Caprinid-human hybrids

Goat or Sheep × Human

Yesterday: Myth and early reports

Mammalian Hybrids






And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.
—J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings
The god Pan Pan teaching the shepherd Daphnis to play the pipes. Roman copy of Greek original (found at Pompeii, therefore dating to before 79 CE).

Note: Caprinids are members of a division of Family Bovidae that includes goats and sheep.

In his biography of Sulla, Plutarch gives the following account of a satyr. Satyrs, which many Romans believed actually to exist, were supposed to be creatures half goat and half human (like Pan in the image at right).

Sulla, having marched through Thessaly and Macedon to the seacoast, prepared with twelve hundred vessels to cross over from Dyrrhachium [modern Durrës] to Brundusium [modern Brindisi]. Not far from thence is Apollonia, and near it the Nymphaeum . . . there they say, a satyr, such as statuaries and painters represent, was caught asleep, and brought before Sulla, where he was asked by several interpreters who he was, and, after much trouble, at last uttered nothing intelligible, but a harsh noise, something between the neighing of a horse and the crying of a goat.

The Nymphaeum near Apollonia was sacred to the god Pan and to the nymphs, the female nature entities of ancient myth, and the supposed frequent prey of lustful satyrs. In fable, they often accompany the higher divinities, in particular Apollo, and rustic gods such as Artemis, Dionysus, Pan, and Hermes (as the god of shepherds).

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satyr Above: A nineteenth-century account of an incoherent satyr, reminiscent of Plutarch’s gibbering satyr, appears on page 4 (col. 5) of the May 11, 1888 issue of the The Kimball Graphic, a newspaper published in Kimball, South Dakota (source).

The Greeks used the word satyr to refer to a different sort of animal. Instead of goat-human hybrids, as the Romans imagined them, a Greek would have described a satyr as a cross between a human and a horse, more like a centaur. But by Roman times satyrs had morphed in the popular imagination into goat-human creatures and were generally conflated with fauns, which were also human above and goat below (see the paintings of fauns on this page). Generally speaking, however, satyrs were more lusty than fauns.

Jordaens Jacob - Infant Zeus Fed by the Goat Amalthea Jordaens Jacob - Infant Zeus Fed by the Goat Amalthea

Classical literature is rife with accounts such as Plutarch’s, and the authors of these stories often represented them as real events. In Roman times it was widely accepted that humans could hybridize with non-human animals. For example, in his De Natura Animalium (VI, 42), the Roman author Aelian (c. 175 - c. 235 CE) relates the following:

Satyr and nymphs Satyr and nymphs. Wialliam-Adolphe Bouguereau.
An Italian story, which records an event that occurred when affairs were at their prime in the city of Sybaris, has reached my ears and is worth relating. A mere boy, a goatherd by occupation, whose name was Crathis, under an erotic impulse lay with the prettiest of his goats, and took pleasure in the union, and whenever he wanted sexual pleasure he would go to her; and he kept her as his darling. Moreover the amorous goatherd would bring to his loved one aforesaid such gifts as he could procure, offering her sometimes the loveliest twigs of tree-medick, and often bindweed and mastic to eat, so making her mouth fragrant for him if he should want to kiss her. And he even prepared for her, as for a bride, a leafy bed ever so luxurious and soft to sleep in. But the he-goat, the leader of the flock, did not observe these proceedings with indifference, but was filled with jealousy. For a time however he dissembled his anger and watched for the boy to be seated and asleep; and there he was, his face dropped forward on his chest. So with all the force at his command the he-goat dashed his head against him and smashed the fore-part of his skull. The event reached the ears of the inhabitants, and it was no mean tomb that they erected for the boy; and they called their river “the Crathis” after him. From his union with the she-goat a baby was born with the legs of a goat and the face of a man. The story goes that he was deified and was worshipped as a god of the woods and vales. From the goat we learn that animals have indeed their share of jealousy.
khnum The Egyptian god Khnum, a sheep-human hybrid

Indeed, in very ancient times such hybrids were not only accepted, but even viewed in a sacred light. Thus, Budge (Gods of the Egyptians, 1904, p. 353) writes: “At several places in the [Nile] Delta, e.g., Hermopolis, Lycopolis and Mendes the god Pan and a goat were worshipped. Strabo, quoting (xvii. 1, 19) Pindar, says that in these places goats had intercourse with women. Herodotus (ii. 46) instances a case which was said to have taken place in the open day.” The passage from Herodotus (excerpted from Macaulay 1890) reads as follows.

Now the reason why those of the Egyptians whom I have mentioned do not sacrifice goats, female or male, is this: the Mendesians count Pan to be one of the eight gods (now these eight gods they say came into being before the twelve gods), and the painters and image-makers represent in painting and in sculpture the figure of Pan, just as the Hellenes do, with goat’s face and legs, not supposing him to be really like this but to resemble the other gods; the cause however why they represent him in this form I prefer not to say. The Mendesians then reverence all goats and the males more than the females (and the goatherds too have greater honour than other herdsmen), but of the goats one especially is reverenced, and when he dies there is great mourning in all the Mendesian district: and both the goat and Pan are called in the Egyptian tongue Mendes. Moreover in my lifetime there happened in that district this marvel, that is to say a he-goat had intercourse with a woman publicly, and this was so done that all men might have evidence of it.
Satyr as a Guest of the Peasant Satyr as a Guest of the Peasant by Jan Cossiers

St. Jerome in The Life of Paulus the First Hermit (§8), states that, when Constantine was on the throne, a satyr “was brought alive to Alexandria and shown as a wonderful sight to the people. Afterwards his lifeless body, to prevent its decay through the summer heat, was preserved in salt and brought to Antioch that the Emperor might see it.” Jerome adds that “it was a matter of which the whole world was witness.”

But during the Dark Ages — when Christian jurists came widely to believe that Satan made a habit of seducing witches in animal form, often that of a goat — any seeming half-human birth came to be viewed as a manifestation of great evil. And up until about 1700, any woman who gave birth to such an infant ran a grave risk of being burnt at the stake. Indeed, Satan himself was often depicted as a goat-human hybrid, similar in aspect to the pagan god Pan.

Writing during the reign of Elizabeth I, Batman (1581) tells of a creature found in England that, from his account, he clearly believed to be a human-sheep hybrid. His comments are those of an individual, but their tone reflects the marked shift in attitude society had undergone since ancient times with respect to such matters. What to the pagan had been a mere foible, to the Christian had become a black sin against nature.

At Birdham near Chichester in Sussex, about twenty-three years ago, there was a monster found upon the common, having the form and figure of a man in the fore-part, having two arms and hands, and a human visage, with only one eye in the middle of his forehead: the hinder part was like a lamb. … This young monster was nailed up in the church porch of the said parish, and exposed to public view a long time, as a monument of divine judgement.

The seventeenth-century writer Johannes Praetorius (Neüliche Miß-Geburten, 1678) reports the German town of Plößte a lamb with a human face was yeaned on the 28th of March 1670. He says it had a naked body and lamb-like ears. Also in Germany, Christian Lehmann (1611-1688) describes an infant born to the wife of a certain Hans Bäßer, a resident of Weipert, in 1678. He says this “horrific monstrosity” (“heßliche Mißgeburt”) had a goat’s head with two horns on its forehead and goat’s eyes on its cheeks.

The Dutch surgeon Nicolaes Tulp (1593-1674) was the mayor of Amsterdam and is believed to be the first European scientist to publish a description of the chimpanzee. As did many other physicians of his day, he wrote up for the benefit of his colleagues a compilation of the more interesting cases he had seen in private practice. One such was that of “The Bleating Youth” (Juvenis balans), where Tulp describes a youth who grew up among wild sheep in Ireland and who had certain sheep-like characteristics. Tulp says the following of this unusual individual:

Gazelle Boy

In 1946, in a case paralleling that of the Juvenis balans, news reports (Report #1, Report #2) tell of a boy captured in the Syria Desert who was living with gazelles and who supposedly could run twice as fast as any other human being, this despite the fact that his estimated age was only ten. Extremely thin and unable to speak, according the reports, he was brought to Damascus and was never allowed to return to the wild, despite repeated attempts to escape.
Brought to Amsterdam from Ireland, the young man, about sixteen years old, was seen by all. Having been, perhaps, separated from his parents during infancy and living all his life among wild sheep, he had become quite sheep-like. He was nimble of body and agile of foot. His expressions were wild. His body was rough, and his skin, scorched by the sun. His limbs were drawn together, his forehead so flat and sloping that his head bulged at the rear. In temper he was wild, fearless, and devoid of all human feeling, but in other respects healthy and extremely vigorous. Lacking a human voice, he bleated like a sheep and rejected the food and drink that humans eat. Rather, he ate only grass, hay, and the other things that interest sheep. In eating, he continually turned everything over, choosing each single morsel, by its odor and flavor. But he had lived in the rugged hills and wild places, and was no less fierce and wild himself, delighting in remote haunts, inaccessible and uncultivated. Accustomed to live in the open air, he endured equally well both winter and summer weather, avoiding the nets of hunters, in which however he was caught at last. Though he kept to the steep cliffs and jagged rocks, and cast himself recklessly into thorny thickets, he was captured. By his way of life he had taken on more the character of a wild beast than a man’s. And even restrained and living long among humans, he set his wild temper aside only unwillingly and with the passage of much time. [(Observationes medicae, 2nd ed., 1672, Liber IV, Ch. X, pp. 296-298) Translated by E.M. McCarthy. Original Latin.]
EnkiduEnkidu battling a lion (Akkadian cylinder seal impression, c. 2200 BCE)

Tulp’s account of the bleating youth shows interesting parallels to the descriptions of the Mesopotamian humano-bovine deity Enkidu, a half-man half-bovine demigod who is one of the main characters in the Epic of Gilgamesh. His body was similar to that of the Greek god Pan, or Christian Devil (human torso, hairy legs with cloven hooves, horns on head). The following account of Enkidu’s origin is from my own English reconstruction of the ancient epic:

Thus, the people besought the Great Goddess,
Arūru, to give them succor. She formed
damp clay, cast it into the wilderness,
watched as Enkídu’s warrior sinews warmed
to life. He was the image of Ánu,
great Lord of Sky. This wild Enkídu,
the king’s balancing spirit (his “zíkru”),
was untame (because he was lullú).
This zíkru knew nothing of men and priests,
and cared nothing at all for their daughters.
Enkídu came hurrying after the beasts,
when their hearts grew light in the waters.
He was a being of forest and rock,
who clung to nature and shunned the walled town.
His was a spirit that moved with the flock—
He had with none, except shepherds, renown.
Thus, when Nínsun said to seek his zíkru,
Gílgamesh wondered if he could be found—
this was no town-spawned human— He clove to
woods and wilds where secret places abound.
But a trapper had seen him already
that day, leaping with gazelles and standing
with the herds. The stunned man came back, said he
had watched him cavorting with deer, banding
with beasts. He told how he’d dreaded the gore
of hircine horn, cringed at Enkídu’s gaze.
He could not endure this wild being’s roar
(a beastly bellow of no human phrase).

This creature was later listed by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae (1766) as a specimen of feral human (Homo ferus) under the name Juvenis ovinus Hibernus N. Tulp, 1672, the Irish sheep-boy.



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By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).

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