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Jan Jonston, Historia naturalis de quadrupedibus, Amsterdam 1614

The catoblepas (pl. catoblepones; from the Greek καταβλέπω, (katablépō) "to look downwards") is a legendary creature from Ethiopia, described first by Pliny the Elder and later by Claudius Aelianus. It is said to have the body of a buffalo and the head of a wild boar. Its back has scales that protect the beast, and its head is always pointing downwards due to its head being heavy. Its stare or breath could either turn people into stone, or kill them. The catoblepas is often thought to be based on real-life encounters with wildebeest, such that some dictionaries say that the word is synonymous with "gnu".

Ancient and medieval descriptions[edit]

Pliny the Elder (Natural History, 8.77) described the catoblepas as a mid-sized creature, sluggish, with a heavy head and a face always turned to the ground. He thought its gaze, like that of the basilisk, was lethal, making the heaviness of its head quite fortunate.

Claudius Aelianus (On the Nature of Animals, 7.6) provided a fuller description: the creature was a mid-sized herbivore, about the size of a domestic bull, with a heavy mane, narrow, bloodshot eyes, a scaly back and shaggy eyebrows. The head was so heavy that the beast could only look down. In his description, the animal's gaze was not lethal, but its breath was poison, since it ate only poisonous vegetation.

In literature[edit]

The catoblepas is described in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci:

It is found in Ethiopia near to the source Nigricapo. It is not a very large animal, is sluggish in all its parts, and its head is so large that it carries it with difficulty, in such wise that it always droops towards the ground; otherwise it would be a great pest to man, for any one on whom it fixes its eyes dies immediately.

In The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874), Gustave Flaubert describes it as:

...a black buffalo with the head of a hog, hanging close to the ground, joined to its body by a thin neck, long and loose as an emptied intestine. It wallows flat upon the ground, and its legs are smothered under the huge mane of stiff bristles that hide its face.

In The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The New Arcadia), by Sir Philip Sidney, the "forsaken knight" that Amphilalus fights has a Catoblepas upon his crest:

So passed he over into the island, taking with him the two brothers of Anaxius; where he found the forsaken knight attired in his own livery, as black as sorrow itself could see itself in the blackest glass: his ornaments of the same hue, but formd into the figures of ravens which seemed to gape for carrion: only his reins were snakes, which finely wrapping themselves one within the other, their heads came together to the cheeks and bosses of the bit, where they might seem to bite at the horse, and the horse, as he champed the bit, to bite at them, and that the white foam was engendered by the poisonous fury of the combat. His impresa was a Catoblepta, which so long lies dead as the moon (whereto it hath so natural a sympathy) wants her light. The word signified, that the moon wanted not the light, but the poor beast wanted the moon's light.

The Catoblepas was listed in the Book of Imaginary Beings. It is described as a black buffalo with a hog's head that is always looking down.

Catoblepas in fantasy games[edit]

The catoblepas is a common monster in roleplaying games and video games. Long associated with the Dungeons & Dragons game, the catoblepas was among the creatures included in the original 1977 version of the Monster Manual. The gorgon, despite its name, also has traits of the catoblepas; a bull-like creature with metal scales and petrifying breath.

Catoblepas appeared in various Castlevania videogames such as, Aria of Sorrow for Game Boy Advance and Dawn of Sorrow for Nintendo DS. In Dawn of Sorrow, his breath could turn Soma Cruz into stone, but if Soma obtained the monster's soul, he could use that same ability on his enemies. He also appears in Circle of the Moon, where he's virtually a somewhat altered version of Gorgon. He also appears as a fire-element based playing creature in the strategy card game Culdcept for PlayStation 2.

The catoblepas is a multi avatar monster in the text based MUD Realms of Despair.

The catoblepas has also appeared in several Final Fantasy games as either a powerful monster or as the summoned creature, "Shoat" or (in Final Fantasy V) as both. This creature also appears by name in Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga as a boss monster. Catoblepas is the monster in Monster in My Pocket #20. The catoblepas also appear in the Lost Kingdoms series of games. In the MMORPG RuneScape, there is a creature called a Catablepon which bears close similarities to the Catoblepas, although it resembles a cross between a cow and a reptile.[1]

In Age of Mythology, one of the items that can be collected is named "Scales of the Catoblepas".

In The Witcher, Geralt needs to get a catoblepas steak for a cursed Princess in Act III.

In the Scribblenauts series(excluding the first game), You can make a Catoblepas using the notebook. It will turn you and everything else in its path to stone.

In Magic: The Gathering, the "Loathsome Catoblepas" is a creature card from the Greek themed Theros block.[2]

The catoblepas in other media[edit]

The Catoblepas is symbol of the dark armor called "Surplice", which is part of the garment of one of Hades' soldiers, known as Specters, in Masami Kurumada's manga Saint Seiya.

The owner of this Surplice is known as Earthly Running Star, Gorgon Ochs (地走星ゴーゴンのオクス Chisōsei Gōgon no Okusu?), and the Surplice's design when not worn resembles a Catoblepas, although Kurumada chose to use the name Gorgon, sometimes associated with the Catoblepas.

Catoblepas is also the title character of the manga series Hitomi no Catoblepas. However, apart from the ability to kill with a glance, he bears little resemblance to his mythical namesake.

In China Miéville's Perdido Street Station, the adventurer Shadrach wears a belt of hide made from a catoblepas he killed. He references being experienced in "kill[ing] with [his] eyes closed."

They are encountered in the young adult novel The House of Hades in the Italian city of Venice, where they're mostly docile grazers. They attack, using their piercing stares and gaseous breath, when some of the protagonists step on their food.


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