Sunday, August 29, 2010

Legends of the Siamese Cat

Black Manx and Royal Siamese
Artist: W. Luker Jr.

I have a Siamese cat who thinks the universe revolves around him. His persnickety and superior attitude must be fed by an inherent cat knowledge about the history and legends of his ancestors.

The Cat Back
Artist: Hu Chan

Many years ago in Siam (Thailand), the Siamese cat was a very exclusive feline. Being reserved for the king and royal family, no common sorts such as ourselves could own one. When a royal died, a household Siamese was selected to capture and contain the dearly departed's soul. Don't think anything bad happened to the cat. It wasn't sacrificed, or buried with the dead, but instead lived a life of luxury with the monks and priests of the local temple. There, the lucky Siamese ate all the best food from gold plates, and slept on the softest of silk cushions. These luxuries were provided by relatives of the deceased in a desperate bid for good fortune and special blessings. The selected cat was believed to possess rare powers of intercession for the soul of the departed. When the king himself died, his Siamese representative attended the new king's coronation, so the former king could be present at the royal event and festivities. 

In Thailand, Siamese cats are called "Wichien-maat," a name that means Moon Diamond.

Some Siamese have crossed eyes and kinks in their tail. I once had a Siamese with crossed eyes. Though her peculiarity didn't bother HER, I could never tell which direction she was looking. When I thought she was aiming for my lap, she was aiming for the curtains instead. Here is a legend that explains why Siamese cats have crossed eyes and kinked tails. 


A long time ago, a terrible war was fought by Siam to defend its kingdom. Since all Siam's men were sent to battle, Buddha's golden goblet was left unprotected. Two Siamese were chosen to preserve the goblet in the sacred temple. The male cat was named Tein, and the female Chula. All went well until Tein became uneasy and left (after mating with Chula) to find a new priest capable of caring for the goblet. Poor Chula, now expecting kittens, never took her eyes off the sacred goblet. As a safeguard against sleep, Chula nervously wrapped her long tail around the goblet's stem to foil thieves. When the kittens were born, they amazingly received Chula's physical quirks she developed as a watchcat. They had crossed eyes and tail kinks. So if you possess a Siamese with crossed eyes, or a kinked tail, remember Chula and her brave protection of Buddha's sacred goblet.

Asian Silver Jade Ring

Here's a second story about the Siamese and its kinked tail. Once, a princess of the Royal House of Siam used her cat's tail as a ring stand when taking a bath. The cat, not wishing to loose the ring, obligingly developed a kinked tail to safeguard the special object for "his" princess.

Cat Eye
Photographer: Justin Scarpetti

Whether or not your Siamese has crossed eyes, or a kinked tail, treat him well, they're very interesting cats with a long and royal history. No wonder they're persnickety and superior! They're also very sweet.


Since finishing this post yesterday, I realized I left a very entertaining legend out. It's the legend of the first Siamese.  

Noah's Ark

The story of Noah is known far and wide. After Noah built his ark, he filled it with animals two by two. It began to rain. It rained and rained and rained with no end in sight. The animals in the ark became very bored and searched for something to do. The monkey, spotting the pretty lioness, immediately fell in love. Wooing occurred and soon, tiny Siamese kittens were born. They had the cleverness and agility of the monkey, and the courage of the lioness. Come to think of it, my Siamese is a bit like a monkey himself! 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Artist: Jack Kirby

In honor of my refrigerator collapsing, I've decided to write about Ymir, a primeval frost giant from Norse mythology. Much like my fridge, Ymir's birthplace was a vast area of melting ice flowing from the misty Niflheim, to a huge gaping void called Ginnungagap. The ice melted due to the heat from nearby Muspelheim, a fire kingdom of smoldering embers and rancid margarine. No...wait...the rancid margarine is from my fridge. As Ymir slept on a bed of melting ice, new giants sprang from the sweat of his steaming evil body. A male and female giant appeared from Ymir's left armpit. Though an armpit birth seems strange to me, it worked for Ymir. Later, another male giant emerged when one of Ymir's legs mated with the other. That's even weirder than the armpit birth. Such extraordinary births in mysterious ways and odd places woke Ymir up and gave him an appetite. 

Artist: N.A. Abilgaard - 1790 

To sate his hunger, Ymir drank milk from Audhumla, the giant primeval cow. While Ymir ate, Audhumla licked ice and liberated an individual named Buri, who became the ancestor of the gods. He can be seen in the painting above uncomfortably emerging from what looks like rock. Buri had three grandsons named Odin, Vili, and Ve. Those three eventually proved to be the undoing of Ymir. 

Odin and his Brothers Creating the World

As Ymir slept (sleeping again!), Buri's three grandsons crept up on Ymir and killed him. The massive torrents of blood produced by the dead Ymir drowned all the frost giants except Bergelmir and his wife. They hid in a hollow tree and later escaped by ship to found a new family of giants. You just can't keep good evil giants down! At least Ymir's body didn't go to waste, as Odin and his two brothers used it to form the world. They busily transformed his flesh into earth; teeth into pebbles and boulders; bones into mountains; and hair into trees and grass. We're surrounded by bits and pieces of Ymir. The best part is what happened to his brain. The three brothers threw it into the sky and made the clouds. As one final, but very important touch, Odin and his brothers used Ymir's eyebrows to make a wall to safeguard Midgard, the dwelling place of humans.

Frost Giants
Artist: Unknown

After the flood, the new frost giants were angry, and vowed to avenge their ancestors' deaths by destroying the gods on the Day of Ragnarok. I don't entirely blame them for being upset. It can't be pleasant dying in such a nasty way. I'm sure my refrigerator would sympathise


On a side note, one of Saturn's moons is named Bergelmir. It must be very frosty there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mythological Art- Nathan Simpson


While searching the internet, I found an Australian artist named Nathen Simpson who's created a series of  interesting drawings and paintings based on Greek mythology. What do you think of this Pegasus painting? Though I do like the wings, it appears a bit tangled otherwise. I'm sure it's just me, as I'm hopelessly ignorant and know nothing of art and learning. According to Mr. Simpson's website, his paintings employ "archaic simplicity of prehistoric, ancient and medieval iconography, naive painting and children's art particulary in the use of stylisation, lack of pictorial perspective and the 'awkward' sense of balance and proportion." The artist's style reminds me of Pablo Picasso. Regarding the subject, Pegasus was the winged horse whose father was Poseidon, the god of the sea, and mother was Medusa of the perpetual bad hair day. Yes, that's the woman with snakes for hair. Not only did their handsome winged progeny become the bringer of thunderbolts to Zeus, he also formed springs by striking the ground with his hooves. A very useful horse indeed. As for the artwork, if my parents were Poseidon and Medusa, I'd have an awkward sense of balance too.  


The Minotaur is a figure from Greek mythology with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man. He lurked in the center of the Cretan Labyrinth aggressively waiting to dispatch passersby. Every nine years, seven young men and seven young woman were sent into the labyrinth to become a Minotaur feast. This sacrifice was necessary to avert a plague set as punishment to avenge the murder of Androgeus by Aegeus, the King of Athens. Aegeus committed the murder in a jealous rage as Androgeus was winning all the prizes at the Panathenaic Games. It's always sad when an adult man behaves like an overgrown twelve year old. Finally, after many years of sacrifice, the Minotaur was killed by Theseus, who escaped the labyrinth by following a trail of thread provided by Ariadne. Like many myths, there are other versions of the Minotaur story, but this is probably the best known.   


Don't ask me why, but the Manicore is a favorite of mine. This mythological beastie sports the head of a bizarre toothy man, and the body of an animal, in this case a lion. It's the Minotaur in reverse! The monster's tail is often covered in poisonous spines projectable at will. Though the head of Simpson's Manicore doesn't look very man-like to me, there are certainly a lot of teeth to make up for the discrepancy. The creature's name means man-eater, a tag emphasizing its general disposition.

Mr. Simpson is currently studying Ancient Greek, Latin and French at Sydney University. I wish him luck with his endeavors. I've often wanted to study the history of Ancient Egypt at university myself. Though feeling somewhat jealous, I promise not to hunt the artist down and dispatch him. I don't want any plagues. I'm having enough trouble with my refrigerator blowing out.   

Thursday, August 12, 2010



Recently, in my blog Barking at the Moon, I wrote an account mentioning my parent's woodshed dwelling rooster. After finishing the post, I wondered if any myths existed glorifying the chicken. A trip to Wikipedia revealed the scary looking creature seen above. Meet the rooster headed cockatrice, a people terrifying nightmare with a nasty talent for petrifacation and general death. The cockatrice's very birth was cause for concern, as its unlikely mother was an egg laying rooster. The unnatural rooster was a poor parent who abandoned its child in favor of the carefree, hen chasing, life it preferred. The rejected egg was incubated by a toad, or possibly snake, a confusing circumstance that must of disturbed the infant cockatrice. Then again, remembering it's basic evilness, maybe it didn't care. 


Echoing it's strange birth, the cockatrice had the head of a rooster and the tail of a lizard. It's name comes from the Latin calcare "to tread" a name differentiating it from the similar basilisk, who was usually (but not always) portrayed legless. 


If you had the misfortune to stumble upon a cockatrice, what would happen? According to Pliny the Elder, an author and naturalist born 23 AD in Italy, the cockatrice was only 12 inches long, but packed a wallop. He wrote:

   Its touch and breath can scorch grass, kill bushes and burst rocks. Its poison is so deadly that once a man on a horse speared a cockatrice, the venom traveled up the spear and killed not only the man, but also the horse.

Pliny the Elder
This was a deadly creature capable of turning people to stone with a mere look, touch, or even breath. Could anything be done to dispose of such an awful monster? A mirrored shield was guaranteed to kill a cockatrice, as the aggressor's evil eye would reflect back and turn the beast to stone. Strangely, a rooster's crow would cause instant death. If no mirrored shields or roosters were available, there was one animal totally immune to the cockatrice's wrath. That animal was the weasel. I have no idea why the weasel was immune to the cockatrice's breath, glance and touch. It just was. 

Cockatrice and Weasel
15th century manuscript
Since Pliny the Elder said the cockatrice was only 12 inches long, this must be an unusually large cockatrice, or remarkably small weasel. 

Room of the Fire in the Bogo
Artist: Raphael
Pope Leo IV is on the balcony extinquishing flames with his blessing. He was a busy guy!

There WAS another way of destroying a cockatrice. The History of Serpents (1608) by Edward Topsell includes the following story about a cockatrice and a pope. One of the legendary creatures was found alive in a church vault during the mid 9th century leaving numerous people dead by its poisoned breath. Great chaos resulted until the creature was finally dispatched by the prayers of Pope Leo IV. As I said, he was a busy guy.

Run! This could be the cockatrice's rooster mom!

Monday, August 9, 2010


The Death of Procris c1500
Piero di Cosimo

The attractive dog on the right is a talented canine from Greek myth named Laelaps. To the great misfortune and dismay of his prey, Laelaps never failed to catch his quarry. Amazingly, in spite of his abilities, Laelaps had a number of owners including Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, and later King Minos, the son of Zeus and Europa. It seems his hunting prowess made him eminently giftable. King Minos understood Laelap's giftabilty, and presented him as a reward for the speedy cure of an uncomfortably bizarre medical condition "gifted" by his wife. It seems Zeus's wife was so angry at her wandering husband, she cursed him to ejaculate scorpions and spiders eager to eat the genitals of Minos's sleeping partners. That woman had one nasty imagination. 

Very nasty!

The desperate King Minos asked Procris of Athens to cure his problem. On succeeding, he prized her with Laelaps, an infallible javelin, and possibly a bronze giant named Talos. Procris's husband was impressed by Laelaps, eventually taking him along to hunt the uncatchable Teumessian fox

The Teumessian Fox and Laelaps
Artist: Polylerus

Unfortuanately, Procris's husband didn't consider the paradox of a dog that always caught it's prey, and a fox that could never be caught. As a consequence, the hunt went on indefinitely until Zeus, maddened by the contradictary nature of the pursuit, turned them both to stone and sent them to the stars. 


Laelaps can now be found in the sky posing as the constellation Canis Major. I hope he's happy. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


This odd looking creature is called the Hippocamp. It's the "Horse of the Sea" Nereid nymphs and sea gods rode in the mythology of ancient Greece. Poseidon's chariot was sensibly driven by two to four of these fishy tailed equines. As Poseidon was god of both horses and sea, it's fitting such aquatic horses should draw his chariot. He was also, scarily enough, the god of earthquakes. Homer called him the Earthshaker.

Chariot of Poseidon - Floor Mosaic 

In this picture, Poseidon is pulled by four of the composite creatures. I can't see any chariot in this mosaic, but perhaps it's hidden under the sea foam churned by the Hippocamps' racing hooves. This is a busy little mosaic. We can only hope Poseidon avoided the fish, swimmers, people riding dolphins and the very large shrimp found at the top of the mosaic. I think that's a shrimp anyway.


The ancients believed Hippocamps were the adult version of sea horses. Sea horses belong to the genus Hippocampus. The name Hippocampus comes from the ancient Greek and means horse (hippos) and sea monster (kampos).

Chariot of Poseidon Drawn by Hippocamps - Roman Mosaic 3rd A.D.

A color mosaic of Poseidon driven by two Hippocamps. Poseidon was a disagreeable god who fought with everyone. He especially fought with his brothers Zeus and Hades over the portioning of planet Earth. I wouldn't want to be the poor Hippocamps compelled to pull his chariot. This is a very fine mosaic though. Take a moment to consider the amount of work required in creating this artwork.  

Nereid Riding a Hippocampos - Mosaic - Imperial Roman

This Hippocamp has an especially long and convoluted tail. Nereids were the goddesses of the sea. They were the special patrons of sailors and fisherman, and came to their aid if hurt or in danger. 

A Hippocamp carved on the Trevi Fountain in Rome. I saw the Trevi Fountain many years ago. Though I threw a coin in the water, I have yet to return. 


A nice coin depicting Poseidon and two Hippocamps. It's a shame Hippocamps don't really exist. I would enjoy boarding a ship for a Hippocamp watch.