EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS, ΦΒΚ
Many creatures arose with double faces and double breasts, offspring of oxen with human faces, and again there sprang up children of men with oxen’s heads.
Fragments, 5th cen. BCE
Cow-human hybrids have been the subject of mythology and religious awe since the most ancient times. The best known example is that of the Minotaur of Greek legend. In that story Minos, the king of Crete and the husband of Pasiphae, prays for a white bull to sacrifice to Poseidon. But, as Apollodorus (Library and Epitome, 3.1.4) relates, Minos
There are other, earlier deities, such as the Egyptian Montu (see image at right) and Apis, as well as the Mesopotamian Enkidu (see images below), which were often represented as a blend of human and cow. The Temple of Montu at Medamud was first built during the Old Kingdom era, that is, in the third millennium BCE. Worship of Apis and Enkidu dates back to at least an equally early date. Likewise, a guardian of the Underworld in Chinese mythology, known in English translation as Ox-head, had a bull head and a human body. And even today, the Devil is often represented in Christian publications as a kind of cow-human hybrid with horns, cloven hooves and a tail.
Many silver tetradrachms, such as those shown at right, were issued by the city of Gela during the fifth century BCE. Stamped with an image of a cow-human hybrid, they honored the river god Gelas for whom the city was named. Gela, which stood on the southern coast of Sicily, was a major city during the classical Greek period with a population of around 100,000. Famously, the tragedian Aeschylus died there in 456 BCE when a passing eagle dropped a turtle on his head. In Hellenic culture river gods were often represented as man-headed bulls, as they had been in earlier Etruscan culture (Molinari and Sisci 2016). An example appears in this passage from an ancient Greek tragedy in which a woman describes her courtship by a river god:
Another mythical cow-human hybrid, the Chichevache, a human-faced cow, appears also in The Canterbury Tales. According to Chaucer, it fed only on obedient and faithful wives and was therefore perpetually gaunt with hunger:
The Oxford English Dictionary says Chaucer’s is the earliest known use of the word chichevache in English. In French, chiche vache means “greedy cow” and was in use as an epithet in that language at least as early as the 13th century.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
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