(last update : 01 November 1998)
Unicorn, griffin, mermaid, dragon, satyr... Are these fabulous animals completely imaginary, or are they based on real beings, possibly still unknown to science ?
2- The mermaid
3 - The centaur
4 - The amazons
5 - the griffin
6 - The dragon
7 - The satyrs
Creature of the Greek mythology, half-man, half-horse, the centaur may be based upon a "visual play on words", as suggested by Bernard Heuvelmans : "horseman" is already an ambiguous word, and an excellent rider is said "to make a part of his horse", giving birth to this impossible hybrid.
As the symbol of evil which every knight should fight, like Saint-Georges (figure 5), the dragon is another mythical creature, the saga of which has been fed by various real animals : large snakes (Pliny, for instance, called "dragons" the pythons), monitor lizards and other large saurians, etc. Sometimes even, the discovery of bones of mammoths or wooly rhinoceros gave birth locally to "dragon" legends. Last but not least, the possible survival of reptiles supposed to have become extinct since geological times, such as the mokele-mbembe (an animal from central Africa described like a sauropod dinosaur), also takes a part in the myth.
Figure 5 : Saint-Georges killing the dragon
(Flemish painting of the 15th century).