The Gorgon

In the title-page of one edition of "The Historie of Foure-footed

Beastes" (1607) Topsell gives this picture of the Gorgon; and he says,

respecting this curious animal, the following:--"Among the manifold and

divers sorts of Beasts which are bred in Affricke, it is thought that

the Gorgon is brought foorth in that countrey. It is a feareful and

terrible beast to behold: it hath high and thicke eie-lids, eies not

very g
eat, but much like an Oxes or Bugils, but all fiery bloudy, which

neyther looke directly forwarde, nor yet upwards, but continuallye downe

to the earth, and therefore are called in Greeke Catobleponta. From

the crowne of their head downe to their nose, they have a long hanging

mane, which makes them to look fearefully. It eateth deadly and

poysonfull hearbs, and if at any time he see a Bull, or other creature

whereof he is afraid, he presently causeth his mane to stand upright,

and, being so lifted up, opening his lips, and gaping wide, sendeth

forth of his throat a certaine sharpe and horrible breath, which

infecteth, and poysoneth the air above his head, so that all living

creatures which draw the breath of that aire are greevously afflicted

thereby, loosing both voyce and sight, they fall into leathall and

deadly convulsions. It is bred in Hesperia and Lybia.

"The Poets have a fiction that the Gorgones were the Daughters of

Medusa and Phorcynis, and are called Steingo, and by Hesiodus,

Stheno, and Eyryale inhabiting the Gorgadion Ilands in the

AEthiopick Ocean, over against the gardens of Hesperia. Medusa is

said to have the haires of his head to be living Serpentes, against whom

Perseus fought, and cut off his hed, for which cause he was placed in

heaven on the North side of the Zodiacke above the Waggon, and on the

left hand holding the Gorgons head. The truth is that there were

certaine Amazonian women in Affricke divers from the Scythians,

against whom Perseus made warre, and the captaine of those women was

called Medusa, whom Perseus overthrew, and cut off her head, and

from thence came the Poet's fiction describing Snakes growing out of it

as is aforesaid. These Gorgons are bred in that countrey, and have

such haire about their heads, as not onely exceedeth all other beastes,

but also poysoneth, when he standeth upright. Pliny calleth this beast

Catablepon,[29] because it continually looketh downwards, and saith

all the parts of it are but smal excepting the head, which is very

heavy, and exceedeth the proportion of his body, which is never lifted

up, but all living creatures die that see his eies.

"By which there ariseth a question whether the poison which he sendeth

foorth, proceede from his breath, or from his eyes. Whereupon it is more

probable, that like the Cockatrice, he killeth by seeing, than by the

breath of his mouth, which is not competible to any other beasts in the

world. Besides, when the Souldiers of Marius followed Iugurtha,

they saw one of these Gorgons, and, supposing it was some sheepe,

bending the head continually to the earth, and moving slowly, they set

upon him with their swords, whereat the Beast, disdaining, suddenly

discovered his eies, setting his haire upright, at the sight whereof the

Souldiers fel downe dead.

"Marius, hearing thereof, sent other souldiers to kill the beaste, but

they likewise died, as the former. At last the inhabitantes of the

countrey, tolde the Captaine the poyson of this beast's nature, and that

if he were not killed upon a Sodayne, with onely the sight of his eies

he sent death into his hunters: then did the Captaine lay an ambush of

souldiers for him, who slew him sodainely with their speares, and

brought him to the Emperour, whereupon Marius sent his skinne to Rome,

which was hung up in the Temple of Hercules, wherein the people were

feasted after the triumphes; by which it is apparent that they kill with

their eies, and not with their breath....

"But to omit these fables, it is certaine that sharp poisoned sightes

are called Gorgon Blepen, and therefore we will followe the Authoritie

of Pliny and Athenaeus. It is a beast set all over with scales like a

Dragon, having no haire except on his head, great teeth like Swine,

having wings to flie, and hands to handle, in stature betwixt a Bull and

a Calfe.

"There be Ilandes called Gorgonies, wherein these monster-Gorgons

were bredde, and unto the daies of Pliny, the people of that countrey

retained some part of their prodigious nature. It is reported by

Xenophon, that Hanno, King of Carthage, ranged with his armie in

that region, and founde there, certaine women of incredible swiftenesse

and perniscitie of foote. Whereof he tooke two onely of all that

appeared in sight, which had such roughe and sharp bodies, as never

before were seene. Wherefore, when they were dead, he hung up their

skinnes in the Temple of Juno, for a monument of their straunge

natures, which remained there untill the destruction of Carthage. By

the consideration of this beast, there appeareth one manifest argument

of the Creator's devine wisdome and providence, who hath turned the eies

of this beaste downeward to the earth, as it were thereby burying his

poyson from the hurt of man; and shaddowing them with rough, long and

strong haire, that their poysoned beames should not reflect upwards,

untill the beast were provoked by feare or danger, the heavines of his

head being like a clogge to restraine the liberty of his poysonfull

nature, but what other partes, vertues or vices, are contained in the

compasse of this monster, God onely knoweth, who, peradventure, hath

permitted it to live uppon the face of the earth, for no other cause but

to be a punishment and scourge unto mankind; and an evident example of

his owne wrathfull power to everlasting destruction. And this much may

serve for a description of this beast, untill by God's providence, more

can be known thereof."