Catoblepas

Mammal of North Africa; see SemimytHICAL Beasts.

Etymology: Greek, "that which looks downward."

Variant names: Catoplepe, Gorgon.

Physical description: Body like a bull's. Oversized head so heavy that it always hangs close to the ground. Bristled, scraggly head-hair from crown to nose. Scaly back. Small wings, according to later sources.

Behavior: Sluggish. Has an overpowering breath (odor). Its gaze can kill (though Pliny may have gotten this characteristic mixed up with that of the BasiuSK).

Distribution: The Nile River in Egypt, east to Ethiopia.

Possible explanation: The Black wildebeest or White-tailed gnu (Connochaetes gnou) is a stocky, dark-brown antelope with front-facing horns and a strange tuft of long hair on the muzzle that acts as a scent dispenser for its face glands. It is found in South Africa. Its fighting posture is to kneel on the ground and hook its opponent from below with its sharply angled horns. The related Blue wildebeest or Brindled gnu (C. taurinus), of South and East Africa, ranged much father north, where Pliny was more likely to have heard about it, possibly persisting on the North African coast into historical times.

Sources: Pliny the Elder, Natural History, viii. 32; ^lian, De natura animalium, viii. 105; Edward Topsell, The Historie ofFoure-Footed Beastes (London: William Iaggard, 1607); Peter Costello, The Magic Zoo (New York: St. Martin's, 1979), pp. 111-114.

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