Licho (2)

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Licho vel liko panthera belua.


Licho vel liko pãthera (panthera C) belua ACD | Likopãtera belua B | Lico grece pantera bellua e | Lico grece paltera belua f


Licho- or liko-panthera is a ferocious beast.


According to LSJ πάνθηρ /pánther/ is a "term applied to various spotted Felidae", which includes tiger and leopard. The most likely animal here is therefore the leopard, whose distribution included North Africa and the Middle East.

λύκος /lýkos/ "wolf", in its compound form lico-, here with itacist pronunciation.

λυκοπάνθερος /lykopántheros/ is glossed as "wolf-panther", synon. of θώς /thṓs/ by LSJ.

Ibid. θώς /thṓs/, pl. θῶες /thôes/ is glossed as: prob. "jackal, Canis aureus. 2. hunting dog".

Giambattista della Porta in his Magiae Naturalis libri 20, (1651: 75) gives a more detailed report of this mysterious creature:

ex lupo & panthera lycopantheros, sive thoës gignitur. Panthera libidinis tempore admodum vocalis est, & ad ejus vocem animalia ejusdem, aut varii generis accurrunt. Saepe etiam lupi cum pardalibus complexu venereo implicantur, unde nascuntur Thoës, ac pellis quidem varietate matris, aspectus autem patris speciem similitudinemque gerunt.

"A lycopantheros, they are also called thoës, is the product of a he-wolf and a female leopard. A female leopard when in heat sends out mating calls and animals of her own kind or of different species hasten to her. Often even wolves get entwined in an amorous union with female leopards, out of which grow the Thoës, and the fur has the speckledness of the mother, but they exhibit the appearance, nature and likeness of the father."

And Giambattista continues by quoting a Latin translation of Oppian’s Cynegetica, {"The Chase"}, book III:

Oppianus ex panthero & lupo Thoës generari dixit, nec sui generis animal.

"Oppian said that the Thoës race is the product of a leopard and a wolf, resulting in an animal which is not of the same kind."

Saepe numero autem rursum lupi etiam cum pantheris cruentis

Ad cubile accesserunt, unde durissimi tergoris genera

Thoës: simul ferunt duplicem mistum colorem,

Matrem quidem pelle, capite autem rursum patrem.

"But often have wolves, too, visited the marriage-bed with blood-thirsty female leopards from which arise the most hardened race of the Thoës, at once carrying the dual mixed colours, on the one hand the mother on the hide, but on the other hand the father on the head."

The original Greek text by Oppian was published and translated in Mair (1928: 140.336-9) from Τὰ Κυνηγετικά, Cynegetica {"The Chase"}:

Δηθάκι δ᾽ αὖτε λύκοι καὶ πορδαλίεσσι δαφοιναῖς - /Dētháki d’aûte lýkoi kaì pordalíessi daphoinaîs/

εἰς εὐνὴν ἐπέλασσαν, ὅθεν κρατερόφρονα φῦλα, - /eis eunḕn epélassan, hóthen krateróphrona phyla,/

θῶες· ὁμοῦ δὲ φέρουσι διπλοῦν μεμορυγμένον ἄνθος, /thôes: homoû dè phérousi diploûn memorygménon ánthos,/

μητέρα μὲν ῥινοῖσι, προσώποις δ᾽ αὖ γενετῆρα. /mētéra mèn rhinoîsi, prosṓpois d’aû genetêra./

Which Mair (1928: 141:

"Often Wolves mate with the fierce Leopards, and from the union springs the mighty tribe of Jackals. They wear two colours mingled together, the mother's colour on the hide, the father's on the face."

It is conceivable that the above story is simply a naïve explanation of the appearance of the jackal, for which the Greek expression θώς /thṓs/ was commonly used. Canis aureus L. has a large distribution that covers i.e. South-Eastern Europe, esp. the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa deep down into the Sahel zone. The Greeks knew the animal although it was probably often mistaken for a fox or a wolf. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining why the jackal has played only a very minor role in European folklore. The description of it as having "a dog’s face” is quite accurate and his body could be vaguely compared to the spotted body of a leopard.

WilfGunther 15/12/13

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