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Author(s) of the publication: O. M. Ivanova-Kazas

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Mentioned in the legends, myths and fairy-tales of many peoples is a bunch of fancy creatures (let us call them Mythozoa, just like that) depicted in a great variety of forms, in anatomical variety first and foremost. In this sense they are superior to real animals. Dr. Ivanova-Kazas of St. Petersburg examines the anatomy of some of these mythical animals-their organs and other body parts, paying special attention to their mutual arrangement, above all their symmetry. Since all the Mythozoa known to us are multicellular animals (Metazod), let us confine ourselves to the types of symmetry in Metazoa only.

Most of these creatures (such as centaurs, sphinxes, gryphons, or griffins, and other monsters) are in some way related to vertebrates. They are characterized by what we call bilateral symmetry: although the anterior and posterior parts of their bodies as well as the ventral and dorsal parts are different, their right and left body sides are in symmetry; however, there maybe more or less significant deviations from this type. Many are pictured with several heads growing from the trunk.

Let us take the famous Hydra of Lerna slain by Heracles (Hercules). This water serpent that had nothing in common with the real hydra (which is a small freshwater animal) had nine heads, with only one in the middle immortal. Heracles cut off all the nine heads and, to make assurance double sure, buried the Hydra's body in the ground. Now the presence of nine heads means a distortion of the anterior body axis. The same is even more conspicuous in the fabulous hecatoncheira, or monsters with fifty pairs of hands (as their Greek name indicates, where hecaton means a hundred, and cheir, a hand) and fifty pairs of heads. In a biologist's view, each monster like that can be considered a corm, or a colony of multicellular animals where every individual (zoid) is interconnected with its counterparts. For lack of data on the position of zoids in this particular corm, we can only suggest that the zoids were there in a haphazard, random order, as it is with the real coelenterates of the genus Stephanoscyphus.

Another monster was Amphisbaena, a giant serpent with two heads and no tail; it could move both forward and backward, using now one, now the other head respectively. So it seems. But legend says the serpent could move in any direction like a hoop, putting

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one head into the jaws of the other. It's hard to tell how it could keep rolling like that, with its head now up, now down, and see things around. And why did Amphisbaena need the other head at all? It could do well with one head by putting the posterior into the mouth. But this is what Pliny the Elder explains: Amphisbaena contained so much poison that one head was not enough. Even a regular viper is pretty dangerous. It can brave cold and can live in any clime. Its eyes glow like two candles, and if you cut it in half, both parts will grow together again.

Zoologically, Amphisbaena is a bit of nonsense. And yet two-headed monsters like that with the distorted anterior-posterior axis of the body may be produced in physiological experiments now and then. Such creatures are not viable and, if cut in half, they will never grow together again-provided they survive this vivisection (in that case each severed anterior part will regenerate a posterior). The reptiles have a distinct group related to snakes and lizards, and these are ringed lizards (Amphisbaenidae), the tireless bur-rowers with a vermiform body and no legs. Their cephalic end (head) seems but little different from the caudal (tail) one, unless you take a hard second look. Ringed lizards can move forward both with the head and the rear end on. Similar "amphipods" occur also among annelid worms (An-nelida)-represented, for instance, by Fabricia sabella living in the White and Barents seas. Its posterior, though developing another pair of eyes, has not turned into a head after all.

Two-headed beings populate the myths of other peoples too. The North American Indians, for instance, fear a huge sea serpent, Sisiyutle by name; this legless dragon of the seas has two large-toothed heads at both ends of its body. Its look is deadly, and only one of great moral and spiritual virtues can overcome this monstrous dragon. Yet unlike a genuine serpent, it has a short and thick body and thus cannot coil into a ring like Amphisbaena do, this is out of the question. In the middle of its body we discern something like a third head, the human head (with eyes, nose and mouth) as well as a pair of arms. Sisiyutle might be taken for a three-headed chimera; most probably, however, the third head was, just drawn on skin... At the other end of the world, the Chinese were overawed by Binfeng, a black pig (sow) having two frontal parts of the body.

All these fancy animals, the amphicephals (double-headed), apart from the sagittal (longitudinal) plane of symmetry, also had a transverse plane dividing the body into two identical halves. In fact, these creatures are pictured in

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biradial (biaxial) symmetry whose axis coincides with the dorsal-ventral axis along the line of intersection of the sagittal and transverse planes.

Let us now take chimeras that bear several heads related to different animal species. In scientific parlance, chimeras are heterocephalous monsters, as impersonated by Baal, the Philistine and Semitic god of thunder, lightening, rain and fertility. He was depicted with three heads: one of a cat, another of a toad (on both sides) and yet another, a human head, in the middle. The purpose and the symbolic meanings of the side heads are yet obscure. It might be that their presence was to show that Baal and his life-giving rains were vital to the welfare of plants and animals alike. This is what can be seen in our particular context: the feline and toad heads on both sides show stark asymmetry of the anterior part which is far more pronounced than the asymmetry of the internal organs in gastropods, for the head is a characteristic determining an animal's species and individuality.

In theory, we might conceive a combination of amphi- and hetero-cephaly-in plain English, a monster with two starkly different heads. Like Ansericanis-a crossbreed of goose (anser) and canis (dog). The dog will direct the movement of this chimera, while the goose, to keep equilibrium, has to strike a proud, well-nigh vertical posture and warp the main axis of the body. But the goose will direct the course of flight-in that case, the main axis will straighten, and the dog will have to lie low and lay back its ears and paws to make the body more compact. But will the goose feel like swimming, the dog will be the prime mover again, for canine paws are needed when swimming.

This make-believe monster, Ansericanis, is just as preposterous as the other Mythozoa. We might as well go further and visualize its anatomy. Since the goose is a herbivore and the dog-an omnivore, the upper parts of their intestine (small intestine) should be different; yet the large intestine (colon) will then be common, and so will be the anus in the middle of the stomach. Ansericanis will multiply if we allow for a crossbreed of he-dog and she-goose. In that case internal self-fertilization would become possible, and the mother goose would be laying eggs from which a crossbreed of puppies and goslings will hatch.

In its pure form such kind of amphi -heterocephaly (two different heads) does not occur in mythology. Yet something like that we find in Hellenic giants who had two snakes instead of legs. The human component, however, prevails over the serpentine not in mass only but physiologically as well-both snakes, twisting, have their heads looking forward, just like it is with the human head. These giants must have been moving by using the serpentine coils as knees, they could have hardly crawled forward on their heads, that's outright impossible.

Even more monstrous was Typhon of ancient Greek mythology. Here's how the Greek rhetorician Apollodorus describes this terrible giant: "By stature and strength he surpassed all the beings ever born by Ge [Mother Earth]. Part of his body from the hips up was human and towered high over the mountains. His head often touched stars, and his arms were outstretched-one, right to the sunset, the other, to the sunrise. They ended in a hundred heads of dragons. Part of his body below the hips was composed of huge coiling snakes that surged to the body top and uttered shrill whistling. All of his body was covered with feathers, his shaggy mane and beard flew wide, and the eyes sparkled with fire... His maw spat a storm of fire..."

His hundred gullets could roar, bark, howl and hiss simultaneously. These awful sounds threw a scare even into the Olympian gods... It would be in place to note here that Hellenes called snakes dragons.

Portraying Typhon in detail is rather difficult, and that is why artists would draw him as having common human hands, and replace his scaly feathers with regular bird feathers. But one can circumvent this difficulty by dividing each hand into five branches (by the number of fingers) and then by continuing the ramification so as to up the number of branches terminating in serpentine heads. Typhon's bilateral symmetry is manifest not only in the human body anatomy but also in the disposition of snakes, each retaining bilateral symmetry of its own.

Typhon likewise represents a colony, and a dimorphic one at that, include as it does the heads of two species-that of man and that of snake. Besides, this colony may be related to what we might call a monarchic type, for present in it is the chief zoid, man; but snakes, though superior numerically, are obviously subordinate to it. We cannot escape the impression that an increase in the number of snakes in Typhon leads to their further depreciation: the serpents are relegated to the role of limbs, and their heads lose for good their significance of frontal termini.

This tendency is even more striking in Medusa, one of the three Gorgons slain by Perseus (not confuse with the medusas, or jellyfish, found chiefly in salt water). A plain mortal girl at first, Medusa had the misfortune of dating the sea god Poseidon in the temple of Pallas Athena. This vestal goddess punished the miscreant by turning her into a monster. Medusa's body came to be covered with hard scales, her hands, turned to copper, gained sharp claws; she grew golden wings and found her locks turned into snakes. Medusa had her mouth half-open, showing long fangs and the tongue lolling out. Her look turned any living creature into stone. Since Medusa killed by her look, the serpents on her head were no more than embellishment.

Chimera is yet another prodigy. It has become a commonplace name for animals made of disparate parts, and for absurd fancies and wishful thinking too.

Chimera had three heads: a lion's head in the front, that of a goat in the middle and a serpent's head on the tip of the tail. This was a vicious fire-breathing monster gobbling up sheep and cattle. The purpose of the leonine and serpentine heads is clear-they killed a victim. But why is the goat's head there? Here's something from the realm of guesswork: while Chimera was

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waiting in ambush for yet another victim, the goat's head stuck out from the bushes and watched, which did not arouse suspicion.

The third head on Chimera's back compounds its anatomy (amphihete-rocephaly) as a kind of a third frontal terminus; but obviously, the monster must have been moving on all fours with the lion's head forward.

From all the above cases of hetero-cephaly (except Ansericanis) we can see that one head (human or not) is playing the dominant role whereby the saggital axis is retained along with bilateral symmetry (except in Baal). On the other hand, the presence of several heads makes for radial symmetry, with its axis depending on their position. Thus in the Hydra of Lerna the radial symmetry axis could develop from the transverse axis. In Chimera the radial symmetry axis could pass through the frontal plane in the transverse (right-left) direction, just where the axis of the goat's head and neck joins the main saggital axis. And in Amphisbaena it passes in the dorsal-ventral direction.

As a rule, radial symmetry implies equivalence of all radii, but it may

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become heteronomous too. Ectosaur presents a striking example of that. We know but little about this monstrosity. Archeologists have often seen its image on artifacts of post - Indian civilization. The monster's trunk is in the shape of a five-pointed star. The tip of each of its radii carries a head: that of an aurochs, buffalo, tiger, zebu and bull. The heads look into the outside world, hence the name (from the Greek 'ectos meaning "outside").

No doubt, Ectosaur is the most striking Chimera that has the unique type of heteronomous-radial symmetry. Unfortunately we do not find the authentic image of Ectosaur in the collection Mythological Bestiaria. Therefore Dr. Ivanova- Kazas, the author of the present article, has portrayed a similar chimera, supplying it with the heads of four most different animals (indeed, it would be hard to tell apart the look-alike heads of four cattle breeds). Let us call this imaginary monster Pentasaur so as not to mistake it for Ectosaur.

And last, let us turn to Scylla. The descriptions of her image are quite contradictory (mythology, after all, does not belong to the sciences).

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Homer depicts this monster as having six canine heads and twelve canine paws. One of the authors, Gigin, portrays Scylla as having the upper part of her body in the shape of a woman, and its lower part as a fish. But then, a few pages below, he says all of a sudden that the lower part of her body was canine, and that she gave birth to yet another six dogs. The Roman poet Ovid is more circumstantial. Originally a lovely wench, Scylla aroused the jealousy of Circe, a beautiful enchantress, who turned her into a monster: her legs grew into a snake's tail, and the lower part of her body at the level of the hips was "supplemented" with the forebodies of six dogs, apparently arranged in a circle and looking different ways.

Scylla does not belong to amphi-cephals-her body is made up of three heterogeneous parts aligned one after the other: the human form goes over into a dog's, with a snake's tail for the rear end. Any plausible image of Scylla is absent. Artists usually cut the number of dogs to three or two. Therefore we have ventured to picture her image "by the book". From what we know we may conclude that Scylla combined the bilateral symmetry of an axial pivot (man&snake) with the radial disposition of the dogs. Scylla was a land monster. She lived on some desolate island and subsisted on marine animals. As Odysseus sailed by, her dogs seized and devoured six of his companions. It's hard to imagine how Scylla could move on land and how her dogs could reach as far as that and seize their prey. Homer tells of their long necks, but it might also be that their bodies could stretch snakily. In her morphology Scylla may also be ranked among dimorphous colonies (you will agree, a snake's tail without head is no individual). She must have belonged to a monarchic type dimorphic colony.

It looks like an increase in the number of heads is the first step toward coloniality. The presence of colonial forms among Mythozoa has not drawn attention so far, and so it makes sense to pause over this detail. Colonies are usually typical of aquatic animals; however, all the three species mentioned above (hecatonheira, Typhon and Scylla) are an exception-these are land monstrosities and rather awkward, too.

Colonies are formed by means of incomplete asexual reproduction, by bud reproduction for the most part. The first zoid that has developed from a fertilized egg (oozoid) buds off several secondary blastozoids which, in their turn, bud off too. Such things as budding, an increasing number of zoids in a colony and its growth usually occur as late as the postembryonic stage of growth. All zoids are genetically identical both in mono- and in polymorphous colonies.

According to Dr. Beklemishev, two main trends are manifest in the evolution of colonies: 1) further integration of a colony and its conversion into a higher-order organism, and 2) less of the individuality of component zoids often reduced to the state of organs performing certain specific functions, which results in polymorphism. In monarchic colonies one of the zoids attains to a dominant role, while all the others group around it in a definite order. An integral colony is always characterized by a more or less stable form. Now, how are these general rules applicable to Mythozoa?

Among Mythozoa, monomorphic colonies are found in hecatonheira. Since no variations occur in the number of component zoids, we may conclude that the process of cormogenesis (colony formation) was completed in the womb of Ge, Mother Earth. Such kind of intrauterine budding is observed occasionally in ordinary animals, say, in sea-water pyrosomes (class Pyrosomidd). Now and then bicephalous (two- headed) calves and chicks are bom, and even Siamese twins in man. Since budding is not proper to vertebrates, the birth of such monsters must be due to some dysfunctions in the course of embryonal growth. We cannot tell which of these two types of growth produced hecatonheira.

Typhon and Scylla belong to dimorphous type colonies. Mother Earth Ge gave birth to Typhon in a grown-up form, so nothing is known about his embryonic growth. But the essential difference of this colony from the other, ordinary ones is that the component zoids belong to two different types of animals, that is they are genetically different. Such a colony could not arise because of some random anomalies of embryonal development or through ordinary budding. It might be that in this particular case an oozoid (evidently, a human embryo) must have acquired a genetic capability of producing canine blastozoids through budding.

Thus the main type of symmetry in Mythozoa is a bilateral one, with more or less significant deviations related to polycephaly (many heads) and sometimes compounded by heterocephaly (different heads). In extreme cases bilateral symmetry gives way to radial symmetry (biradial in Amphisbaena and pentaradial in Ectosaur). In Mythozoa the types of symmetry are far more diverse than in ordinary animals. Having examined Mythozoa even by one character selected by us, we see that human fancy chokes not only in the narrow confines of rigorous science, it has small elbowroom within plain common sense as well. Mythland lives by its own laws!

Still and all, human imagination has not invented anything altogether new: our Mythozoa are just fancy combinations of the long since known elements. Even Gorgon Medusa's look, capable of turning anyone into stone, is but the hyperbolic image of a snake whose stare might have a hypnotic, paralyzing effect on a timid victim.

O. M. Ivanova-Kazas, The Country of Mythland, or Types of Symmetry in Mythozoa, Priroda, No. 4, 2002

Prepared by Vladimir GOLDMAN


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O. M. Ivanova-Kazas, TRUTH ABOUT THOSE MYTHICAL MONSTERS // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 14.09.2018. URL: (date of access: 23.04.2021).

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