Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Lamia Mythological Monsterous Woman

The Lamia

The Lamiæ are mythological monsters of Africa, with the face and breast of a woman, the rest of the body like that of a serpent; they allured strangers, that they might devour them; and though not endowed with the faculty of speech, their hissings were pleasing. Some believed them to be evil spirits, who, in the form of beautiful women, enticed young children, and devoured them; according to some, the fable of the Lamiæ is derived from the amours of Jupiter with a beautiful woman, Lamia, whom Juno rendered deformed, and whose children she destroyed; Lamia became insane, and so desperate, that she ate up all the children which came in her way.

Topsell, before entering upon the natural history of the Lamia, as an animal, tells the following story of it as a mythological being:—“It is reported of Menippus the Lycian, that he fell in love with a strange woman, who at that time seemed both beautifull, tender, and rich, but, in truth, there was no such thing, and all was but a fantastical ostentation; she was said to insinuate her selfe, into his familiaritie after this manner: as he went upon a day alone from Corinth to Senchræa, hee met with a certaine phantasme, or spectre like a beautifull woman, who tooke him by the hand, and told him she was a Phœnician woman, and of long time had loved him dearely, having sought many occasions to manifest the same, but could never finde opportunitie untill that day, wherefore she entreated him to take knowledge of her house, which was in the Suburbes of Corinth, therewithall pointing unto it with her finger, and so desired his presence. The young man seeing himselfe thus wooed by a beautiful woman, was easily overcome by her allurements, and did oftimes frequent her company.

“There was a certaine wise man, and a Philosopher, which espied the same, and spake unto Menippus in this manner, ‘O formose, et a formorsis, expetitie mulieribus, ophin thalpies, cai se ophis,’ that is to say, ‘O fair Menippus, beloved of beautiful women, art thou a serpent, and dost nourish a serpent?’ by which words he gave him his first admonition, or incling of a mischiefe; but not prevayling, Menippus proposed to marry with this spectre, her house to the outward shew, being richly furnished with all manner of houshold goods; then said the wise man againe unto Menippus, ‘This gold, silver, and ornaments of house, are like to Tantalus Apples, who are said by Homer to make a faire shew, but to containe in them no substance at all; even so, whatsoever you conceave of this riches, there is no matter or substance in the things which you see, for they are onely inchaunted images, and shadowes, which that you may beleeve, this your neate bride is one of the Empusæ, called Lamia, or Mormolicæ, wonderfull desirous of commerce with men, and loving their flesh above measure; but those whom they doe entice, afterwards they devoure without love or pittie, feeding upon their flesh.’ At which words the wise man caused the gold and silver plate, and household stuffe, cookes, and servants to vanish all away. Then did the spectre like unto one that wept, entreate the wise man that he would not torment her, nor yet cause her to confesse what manner of person she was; but he on the other side being inexorable, compelled her to declare the whole truth, which was, that she was a Phairy, and that she purposed to use the companie of Menippus, and feede him fat with all manner of pleasures, to the extent that, afterward, she might eate up and devour his body, for all their kinde love was only to feed upon beautiful yong men....

“To leave therefore these fables, and come to the true description of the Lamia, we have in hand. In the foure and thirty chapter of Esay, we do find this called a beast Lilith in the Hæbrew, and translated by the auncients Lamia, which is threatened to possesse Babell. Likewise in the fourth chapter of the Lamentations, where it is said in our English translation, that the Dragons lay forth their brests, in Hæbrew they are called Ehannum, which, by the confession of the best interpreters, cannot signifie Dragons, but rather Sea calves, being a generall word for strange wilde beasts. How be it the matter being wel examined, it shall appeare that it must needes be this Lamia, because of her great breastes, which are not competible either to the Dragon, or Sea calves; so then, we wil take it for graunted, by the testimony of holy Scripture, that there is such a beast as this Cristostinius. Dion also writeth that there are such beasts in some parts of Libia, having a Woman’s face, and very beautifull, also very large and comely shapes on their breasts, such as cannot be counterfeited by the art of any painter, having a very excellent colour in their fore parts, without wings, and no other voice but hissing like Dragons: they are the swiftest of foote of all earthly beasts, so as none can escape them by running, for, by their celerity, they compasse their prey of beastes, and by their fraud they overthrow men. For when they see a man, they lay open their breastes, and by the beauty thereof, entice them to come neare to conference, and so, having them within their compasse, they devoure and kill them.

“Unto the same things subscribe Cælius and Giraldus, adding also, that there is a certaine crooked place in Libia neare the Sea-shore, full of sand like to a sandy Sea, and all the neighbor places thereunto are deserts. If it fortune at any time, that through shipwrack, men come there on shore, these beasts watch uppon them, devouring them all, which either endevour to travell on the land, or else to returne backe againe to Sea, adding also, that when they see a man they stand stone still, and stir not til he come unto them, looking down upon their breasts or to the ground, whereupon some have thought, that seeing them, at their first sight have such a desire to come neare them, that they are drawne into their compasse, by a certaine naturall magicall witchcraft.... The hinderparts of the beast are like unto a Goate, his fore legs like a Beares, his upper parts to a woman, the body scaled all over like a Dragon, as some have affirmed by the observation of their bodies, when Probus, the Emperor, brought them forth unto publike spectacle; also it is reported of them, that they devoure their own young ones, and therefore they derive their name Lamia, of Lamiando; and thus much for this beast.”

Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.

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