, 7.6) provided a fuller description: the creature was a mid-sized herbivore, about the size of a bull, with a heavy mane, narrow, bloodshot eyes, scaly backs and shaggy eyebrows. The head was so heavy that the beast could only look down. In his description, the animal's gaze was not lethal, but its breath was poison, since it ate only poisonous vegetation.


Theories

Both authors were probably referring to the gnu or pangolin.


Quotes

In other respects of moderate size and inactive with the rest of its limbs, only with a very heavy head which it carries with difficulty and it always hanging down to the ground. Otherwise it is deadly to humans, as all who see its eyes expire immediately. Pliny


Pliny calleth this beast Catablepon, because it continually looketh downwards, and saith all the parts of it are but smal excepting the head, which is very heavy, and exceedeth the proportion of his body, which is never lifted up, but all living creatures die that see his eies. By which there ariseth a question whether the poison which he sendeth foorth, proceede from his breath, or from his eyes. Whereupon it is more plausible, that like the cockatrice, he killeth by seeing, than by the breath of his mouth, which is not competible to any other beasts in the world. Topsell (The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes)


It is found in Ethiopia near to the source Nigricapo. It is not a very large animal, is sluggish in all its parts, and its head is so large that it carries it with difficulty, in such wise that it always droops towards the ground; otherwise it would be a great pest to man, for any one on whom it fixes its eyes dies immediately. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci


Art/Fiction

The Catoblepas is a common monster in many videogames and roleplaying games.

  • Catoblepas appeared in various Castlevania videogames such as Aria of Sorrow for GBA and Dawn of Sorrow for Nintendo DS as an enemy monster.
  • It has also appeared in multiple Final Fantasy games as either a powerful monster later in the games or as the summoned creature, "Shoat".
  • This creature also appears by name in Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga as a boss monster. Although it boasts a similar appearance, the creature does not attack based on the legend.
  • In Dungeons and Dragons, the catoblepas is a deadly and notorious monster; in the Forgotten Realms setting it is even milked to make an exotic cheese known as "Death Cheese" in reference to its deadly glare. Catoblepas is *Monster in My Pocket #20.
  • The catoblepas appears too in Omega (roguelike game).


External links