What is a manticore?

Manticores are mythical creatures in Persian mythology that lived in India according to the accounts of the ancient times. The name “manticore” is considered to be a derivation of the word “mardkhora” meaning “man-eater” in Persian language of early ages, “marthikoras” being the counterpart of this word in Hindi language. As is understood from the name these creatures were known to prey on and eat human beings.

Manticores are described in the literature as creatures with the face of a human, body of a lion, three rows of teeth and a tail that resembled a scorpion’s tail and was believed to shoot spikes that are either deadly or poisonous with paralyzing effect on their prey. Manticores also had a voice similar to that of a trumpet.  Some stories depicted them as creatures with a bear’s body while in most of the mythological accounts they were told to have the body of a red lion. In addition to these features, which are more or less the same in ever story, there are some accounts depicting manticores with wings or horns. According to the myths, they were very fast creatures that ran and moved swiftly.

Attacks of a manticore using his tail were deadly for all creatures (except elephants – there is no reference or explanation about why) and although they did kill a great variety of creatures, manticores were known to kill and feed on human beings the most. That is why the word “Anthropophagous” (man-eater in Greek language) was used in Greek literature while mentioning manticores. It was believed that they devoured their prey as a whole and did not leave anything behind. They could use their tails to shoot spikes as lethal and accurate as using a bow.

manticore mythology
(c) Markus Neidel

It is said in the myths that manticores were so strong that they could easily deal with two or three men at once and they actually waited for such an opportunity to attack.

In the literary work of Claudius Aelianus De Natura Animalium (On the Nature of Animals) it was mentioned that Ctesias, a Greek historian and physician from Cnidus in Caria (Karya in modern Turkey), stated that he saw one of these creatures when it was gifted to the Persian King. It was also written in the work of Claudius Aelianus that Indians hunted those creatures before stings were grown on their tails and they crushed their tails to prevent them from becoming those fearsome and extremely deadly creatures.