ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Chimaerae and other fantasy creatures
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Chimaerae and other fantasy creatures

    The ancient Egyptians often combined the features of a number of animals, representing their strengths, into new, fantastic creatures. Their gods may have originally been powers of nature embodied in animals, but they often took on human or partial human forms as well, and humans, generally the pharaohs, were at times depicted in animal form, or given animal epithets.


Ammit, a monster with the head of a crocodile, the torso of a lion and the hindparts of a hippo, devoured the hearts of the sinners during the judgment of the dead.


    Griffins are chimaerae with eagle or hawk heads and feline bodies. Sometimes they were depicted with wings.
Source: W. M. F. Petrie et al: Historical Studies, London 1911, plate XXI


    The hippocampus is based on the actual seahorse. It consists of the head or the whole forepart of a horse and a snake's body, sometimes sporting a dolphin's tail fin. It originated in Greece.
Source: Excerpt, 'The Glory of Egypt', by M.Audrain


    Chimaerae, with feline bodies and heads and snakelike necks, they appear both on Egyptian (Narmer Palette) and Mesopotamian artefacts.
sphinx avenue, karnak; source: jon bodsworth


    Sphinxes have the body of a lion and the head of a human or, as in the case of the sphinxes in the avenue at Karnak, of a ram.


    Taweret was basically a hippopotamus. But, being a fertility goddess, she was also given pendulous human breasts. Her lion paws may have reflected the fiercely protective nature of this goddess.


    In the tomb of Urarna II at Sheik Said the remnants of a Coptic painting of a unicorn were found, with the inscription "MONOKHROC" in Greek letters.

Picture sources:
Ammit: The papyrus of Ani.
Hippocampus: W. M. F. Petrie et al: Historical Studies, London 1911, plate XXI
Serpopards: M.Audrain: The Glory of Egypt
Sphinxes: Jon Bodsworth
Unicorn: N. de G. Davies, The Rock Tombs of Sheikh Said, London 1901, plate XIV

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April 2013