Menacing Monster Guide

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
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Menacing Monster Guide
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by David Johnson

Cyclopes and Other Classical Culprits
The ancient Greeks loved the monsters, spirits, and demons that populated their literature.

Among the most frightful were the Cyclopes, whom Homer described as barbarous, violent, and strong. Odysseus met the Cyclops Polyphemus during his wanderings.

The three Gorgons were sisters—Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale—whose hair was a mass of writhing snakes and whose faces were so repulsive all who looked at them turned to stone.

The Sirens were three nymphs, usually with the head of a woman and the body of a bird, whose heavenly singing lured passing ships to their island where they crashed on the dangerous rocks.

From the Greek daimon, or spirit, demons are powerful supernatural beings without the dignity of gods. Ancient demons could be good or bad.

The classical Greek demon, Pan, was a nature spirit. Other demons protected homes, fields, or travelers. Malevolent demons brought on disease or insanity. Hebrew and Christian culture considered all demons evil. In 1589, a leading expert named Brinsfield listed major demons and their specialties. These included: Lucifer, pride; Satan, anger; Beelzebub, gluttony; and Belphegor, sloth.

Immense fire-breathing lizards, known as dragons, are common in ancient mythology. The have gained more recent celebrity by appearing in many fantasy and horror movies and books.
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In Persia, and in the West, dragons are usually evil. In medieval legend, slaying a dragon was the highest heroic achievement, such as in the story of St. George. In the Bible, the red dragon of the Apocalypse is associated with Satan, an enduring theme in Christian literature and art. In China, however, dragons bring good will. Asian dragons are more like snakes and fly by magic, not with wings.

While it is generally believed that dragons never existed, some scholars believe a species of Indonesian lizard, the dangerous Komodo Dragon, which can be ten feet long and weigh over 300 pounds, could have been the ancient origin of dragon stories.

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