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Monsters on the Horizon: Multiple Perspectives on Inner Asian Teratology.


Jonathan Ratcliffe, ANU.
Abstract: Classical conceptions of geography, even before Herodotus, present us
with a wealth of bizarre tribes and monstrosities in relation to the remote lands
beyond the Greco-Scythian settlements around the Pontus Euxinus and to the
regions north of India. But what can we make of legendary and distant beings such
as the one-eyed Arimaspians, gold-digging ants, regions full of feathers and dogheaded men? In this paper I will look to uncannily similar descriptions made by the
geographers of ancient and mediaeval India and China towards their north and west
respectively, which point towards notions that such wonders had their origins in the
folklore of the nomadic cultures of Inner Asia. Indeed, in support of this, we find
similar descriptions for the inhabitants of remote lands within the mediaeval and
living epic narratives of the Turkic-Mongolian peoples. A key possibility, which
shall be discussed, is that when asked about distant regions by geographers and
traders, Inner Asian peoples may have made use of the signposts which they
themselves used to describe the very ends of the earth.

Keywords: Geography, Teratology, Amazons, Arimaspians, Herodotus, Inner Asia,


Shan Hai Jing.
In the past twenty years there has been increasing interest in how the ancient Greeks
constructed and undermined their sense of identity through geography based around
qualitative zones. The Greeks positioned themselves and the conventional inhabited
world (oikoumene) at the centre, with the world emanating outwards into regions of
increased cultural barbarity and climatic harshness. 1 At the very edges of the world
beyond such harshness were seen to dwell perfect societies such as Homers and
Herodotus Ethiopians, 2 and the Hyperboreans of Pindar, 3 preferenced by the gods
and possessing an innate goodness far in advance of the Greeks. There has also been
increased interest in the contradictions inherent in the ritualised deprecation and
simultaneous celebration of teratology in classical literature, or the narration of
wonders and monsters in accounts of historia and mythos.4 However, in spite of how
fruitful these approaches have been and continue to be, in many ways these have often
downplayed the intercultural value of myth and symbol contained within Greek and
Roman accounts. One key area is the Greek interface with the inhabitants of Inner
1

J. S. Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994)
esp. 44-66, Dog Heads and Noble Savages: Cynicism before the Cynics? in Cynics: The Cynic
Movement in Antiquity and Its Legacy, edited by R. B. Branham et al. (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1996), 12135; H. J. Kim, Ethnicity and Foreigners in Ancient Greece and China.
(London: Duckworth Publishers, 2009); P. T. Keyser, Greek Geography of the Western Barbarians,
in The Barbarians of Ancient Europe: Realities and Interactions, edited by L. Bonfante, (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2011), 37-70; M. Scott, Space and Society in the Greek and Roman
Worlds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) esp. ch. 5 on Strabo and the oikoumene.
2
Hom. Il. I. 424425, XXIII. 205, Od. I. 2224; Hdt. III. 20-25.
3
Pind. Pyth.X. 27ff; Ol. III. 12ff.
4
G. Malinowski, Mythology, Paradoxology and Teratology in Strabos Geography, in Imaginaire et
Modes de Construction du Savoir antique dans les Textes Scientifiques et Techniques, edited and
arranged by M. Courrent and J. Thomas, (University of Perpignian: Actes du Colloque de Perpignian
12 et 13 mai 2000, 2002), 107-119.

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Asia such as the Scythic peoples and when Greek accounts appear to show uncanny
similarities with the geographers of India and China on Inner Asias wonders.
The geographers around the rim of the steppe regions of Inner Asia
stretching from Mongolia and Manchuria to Hungary - have in many ways always had
a penchant for the wondrous when it comes to understanding the seemingly endless
horizon and the sea of grass that lay before them. They have peopled Inner Asia with
strange monstrosities like one-eyed and dog-headed men, tribes of Amazons, gold
excavated by ants and gryphons and regions full of feathers. From Herodotus to
Marco Polo and the geographical and historical traditions of China and India, what
has often been received has been half understood, in many cases through a pejorative
lens and occasionally written under the influence of the historically largely orally
literate Inner Asian peoples as patrons and rulers. 5 However, when we compare
descriptions given by these scholars a great deal of curious similarities in their
accounts of monstrosity and wonder-tales appears. Some of these examples have only
been touched on in a meagre way by academics in recent times. This paper is an
exercise in comparing and contrasting these accounts. What it will show in many
cases squarely places the onus not merely on the scholars around the shores of the sea
of grass and how they constructed its otherness through the use of wonders and
monsters, but upon the myths of peoples of Inner Asia themselves. Succinctly, when
desiring to know about the Inner Asian horizon, Greek, Indian and Chinese scholars
appear to have asked the peoples of Inner Asia for information. In turn, as will be
shown, the peoples of Inner Asia most likely made use of their own spatial myths
concerning distant regions and the edges of the known world in their replies, and may
have also even borrowed some of them from other cultures in turn. Such myths have,
in many cases, continued to evolve and endure within oral tradition into mediaeval
and even modern times. Indeed, we require all the perspectives available to develop a
cogent, holistic history of myth including the historical and cultural links amongst the
peoples of Inner Asia themselves.
The arrival of the Iron Age in Inner Asia c. 800 BCE brought with it the
formation of the first complex confederacies of mounted nomadic pastoralists in the
form of the largely Indo-Iranian speaking Sai/Saka/Sakya and further west, the
Scythian cultural complexes. The migrations westwards of such peoples into the
cultural spheres of Near Eastern cultures, and subsequently the Greeks around the
Black Sea, precipitated a great movement of peoples, military and artistic technology
and ideas across the steppe regions. 6 So too by the middle of the first millennium BCE
do nomadic peoples influenced by the Indo-Iranian Scythic complex of cultures
appear to have begun to penetrate into Mongolia, 7 having a deep cultural impact on
5

See comments by S. Whitfield, Life Along the Silkroad. (Berkeley: University of California Press,
2001), 9f on the metaphor of Inner Asia as a sea largely studied only from the perspectives of those
living on its rim throughout history and M. Rossabi, The Mongols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2012), 3ff on the oral literacy of the Mongols and other Inner Asian peoples that has often prevented
their views of history to be taken into account.
6
C. I. Beckwith. Empires of the Silk Road. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 377f; S.
Stark, Nomads and Networks: Elites and their Connections to the Outside World, in Nomads and
Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, edited by S. Stark et al. (Princeton and Oxford:
Princeton University Press, 2012), 106-126. There is some evidence that such life-ways had already
begun a century or so earlier in the north of Mongolia: F. Allard and D. Erdenebaatar, Khirigsuurs,
Ritual and Nomadic Pastoralism in the Bronze Age of Mongolia, Antiquity 79.305 (2005): 547-563.
7
I. Clisson et al., Genetic Analysis of Human Remains from a Double Inhumation in a Frozen
Kurgan in Kazakhstan (Berel site, early 3rd century BC), International Journal of Legal Medicine 116
(2002): 304308; J. Nicols, Forerunners to Globalization: The Eurasian Steppe and its Periphery, in
Language Contact in Times of Globalisation, edited by C. Hasselblatt et al. (New York: Rodopi

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the Trco-Mongolian speaking peoples who would come to dominate the steppe
regions from the early middle ages. It is through these cultural links, as well as the
traditions of Greek, Chinese and Indian scholars looking towards the Inner Asian
horizon, that the longevity and evolution of spatial and teratological myth will be
explored.
This said, a number of particular terata, or wonders, will now be discussed in
turn from multiple perspectives and geographical traditions. In many cases the
function of recurring wonders and monsters may become clearer. In other cases a
dearth of information or long-standing assumptions on the part of scholars will have
to be dealt with. It is perhaps unreasonable in some cases to expect a single answer or
transmission process for multifaceted problems with so many perspectives. However,
by taking all available information into account new possibilities will be created for
the study of the intercultural value of myth and symbol and their continuity.
The Monsters.
1. One-eyed Beings.
The image of the monocular man in Inner Asian and Greek myth is a topic on which I
have written quite a deal already in another extended paper.8 Emphatically monocular
beings with eyes in the middle of their foreheads are recorded not only by Greek
geographers and travellers but also by Indian and Chinese geographers in relation to
their respective borders with the regions of Inner Asia. They are for that matter very
well attested within the bounds of Inner Asian epic and living oral tradition. Though
he doubted their veracity, the earliest record of such beings in connection with Inner
Asia is given by Herodotus in his mid-fifth century BCE Histories in relation to the
Arimaspians, a legendary tribe of one-eyed men renowned for their combats with
gold-guarding gryphons at the edges of the world:
It seems to be that the northern parts of Europe have the most gold, but how it is
acquired, I do not know and cannot clearly say, and though it is said that the oneeyed Arimaspian people steal it from gryphons, I am not convinced that men who
are in all other facets the same as normal people, excepting their monocularity,
exist at all. 9

To Greek experience the northernmost limits of the known world were inhabited by
the Issedones, an Inner Asian people from beyond the Greco-Scythian cultural
horizon of the Black Sea region visited by religious devotee to Apollo and traveller
Aristeas of Proconnesus, most likely during the mid-sixth century BCE.10 They may
have been the Wu-sun or Asmen people in Kazakhstan and/or Dzungaria, 11 though
sketchy knowledge caused them to be placed merely somewhere beyond the
Publications, 2011),177-195; M. Gonzlez-Ruiz, M. et al., Tracing the Origins of East-West
Population Admixture in the Altai Region (Central Asia), PloS One 7.11 (2012). Available from:
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0048904. Last accessed
23/6/14.
8
J. Ratcliffe, Arimaspians and Cyclopes: The One-Eyed Man in Greek and Inner Asian Myth, SinoPlatonic Papers 249 (2014).
9
Hdt. III. 116, cf. IV. 13. Translated by Jonathan Ratcliffe 2013/2014.
10
S. West, Herodotus on Aristeas, in Pontus and the Outside World, edited by C. J. Tuplin. (Leiden
and Boston: E.J. Brill Academic Publishers, 2004), 46f; J. Ratcliffe, Arimaspians and Cyclopes, 8.
11
Ptol. Geog. VI. 14; N. H. H. Sitwell, The World the Romans Knew. (London: Hamish Hamilton Press,
1984), 180; A. Mayor. The Amazons. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 422.

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Massagetae and the river Araxes (Aras) in Armenia. 12 Both Herodotus and Aeschylus
appear to have made exclusive use of Aristeas work, a poem called the Arimaspea, in
constructing their understandings of the far North. 13 North, in itself appears to have
simply meant inland, as Europe was taken to be landlocked by Herodotus.14
In these sources, as well as in an Aristean fragment found in Byzantine writer
John Tzetzes, the image of the Arimaspians is one which is striking. They are, as
Tzetzes says: warriors many in number and powerful, rich in horses and
possessing many herds of cattle. They have a single eye in the middle of their fair
foreheads; they are shaggy with hair, and the toughest of all men. 15 This is indeed a
very positive description for beings with a seemingly monstrous single eye in the
middle of their foreheads. Romm has suggested several times that this could well be a
Greek proto-cynical construction in which Greek standards of culture and beauty are
deliberately inverted and the odd and barbarous are instead celebrated.16 This may
indeed be how Aristeas and later Greeks received this description, but it would seem
more likely that the Issedones themselves, when recounting the Arimaspians, viewed
them positively. This is even if according to the catalogue of steppe migrations given
in Herodotus, the Arimaspians had been responsible for setting in motion the
Issedonian, Cimmerian and Scythian migrations due to their invasion of Issedone
territory. 17 What may actually be the case is that the Issedones were speaking of
distant state formation on the eastern steppe, as Vilamjo has suggested,18 and may
not have simply been next door to the Issedones, but representing the fall of the
Western Zhou to chariot-riding Xi-Rong barbarians and the subsequent rise of
nomadic confederacies in Inner Asia following this - several hundred years prior to
Aristeas visit. 19 The one-eyed Arimaspians may simply have been a spatial myth
used to etiologically explain distant events. As will be shown, there are many other
examples of the use of one-eyed men in Inner Asian tradition for representing distant
and primordial geographical locations. This symbol of monocularity seems to
function either positively or negatively throughout history to represent the remote and
wondrous, depending on the perceived nature of the location it was attached to.
For example the first century BCE Shan Hai Jing, or Chinese geographical
Classic of Mountains and Seas, mentions the presence of monocular men with an eye
in the middle of their foreheads in the far north several times, both within and beyond
the furthermost boundaries. We hear in the Classic of the Regions Beyond the Seas
that in the north: The Country of Oneeye lies to the east. Its people have only one
eye that is set right in the middle of their faceSoftsharp Country lies east of the
country of Oneeye. Its people have only one hand and one foot. 20 We also hear
regarding the northern regions in The Classic of the Regions within the Seas: Here is
a people with one eye that grows right in the middle of their face. One author says that
12

Hdt. I. 202-203.
J. D. P. Bolton, Aristeas of Proconnesus, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 8-9.
14
Hdt. I. 103, III. 116; IV.13, 25.2, 147. J, S. Romm, Edges of the Earth, 34; S. West in Brills
Companion to Herodotus, edited by J. Bakker et al. (Leiden: E.J. Brill Academic Publishers, 2002),
349.
15
J. Tzetzes, Chilliades: Historiarum Variarum. (Leipzig: F.C.G. Vogel, 1826), Chil.VII. 68692.
16
J. S. Romm, Edges of the World, 6970, Dog-heads, 1278.
17
Hdt. IV. 13.
18
A. A. Vilamjo, Els Cants arimaspeus dArsteas de Proconns i la caiguda dels Zhou
occidentals,Faventia 21.2 (1999): 4555.
19
S. West, Herodotus on Aristeas, 46f; J. Ratcliffe, Arimaspians and Cyclopes, 8.
20
Translation: A. Birrell, The Classic of Mountains and Seas, (Richmond: Penguin Classics, Penguin
Books, 1999), VIII. p. 121.
13

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they have terror in their family name and that they are the children of the great god
Young Brightsky. They eat millet.21 So too do we find northern one-eyed men in the
Indian Mahbhrata,22 and later in the Bhat Sahit of sixth century CE astronomer
and encyclopaedist Varhamihira where the ekavilocanas (one-eyes) 23 are placed
beside nations of women, seemingly like the Greek Amazons, and Inner Asian GoldScythians and Huns in the far northern and western border regions. 24 Both Chinese
and Indian texts include dog-headed men in close connection with one-eyed men,
such as the vamukhas (dog-faces) in the Bhat Sahit and in the Shan Hai Jings
legends of Hound Tally Country: Houndtally Country is also called Houndarmour
Country. There they all look like hounds.the Country of Ghosts lies north of the
land of the Corpse of Twain Load. The beings there have a human face and only one
eye.25 This association between monocular and canine geographic signposts may also
be witnessed within the boundaries of Inner Asian myth in a section of the Kyrgyz
oral epic Manas in which both species of beings inhabit a remote and evil castle.26
This points us in the direction of associating both of these teratological and
geographical tropes with the peoples of Inner Asia and will be expanded further in
connection with dog-men below. For now, however, it is necessary to enlarge the
discussion on monocular myths.
Within mediaeval Mongolian myth we find in the thirteenth century CE Secret
History of the Mongols, an important monocular ancestor called Duwa Soqur, who
like the Arimaspians and beings of Chinese myth, is clearly described as possessing a
single eye in the middle of his forehead:
Toroqolin Bayan had two sons: Duwa Soqur (The Blind) and Dobun Mergen
(The Expert). Duwa Soqur had a single eye in the middle of his forehead and
could see places three days journey away. One day Duwa Soqur went up Burqan
Qaldun Mountain with his brother Dobun Mergen. When Duwa Soqur looked out
from the top of Burqan Qaldun Mountain he saw a group of people coming
towards the Tnggelik Stream. Duwa Soqur said: Among those travellers
there is a beautiful young woman travelling seated at the front of the cart. If she
is not yet any mans wife, I will ask for her for you, my brother Dobun Mergen,
and make her your wife. And having said this he sent his younger brother Dobun
Mergen to see her.27

As we may see, Duwa Soqurs major function in the text is to find a wife for his
brother using his incredible powers of sight from the central mountain Burqan Qaldun
around which much of the early Secret History revolves.28 It may in fact be fulfilling

21

Ibid. XVII. p. 187.


K. D. Vysa, Mahbhrata, translated by K. M. Ganguli, (New Delhi: Munshirm Manoharlal Pub
Pty Ltd [1883-1896] 2004), II. 38, 51.
23
Varhamihira, Varhamihiras Bhat Sahit Vol. I, translated by M. R. Bhat, (Delhi: Motilal
Banarsidass Publishers, 1997), XIV. 23.
24
Ibid. XIV. 21-27.
25
The Classic of Mountains and Seas, XII. p. 145.
26
This source comes from the altraicist website beutel.narod.ru/write/manas.htm. Other available
collections of Manas do not seem to contain it, but as Manas is a living oral tradition it is a creation of
great diversity.
27
The Secret History of the Mongols. Text of L. Ligeti, Monumenta Linguae Mongolicae Collecta I:
Histoire Secrte des Mongols. Budapest: Akadmiai Kiad, 1971), 2-5. Translation by J. Ratcliffe
2013/2014.
28
The Secret History of the Mongols, 1-145.
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the function of a cosmic world-mountain. 29 In support of this there is evidence in
nineteenth century records of Mongolic shamans in Siberia one-eyed men around the
world-mountain as part of the shamans cosmic journey to other worlds. 30 So too in
connection with the Mongols and Mongol Imperial period in the Ukraine we find
myths in which the invading Mongols were seen to take away people and sell them to
cannibalistic one-eyed men, the edinookie, at the very edges of the world.31 There is
also evidence of an Inner Asian legacy of monocular beings in the myths of the
peoples of Armenia and Georgia continuing to the present day. 32 Clearly monocular
beings have been widely-spread in Inner Asian folklore and the onus remains on their
use as signposts for distant geography filled with numinous otherness, defined
either positively or negatively due to the context in which they appear. Indeed even
the Arimaspians may have lost their monocularity and simply become the maleficent
yeti-like, Almas/Almasty of Mongolian and Kazakh folklore, as some deft linguistic
arguments by Heaney have shown. 33 This demonstrates that the monocular symbol
has remained a motif independent of individual names of beings, but has been
retained and reshaped due to its geographical function over time.
2. Dog-men.
In the fragmentary sixth century BCE Hesiodic Catalogues of Women we find the
earliest reference in the Greek world to canine men, the half-dogs or Hemicynes,
placed near the Massagetae, a people of Inner Asia:
[The Boreades pursued the Harpyiai] to the lands of the Massagetai and of the
proud Hemikunes (Hemicynes) (Half-Dog men), of the Katoudaioi (Catoudaei)
(Underground-folk) . . . Huge Gaia (Earth) bare these to Epaphos . . . Aithiopes
(Ethiopians) and Libys34

Herodotus later assumed that these dog-men were in Libya, 35 though Libys and
Aithiopes are clearly separated in the Hesiodic text from the Massagetae and HalfDogs. Subsequent classical thinkers attempted to rationalise them as baboons. 36
However, within the scope of Inner Asian myth we should note that since their arrival
into Near Eastern awareness in the late eighth century, certain Scythic/Saka groups
had been referred to on multiple occasions as imitating dogs and being dog-like. For
instance there are the seemingly self-titled tribe the Saka Ipakaya (dog Saka), which
is found in the Assyrian annals of 676 BCE, the Akkadian oracle from the God
Shamash to the king Assarhaddon in 670 BCE refers to the Scythians when it asks
Are they placing the valiant dogs of evil in their midst? and the Greek war-historian
Polyaenus appears to have preserved fragments of a Scythian epic concerning how
J-P Roux, The Tree of Life and the Cosmic Axis Among the Turks and Mongols, in Asian
Mythologies, edited by Y. Bonnefoy and translated by W. Doniger, (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1993), 326-28.
30
A. Alfldi Review of M. Rostovtzeff, Skytien und der Bosporus, Gnomon 9 (1933): 56172; E. D.
Phillips, The Legend of Aristeas: Fact and Fancy in Early Greek Notions of East Russia, Siberia, and
Inner Asia, Artibus Asiae 18.2 (1955): 16177.
31
. . . . St. Petersburg: A. Semen Printers,
1858), I. 87-9; Bolton, J. D.P. 1962. Aristeas of Proconnesus, 83.
32
J. Ratcliffe, Arimaspians and Cyclopes, 50-52.
33
Mayor, A., and M. Heaney. 1993. Gryphons and Arimaspians, Folklore 104.1/2 (1993): 56ff.
34
Hes. Catal. Fr. 40, cf. fr. 44. Translation by H. G. Evelyn White, Loeb Classical Library edition,
(Harvard: Harvard University Press).
35
Hdt. IV. 191.3.
36
Plin. H.N. VI. 194; Ael. De Nat. An.X.25,30.
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they as valiant dogs drove out the Cimmerians. 37 Similar dog-imitation may
perhaps still be found amongst the cultural and linguistic descendants of the IndoIranian Scythians, the Ossetians, in their balc raiding initiation rituals of young men. 38
Thus, from the information that we have and its context, a connection with dog men
from within the bounds of Inner Asian myth is a strong possibility.
With the growth of Greek mythologising of India through scholars such as the
Greek Ctesias who lived in the Persian court, and of Indian geographical tropes
themselves, we begin to see a tradition of Kynokephaloi (dog-heads) said to live in
distant regions in the North of India towards the Inner Asian regions. In Greek
geographical traditions these Indian dog-men came to represent an inversion of Greek
standards of civilisation and beauty. 39 They are mute beasts with tails, copulate in the
open, but possess great longevity and unequalled happiness. 40 Curiously, we also find
reference to monocular dog-men, or Monommati, in Greek recordings of myth
regarding India, which is perhaps confusion with that of the monocular man. 41 As we
have seen, close ties between the symbol of the monocular man and the dog-man
appear in Chinese (Hound Tally Country), Indian (vamukhas) and even in living
Inner Asian teratological traditions, suggesting a long held tradition of pairing
pointing towards Inner Asia. However, greater context for the symbol of the dog-man
in its own right and in relation to previous significant studies by scholars on the topic
can also enlighten us on a number of matters.
In perhaps the most complete work on this subject, Myths of the Dog Man,
White concentrates upon the use of the dog to represent otherness in a great many
cultures and regions, including Inner Asia, which he calls, because of its strong
connections with the symbol: The Vortex of Cynanthropy. 42 For instance, White
notes that especially amongst the Indian geographers there are a great deal of
pejorative references to far northern peoples as dog cookers and dog-milkers, but
that it is hard to tell where ethnology ends and propaganda begins when it comes to
deducing whether these myths do descend from Inner Asian peoples, or have simply
been created by Indian peoples to ridicule outsiders closer to India. 43 White does show
that in Inner Asia there are many myths of lands of dog-men and episodes of canine
and lupine ancestry. 44 Yet, in spite of the diversity of these myths, it is Whites belief
that most of these are genuine positive ancestry myths that have been ridiculed and
reconstructed negatively by outsiders. As a result he plays down episodes such as
those found amongst the mediaeval Trks and Mongols, where dog-men point
towards a mythologising of some disliked or distant people by Inner Asian peoples
themselves. 45
Using a number of rarely discussed sources, the mediaeval Trco-Mongolian
myth of a land of dogs is detailed deftly by White in his work, but overall there is
little of substance said on its function. We find a Nochoy Kazar (Land of Dogs) and a

A. Ivanik, Les Guerriers-Chiens: Loups Garous et Invasions Scythes en Asie Mineure, Revue de
l'Histoire des Religions, CCX-3 (1992): 305-329.
38
Ibid.320f.
39
J. S. Romm, Edges of the World, 69f, Dog-heads, 127f.
40
Photius, Epitome of Ctesias 20-22; Plin. H. N. VII.2.23.
41
Strabo XV.1.55-58.
42
D. G. White. Myths of the Dog-Man. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), esp. Ch. 6. The
Vortex of Cynanthropy, 116-139.
43
Ibid. 116-119.
44
Ibid. 120-139.
45
Ibid. 130-139.
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land of Nochoyterim (dog-heads) in the travels of Carpini c. 1245 CE,46 and a similar
land of dog-men that are impervious to harm in Rashd al-Dns Oguz-Name,47 and
once again in a text falsely attributed to the historian Hetum of Corycus.48 The tenth
century CE Chinese traveller Hu Chiao offers a description of similar dog-men in the
north, beyond the Khitan.49 We also find Chinese records of Uighur myth in which the
Trks are taken to be the descendants of two dogs that raped a woman. 50 The striking
unifier within all of these accounts is that the females of these peoples are
conventionally human in appearance and habit, and it is emphasised that unlike the
males they are capable of speaking. For instance in Carpini we read of how the Tatars
(Mongols) found only women first of all in the Nochoyterim and that The dogs...
are exceptionally shaggy and understand every word their women say, while the
women understand the dogs sign language. If a woman bears a female child it has a
human form like the mother51 Even the earlier myth about the people beyond the
Khitan emphasizes that the dog-mens women are human women, but that male
children born to them are canine monsters.52 Such descriptions are echoed by pseudoHetums the males born from the commerce of these dogs with their women
resemble dogs and the females women.53 Also, in the Oguz-Name, we learn: The
men are swarthy. They look very ugly; they look like dogs. Their women, however,
are beautiful. We hear of the good fortune of one of Oguzs soldiers when captured:
As their husbands looked ugly and looked like dogs, the women liked himthe
women took him before the wife of their ruler. 54 The queen, in turn, falls in love with
Oguz and gives birth to the ancestor of the Kipchaq people in a hollow log. 55
This is a curious mythic pattern and to provide an answer for it we might
suggest that it represented the raiding of distant, primitive peoples and the stealing of
their women. Making male competitors into dogs legitimises the act of theft and rape.
The element of the near invulnerability of the dogs, found in both Carpini56 and the
Oguz-Name57 adds an exciting tension to the story and exacerbates the otherness of
the dog-men enemies, increasing the reasonableness of stealing their all too normal
women and fear of the captured women giving birth to male offspring. Thus, whereas
Greek reception made the dog-man an inverted symbol of distant and wondrous
geography through cynicism and self-criticism and some Scythic peoples appear to
have viewed themselves as valiant dogs, mediaeval Trco-Mongolian teratological
views made it a negative geographical symbol for understanding other peoples they
met with and pillaged. However, the idea that societies of Amazons located in Inner
Asia were linked with these dog-men due to the fairly normal qualities of the women

46

G. da P. Carpini, The Story of the Mongols Who We Call the Tatars, translated by E. Hildinger.
(Wellesley: Branden Books, 1996), 61,69.
47
R.al-Dn, History of the Ogus, translated by E. Austerlitz, (Glastonbury: AM Notebook Publishing,
2010), XXV-VI script 592r p.58-62.
48
In B. Laufer, Supplementary Notes on Walrus and Narwal Ivory, Toung Pao 17 (1916): 357-58.
49
In D. G. White, Myths of the Dog-Man, 133.
50
Ibid. 134.
51
G. da P. Carpini, The Story of the Mongols, 61.
52
In D. G. White, Myths of the Dog-Man, 133.
53
in B. Laufer, Supplementary Notes, 357-58.
54
R.al-Dn, History of the Ogus, XXV-VI script 592r p.58-62.
55
Ibid.
56
G. da P. Carpini, The Story of the Mongols, 61.
57
R.al-Dn, History of the Ogus, XXV-VI script 592r p.58-62.

9
of the dog-men is perhaps overstretching the evidence as we possess no myths in
which a link of this sort is made. 58
This said, the symbolic nature of the dog in Trco-Mongolian tradition is a
difficult thing to produce a single definition for - far more difficult than the long
celebrated ancestral blue wolf we find amongst the Trks and Mongols, and seems
highly dependant upon time and place and external cultural influences.59 For instance,
in some cases we appear to find some cases of very positive canine totemism. The
Khitan royal family were associated with a dog-people called It Barak (shaggy dog),
which is also the name for a good magical dog that defeats an evil one called Kara
Barak (shaggy black one) in the Oguz-Name saga.60 We find a magical white dog that
speaks a leader for the migration of the Oguz Trks in the Chronicles of Michael the
Syrian, as opposed to the talking blue wolf in the Turfanian Oguz Kagan tradition. 61
For that matter we do hear of an ancestral figure of the Khitan called Nai-ho ([dog]
skull) for whom rituals involving a dogs head were performed each year during
August. 62 Nai-ho may indeed be Mongolic noqai (dog) and there is of course a
selection of Trkic peoples called the Nogai still found in Dagestan and Russia, who
take their name from a sixteenth and seventeenth century horde from around the
Caspian Sea that was a successor to the Mongol Golden Horde.63 We also find the dog
as a central guide figure and primordial guardian throughout Buriat Mongol epic.64
Thus, the lands of dog-men stand separate compared with these other diverse dog
myths in which the animal has an inclusive, totemic and ancestral quality.
Nevertheless, the weakness of Whites broad assumptions that all the myths in
question indicate canine totemism and ancestry are perfectly illustrated in the case
study of his analysis of the creeping yellow dog that is used as a simile for the divine
ancestor who gives rise to the sons of Alan Qoa in the Secret History. 65 As de
Rachewiltz has said, the dog appears to have no special significance in relation to
other details we know concerning the mediaeval Mongols, 66 and remains simply a
comparison for the divine spirits quick departure: when he went out he crawled as a
yellow dog does by the rising sun or moon.67 Indeed, as we may see, White is most
J. Davis-Kimball, Warrior Women of the Eurasian Steppes." Archaeology 50.1 (1997): 44-51; V. H.
Mair. Canine Conundrums: Eurasian Dog Ancestor Myths in Historical and Ethnic Perspective, SinoPlatonic Papers 87 (1998): 14.
59
E. Tryjarski, The Dog in the Turkic Area: An Ethnolinguistic Investigation, Central Asiatic
Journal. 23.3.4 (1979): 297-319; P. Golden, Wolves, Dogs and Qipaq Religion, Acta Orientalia
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. 50.1.3 (1997): 87-97.
60
R.al-Dn, History of the Ogus. XXIV-VI script 592r pp.58-61. Baraq in the Turkic languages appears
literally to mean shaggy and is found in connection not only dogs but also shaggy horses both
pejoratively and positively in R.al-Dn,Rashiduddin Fazlullahs Jami ut Tawarikh: A Compendium of
Chronicles: History of the Mongols, edited by .Tekin, . And G.A. Tekin and translated by W. M.
Thackston, (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1999), 304, 322. It should not be confused at all with
the mystical Islamic steed buraq.
61
Michael the Syrian, Text and Translations of the Chronicle of Michael the
Great: Vol. I. Trans. G. I. Ibrahim, (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009), III.153; . . Shcherbak.
(Moscow: USSR Academy of Science, Institute of Linguistics, 1959), xvi,
xviii, xxv, xxxiii.
62
D. G. White, Myths of the Dog Man, 133-4.
63
R. Wixman, Peoples of the USSR: An Ethnographic Handbook, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1988),
92, 146f.
64
D. Burchina, The Dog in the Heroic Epos of the Buryats, Siberian Studies 1.2.1.2 (2013): 30-40.
65
D. G. White, Myths of the Dog Man, 72.
66
I. de Rachewiltz. The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth
Century. (Leiden and Boston: E.J. Brill Academic Publishers, 2004), 264.
67
The Secret History of the Mongols, 21. Translation by Jonathan Ratcliffe 2013/2014.
58

10
likely correct in some cases regarding canine totemism and ancestry myths in Inner
Asia, but as also seen, the dog is a complex and multi-faceted symbol. One
possibility is that the lands of dog-men arose due to Inner Asian peoples meeting with
those who possessed canine ancestry myths and canine imitation rituals and that this
was passed on to outsider geographers and travellers. Whether this was as far back
as meeting with valiant dog Scythic peoples, or later canine ancestry myths, which
themselves may have descended from Indo-Iranian myth, as Mair has suggested,68
seems difficult to judge. What is true is that Inner Asia remains a recurrent spatial
centre for installing the symbol of the dog-man from the many perspectives available.
3. The Amazons.
In Greek literature it is in Homers Iliad that we hear the earliest mention of the
legendary warrior-women, the Amazons, where they appear in two short passages.
The former is spoken of by Priam in relation to their arrival at a battle in Phrygia he
witnesses as a young man, and the latter is in connection with the culture hero
Bellerophon who defeated them after his ordeal with the monster Chimaera in
Lycia. 69 As time goes on we find fuller descriptions of the Amazons developing,
including a number of queens such as Otrera, Penthesileia, Antiope, Orithyia and
Hipplotyta and their deaths at the hands of heroes such as Achilles, Theseus and
Heracles.70 There are also the famous stories in Herodotus of their interbreeding with
the Royal Scythians to create the Sauromatai/Sarmatians, a nomadic people of Inner
Asia.71 Indeed, throughout much of Greek history the Amazons were consider to be a
people dwelling in Inner Asia, and are frequently imagined in Greek art in Scythic
dress as female warrior figures without the missing breast etymological efforts at
decoding their name suggested (a-mazon = no breast).72 Since even the middle ages
there have been numerous attempts by travellers and scholars to square with the
Amazon myth their observations of Inner Asian and Central Asian peoples from the
Caucasus to Afghanistan and Mongolia, amongst whom women actively fought as
warriors.73 Recently, Mayor has reopened this avenue and supplied further evidence
of warrior women in Inner Asia from history, folklore and modern practices to great
success, from the Caucasus to Trkic Central Asia - from Saikal, the heroine of the
Kyrgyz Manas epic to the kesh kumay girl-chasing rituals of Azerbaijan and
Kazakhstan. 74 Mayor in conjunction with Saunders and Colarusso has also, notably,
managed to demonstrate the possibility that some of the names of Amazons on
Hellenic vases are not the nonsense that they are usually taken to be, but uncannily
close transcriptions of Abkhazian and Circassian names. 75 However, as few scholars
V. H. Mair. Canine Conundrums, 11ff.
Hom. Il. III. 185ff, VI. 171ff.
70
For instance: Diod. Sic. II. 46.5, IV. 16, 28, 64; Paus. I. 2. 1, I. 15. 2, I. 41. 7, II. 32. 9, V. 10. 9, 11.
4-7; Ps. Apollod. Bib. II. 5.9, E5.1-2; Hyg. Fab. 30, 112, 225.
71
Hdt. IV. 110-117; Plin. H. N. VI. 19.
72
A. Mayor and J. Ober. Amazons, Military History Quarterly (1991): 68-77; A. Mayor. The
Amazons, 84-94. On reception of the popular breast-based etymology: Hellanicus FGrH 4 F 107;
Hippoc. Aer. 17; Diod. Sic. II.45.2; Apollod. Bib. II.2.5.9; Just. Epit. Pomp. Trog. II.4.5-11; Strabo XI.
5.1.
73
See rare primary sources cited in J. D. P. Bolton, Aristeas, 79; A. Mayor. The Amazons, 356-376.
74
A. Mayor, Amazons, 395-410.
75
Ibid, 240-242; A. Mayor, J. Colarusso and D. Saunders, Making Sense of Nonsense Inscriptions
Associated with Amazons and Scythians on Athenian Vases, Hesperia 83.3 (2014): 447-493. This
new conception has a far greater claim, so it seems, than evidence for Trkic-Mongolian peoples
amongst the Black Sea Scythians: J. M. Cook, The Rise of the Achaemenids and Establishment of
their Empire, in The Cambridge History of Iran Vol II: The Median and Achaemenid Periods, Edited
68
69

11
are familiar with such languages, it may be a while before this approach is criticised
from a linguistic perspective or further expanded upon beyond Colarusso himself.
This said, during antiquity, from the description of the Issedones given by
Aristeas in Herodotus, in which men and women fulfilled the same social roles,76 and
the Sarmatian warrior queens Amage and Tomyris,77 to the archaeological evidence of
the burials of the Sarmatians and Pazyryk peoples in which women were buried with
weapons and died of battle wounds,78 these factors suggest the strong possibility that
the Amazons had some of their basis in facts concerning the peoples of the Caucasus
and Inner Asian steppes. More importantly they suggest that were not merely a
construction of the Greek mind representing everything Greek women were not
supposed to be, as has been the common assumption amongst structuralist and poststructural scholars. 79 However, when it comes to some assumptions that have been
made by scholars regarding nations of women as equivalents with the Greek
Amazon myth from Chinese and Indian records we begin to run into some difficulties
that require clarification.
For instance in the Classic of Mountains and Seas a Country of Women is
mentioned as existing in the far west in which a pair of women holding hands without
any men are to be found.80 The fixation that such a land existed in the west has a long
history in Chinese thought from Tang dynasty self-references under female rule to the
nineteenth century Chinese journalist Wang Tao using it as a motif in his journeys to
Europe during the Qing dynasty.81 Perhaps most influentially the seventh century CE
real life Tripitaka, Xuanzang, mentioned two kingdoms of women during his travels.
The Western Kingdom was most likely in Baluchistan and included notions that the
Byzantines sent men there each year as a payment for goods to the female rulers, and
the Eastern as the Suvarnagotree people in the Himalayas. Most modern scholars
take these kingdoms of Xuanzang to refer to matriarchal cultures native to India rather
than Inner Asia, though some have pushed this far enough to suggest that these
cultures represented remnants of ancient matriarchies which had previously been far
more common.82 Often scholars seem to associate Xuanzangs records with the Indian
Strrajhya or kingdom of women and Arjunas affair with the queen of these men-

by I. Gershevitch, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 255; P. Kingsley, A Story Waiting
to Pierce You: Mongolia, Tibet and the Destiny of the Western World (Point Reyes: Golden Sufi Centre
Publications, 2010). Cf. J. Ratcliffe, Review: Peter Kingsley, A Story Waiting to Pierce You:
Mongolia, Tibet and the Destiny of the Western World, Draft uploaded to academia.edu 1/09/2014.
Pending publication.
76
Hdt. IV. 26-27.
77
Polyaneus VIII. 56; Hdt. I. 205f.
78
A. Mayor. The Amazons, 214-224. See notes also for a history of finds first attributed by
archaeologists to male warriors and now shown to belong to females.
79
Cf. J-P. Vernant, Morals and Immortals, Trans. F. Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1991), 199-200; R. L. Fowler, Early Greek Mythography Vol. II. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2013), 86, 541. A. Stewart, Imag(in)ing the Other: Amazons and Ethnicity in Fifth Century Athens,
Poetics Today 16 (1995): 571-97.
80
The Classic of Mountains and Seas, VII. p. 115-117.
81
J. W. Jay, Imagining Matriarchy Kingdoms of Women in Tang China, journal of the maerican
Oriental Society 116.2 (1996): 220-229; E. Jinhuan Teng, The West as a Kingdom of Women:
Woman and Occidentalism in Wang Taos Travels, in Traditions of East Asian Travel, edited by J. A.
Fogel, (Oxford NY: Berghahn Books, 2006), 97-124.
82
E. Sand, Woman Rulers: Woman Rule. (Lincoln: iUniverse Ebooks, 2001), 128. B. S. Chandrababu
and L. Thilagavati, Woman: Her History and Emancipation, (Teynampet: Barathi Puthakalayam, 2009),
121.

12
killing women, Pramila, in the Jaimini Bhrata. 83 The name of the country is
prefigured in the Mahbhrata84 and later sited beside Huns (Hephthalites?), GoldScythians and similar in the direction of Inner Asia in the Bhat Samhta. 85 However,
this does not answer whether peoples and myths located closer to India have simply
been collapsed together with myths and observations on the roles played by women
amongst Inner Asia nomads.
Perhaps the integral factor in determining this is the detail that within the
myths of the peoples of Inner Asia we have no records of anything resembling an
entire kingdom of women. The only exception is perhaps the Kyrgyz epic tale of Kyrk
Kyz (The Forty Women) in which the female warrior Gulaim rejects her suitors, trains
forty women warriors, undertakes a series of conquests, and even after marriage
retains her warrior nature.86 However, this still does not indicate anything that could
perhaps be stretched as far as the concept of an endemic kingdom. Rather what we
do find instead is a number of important, recurrent, singular, female warrior
characters throughout Inner Asian history. Some of these have been well detailed by
Mayor including the Mongol princess Ai-yurac, mentioned in Marco Polo,87 and the
Lady Chickek with whom one of the heroes must compete in masculine contests such
as archery and wrestling in order to win her in the Azerbaijani Kitab-i Dede Korkut.88
In spite of this, one key figure who has not been mentioned by Mayor at all is the
daughter of the Naga king and wife to the hero Geser, Au/Alu/Alma Mergen, found
in the Khalkh Mongolian and Buriat Geser Khan cycles. This figure has had a
profound effect on comparative approaches to mythology in the past in relation to
similarities with Brunhilda in the legends of Sigurd and the stealing of the girdle of
the Amazon Hippolyta by Heracles.89 Au/Alu/Alma/Ana Mergen is not found in any
of the Tibetan versions of Geser and appears to be a Mongolic creation, an archer
heroine and shamaness, described as being as a man and a protectress of the heros
kingdom during his nine year absence.90 In the Khalkh Geser she later rescues the
hero from the clutches of some monsters who transform him into a donkey and hold
him captive in an episode reminiscent of Apuleius Metamorphoses (The Golden
83

Lakshmisha, Jaimini Bhrata, edited by B.S. Sannaiah et al. (University of Mysore: Prasaranga,
1993), ch. XXIV; E. Sand, Woman Rulers: Woman Rule, 128; B. S. Chandrababu and L. Thilagavati,
Woman: Her History and Emancipation, 121; A. Mayor. The Amazons, 409.
84
Mahbhrata, III. 51
85
Bhat Samhita XIV. 22.
86
, . . -
, .. - 30
(1958): 110-120; G.M.H. Shoolbraid, The Oral Epic of Siberia, (Bloomington: Indian University Press,
1975), 83-84. Curiously Mayor does not make any mention of this epic at all.
87
M. Polo, The Travels, translated and annotated by R.E. Latham, (Richmond: Penguin Classics,
Penguin Books), 317-319.
88
Book of Dede Korkut, translated by G. Lewis, (Ringwood: Penguin Classics, Penguin Books), 117131. cf. 35 on which A. Mayor, The Amazons, 365-366 says that the wife of Dirse Khan leads forty
other women warriors. This exaggerates what is merely an attempt to find her wounded son that is in
no way militaristic in intention. Strangely, the Kyrk Kyz epic, which is not mentioned at all by Mayor
does contain forty such women.
89
. . . (-, 1962), 103-106; L. Lrincz,
Heracles in Mongolia? in Jubilee Volume of the Oriental Collection 1851-1976, (Budapest, 1978),
156-157; W. Heissig, Westlische Motivparallelen in zentrelasiatischen Epen (Munich: Verlag der
Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1983), 9-24.
90
S. Odigon, Wife, Mother, Shamaness, Warrior Woman: The Role of Women in Mongolian and
Siberian Epic Tales, Continuity and Change in Central and Inner Asia: Papers presented at the
Central and Inner Asian Seminar University of Toronto, March 24 & 25, 2000 and May 4 & 5, 2001,
Edited by M. Gervers and W. Schlepp, (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2002), 316-318.

13
Ass).91 As well as this there are also a number of folktale structures found amongst the
Buriats and Tuvans, such as Alamji Mergen, Bora Sheeli or Sagaadai Mergen in
which a female figure has to pretend to be male in order to win a wife or cure for her
brother by engaging in traditionally masculine challenges such as archery, horseracing and wrestling. 92 There is for that matter no mention made by Mayor of the
powerful female figures of the Secret History of the Mongols, such as Temins
(Chingis Khans) wife Brte or his mother Heln, who brings up her children in the
wilderness after having been disowned and guides Chingis path closely throughout
his life.93 It is curious that Mayor has not noted these figures or delved into a possible
Scythic inheritance immanent in mediaeval and living Mongolic mythology, which
could have been equally productive in rounding off her connections between Inner
Asian gender roles and the bases of the Amazon myth.
This said, Mayor has built a strong case for the great majority of Greek
Amazon legends pointing towards Inner Asia and the Scythic peoples of antiquity
who dwelt in the Caucasus and around the Black Sea. Yet in others she has merely
added any matriarchal or female warrior tradition or folkloric figure that she has met
with along the way from the Naga people of southern India to the Mosuo people of
China. 94 On the other hand some of her broad-based approach is very commendable.
Her analysis of Egyptian and classical myths that link Amazons with north Africa as
possibly influenced by slaves from the Caucasus is highly original, intriguing, and
demands greater expansion.95 Indeed, upon reflection, what we may have here is not
perhaps as Mayor suspects that the material pointing towards Inner Asian women
warriors in nearly all of these cases. Instead, what we most likely have is an ongoing
series of parallel constructions of entire countries of women being imagined. It is
most likely that the presence of some female warriors and matrilineal and matriarchal
customs from diverse cultures have been condensed into traditions of lands of women
in order for the geographers of India, China and Greece to understand them. What
emerges from these geographers, story tellers and travellers is a hyperbolic creation of
otherness- emphasising inverted cultures. As scholars we must be careful not to
simply assume that what appear to be similar constructs point universally towards a
single reality of the original Scythic Amazon women and their cultural descendants.
Yet to temper this, there would on the other hand seem little doubt now that much of
the Greek Amazon myth had a basis in the perception of ancient Inner Asian female
gender roles, echoes of which still remain to this day.
4. Gold-Ants.
In book three of Herodotus histories we hear the very creative story of how in Bactria
gold is acquired through having to steal it from gigantic ants that excavate it as part of
their burrowing process:
Here, in this desert, there live amid the sand great ants, in size somewhat less
than dogs, but bigger than foxes. The Persian king has a number of them, which
, . , ( : , ,
1990), V. 11; VIII. 4-7; cf. W. Hessig, Westlische Motivparallen, 11ff.
92
-- in , Volume I, edited by L.E. Eliasov (Ulan Ude: Buryat
Book Publishing, 1959), 120; , collected by Erika Taube
(Moscow: Russian Academy of Sciences, 1994), 127-131; Sarangerel, Wife, Mother, 316-318.
93
The Secret History of the Mongols, 69-79. cf. Helns political power over Chingis at 118, 242244.
94
A. Mayor, Amazons, 409, 418-419.
95
Ibid. 278-294.
91

14
have been caught by the hunters in the land whereof we are speaking. Those ants
make their dwellings underground, and like the Greek ants, which they very
much resemble in shape, throw up sand heaps as they burrow. Now the sand
which they throw up is full of gold. The Indians, when they go into the desert to
collect this sand, take three camels and harness them together, a female in the
middle and a male on either side, in a leading rein. The rider sits on the female,
and they are particular to choose for the purpose one that has but just dropped her
young; for their female camels can run as fast as horses, while they bear burdens
very much better.. When the Indians reach the place where the gold is, they fill
their bags with the sand, and ride away at their best speed: the ants, however,
scenting them, as the Persians say, rush forth in pursuit. Now these animals are,
they declare, so swift, that there is nothing in the world like them: if it were not,
therefore, that the Indians get a start while the ants are mustering, not a single
gold-gatherer could escape. During the flight the male camels, which are not so
fleet as the females, grow tired, and begin to drag, first one, and then the other;
but the females recollect the young which they have left behind, and never give
way or flag. Such, according to the Persians, is the manner in which the Indians
get the greater part of their gold; some is dug out of the earth, but of this the
supply is scantier.96

The most interesting aspect of this travellers tale is the fact that it has very particular
prerequisites in the Indian imagination, which appear to have been carried not only
into the Greek and Persian cultural spheres, but later also into Tibet and subsequently
Mongolia through the Geser Khan epic tradition. The earliest reference we have to
such ants is in the Mahbhrata where they are called piplika and are placed in the
north alongside the one-eyed men. 97 More than anything this myth would seem to
concern simply the fact that there was some correlation between ants and gold-rich
soil in the north of India in Bactria, as in Herodotus text,98 and indeed the import of
unwrought gold from Bactria in large amounts is mentioned in the Persian Great King
Darius Susa inscription. 99 However, amongst the Greeks following Herodotus, some
confusion takes hold regarding the ant-golds source. Megasthenes who travelled with
Alexander gives them a definite placement amongst the Dardae, or modern Darades
people of Kashmir; Pliny claims that a pair of pincers from one specimen had been
preserved in a temple to Heracles at Erythrae; Philostratus calls them Ethiopian and
Aelian puts them in the far north near the Issedones.100
Even more curiously, Strabo and Arrian even say that the admiral () of
Alexander, Nearchus, was shown pelts () of these ants.101 One rather interesting
idea that has been built upon these pelts is the theory that gold-ant is really the
Tibetan marmot. Supposedly the Ancient Persian term for these animals was
mountain mouse ants. Often this etymology is attributed to Peissel, the main
endorser of the marmot theory through his meetings with the Minaro people of Tibet,
but it does not appear at all in his work.102 At some point it has been invented, applied
96

Hdt. III. 103-105. Translated by G. Rawlinson, The History, (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862).
Mahbhrata II.48.2.
98
Hdt. III. 102.
99
W. Woodthorpe-Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
[1951] 2010), 107.
100
Strabo XV.1.44; cf. Plin. H. N. XI.36; Arr. Ind. XV. 4-7; Philostrat. Vit. Apoll. VI.1; Ael. De Nat.
An. III.4.
101
Strabo. XV. 1.44; Arr. Ind. XV. 3-7.
102
M. Peissel, The Ants' Gold: The Discovery of the Greek El Dorado in the Himalayas. (London:
Harper Collins, 1984). Cf D. Warsh, Found: Mountain Mouse Ants, Armaco World, Sept-Oct 1997,
97

15
to Peissel, and no analysis of the supposed Persian terms involved has ever been given.
Moreover, this creative, popular theory also fails to take into account that this
legends hub is India, rather than an invention of the interplay between Greek and
Persian or Greek and Inner Asian myth. More importantly, contrary to Peissel,
Herodotus and Arrian describe the ants as being between a fox and a dog in size, not
in any other aspect such as appearance, and they are in no way furry or spotted as
Peissel imagines. 103 Whatever the pelts were from, the ones shown to Nearchus, it
does not say at all in Arrian that they were like that of a panther or a leopard, as
Peissel also claims. 104 This is a mistake that appears to have come into existence due
to Strabos confused en passant claim that Nearchus compared the ants to being akin
to leopards ( ).105 As Druce pointed out long ago, this could well
mean that the hides of the two animals were of a similar size, at least to the Greeks
who had received the myth of the existence of giant ants from Herodotus, and not
necessarily a matter of their patterning. 106 Although Nearchus works have long since
perished, if we inspect the passage in Arrian that includes Nearchus remnant account
in greater detail, an alternative appears to come to light. Nearchus in error in fact
appears to claim that tigers are said to be just like dappled jackals
().107 Nearchus had only seen the skins of these tigers in India and had
little idea what the animals were like, so it seems. One should look closely at the text:
.
, :
, ,
: ,
. ,
,
. ,
,
.
The Indians regard the tiger as much stronger than the elephant. Nearchus writes
that he had seen a tiger's skin, but no tiger; the Indians record that the tiger is in
size as great as the largest horse, and its swiftness and strength without parallel,
for a tiger, when it meets an elephant, leaps on to the head and easily throttles it.
Those, however, which we see and call tigers are dappled jackals, but larger than
ordinary jackals. Nay, about ants also Nearchus says that he himself saw no ant, of
the sort which some writers have described as native of India; he saw, however,
several of their skins brought into the Macedonian camp.108

http://www.silk-road.com/artl/bigant.shtml; The Gold Digging Ants http://www.livius.org/hehg/herodotus/hist06.htm (n.d.).


103
M. Peissel, The Ants' Gold, 75, 145-148.
104
Ibid.
105
Strabo XV.1.44.
106
G. C. Druce, Myrmekoleon or Ant-Lion, The Antiquaries Journal 3.4 (1923): 347-363, esp. 355.
107
Cf. indicating speckled in relation to a dog in Call. Dian. 91 and blotchy skin in Soph. Ph.
1157. Usually the word seems to indicate nimble, glittering, varied: H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, A
Greek English Lexicon, revised by Sr. H. Stuart Jones, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, [1940] 2003), s.v.
22.
108
Arr. Ind. XV.1-4. Translated by E.I. Robinson, Arrian, (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1929).
For the earliest marmot link and illusion concerning the spotted, furry hides: S. Hedin, Transhimalaya:
Discoveries and Adventures in Tibet (New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, [1913] 1999), 117.

16
As we may see the link between the tiger and the ant passage is that only the pelts
have been seen of these creatures. There is nothing more to it. That is the connection.
Strabo appears to turn a spotted jackal into a spotted cat in order to remedy Nearchus
confusion between felids and canids. The ants are not said to be spotty and what they
share with leopards is simply that knowledge of them has only been gleaned from
hides. Whatever hides the Greeks were shown and took to be remnants of the giant
ants they had already heard of from Herodotus, it is somewhat impossible to tell, but
it would seem that they would have belonged to something at least of the size of a
leopard. Either way the marmot connection appears much thinner indeed, even if
Peissel discovered such creatures excavating gold-rich soil in Dardistan, where
Megasthenes placed the ants. No one seems to have asked whether normal sized ants
or other burrowing creatures in the region also cast up this gold-sand.
There is also the matter than Peissels quotation from Herodotus on this topic
claims that specimens of the ants in question were kept in the Persian Great Kings
palace. 109 Pesissel never says which translation of Herodotus he used, but upon
inspection it transpires to be de Slincourts Penguin Classics edition, which reads:
some specimens which were caught there are kept at the palace of the Persian
king. 110 The Greek itself reads:
. 111 with the dative is commonly used to suggest
belonging to a person and being in someones presence or possession as much as it
could suggest being at a persons house.112 Yet, even if the last option is accepted, no
specific palace is even implied. Indeed this could refer to any of the
Great Kings many properties, and it is never said whether the ants were living or
simply remains. Thus for Peissel to conclude: that is how the story of the ants
gold came to be known; for Herodotus got his account from Persian soldiers who had
seen marmots in the kings palace, 113 is not at all a reliable conclusion. In fact it is
less reliable than Plinys story about the giant pincers apparently located at Erythrae,
which at very least gives a location and description of the nature of the artefact in
question.
Moreover, Laufers assertion that the gold-ant myth came from Mongolia due
to a perceived similarity with the gold-excavating myth of the one-eyed Arimaspians
enemies the gryphons, which he takes to have come from the gold-rich Altai
Mountains, is somewhat troublesome. 114 The notion that the Arimaspians and
gryphons were sighted in the Altai has led to a lot of general assumptions in
scholarship such as Mayors that the gryphon is based off protoceratopian skeletons
found in this gold-rich region. 115 However, the earliest records of Inner Asian
gryphons we receive describe them as simply monstrous quadrupeds the sharp

109

M. Peissel, The Ants' Gold, 145.


Translated by A. de Slincourt, Herodotus: the Histories (Collingwood: Penguin Classics, Penguin
Books, [1954] 1973), 246.
111
Hdt. III. 102. cf. H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek English Lexicon , 366: seems
here very much to indicate its passive meaning of to be hunted, to be caught.
112
H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek English Lexicon, 592-3.
113
M. Peissel, The Ants' Gold, 147.
114
B. Laufer, Die Sage von den goldgrabenden Ameisen, Toung Pao 9 (1908): 42952; J.D.P.
Bolton, Aristeas, 81. cf. W. Woodthorpe-Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India, 107.
115
A. Mayor, Griffin Bones: Ancient Folklore and Palaeontology, Cryptozoology 10 (1991): 1641;
Mayor, A., and M. Heaney. 1993. Gryphons and Arimaspians, 40ff; The First Fossil Hunters:
Palaeontology in Greek and Roman Times, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 23f.
110

17
toothed, unbarking hounds of Zeus ( ). 116 There
is no mention of avian features such as beaks that would link them to the
protoceratopians. 117 It is far more likely that the bird-lion animal of second and first
millennium BCE Ancient Near Eastern and subsequently Mycenaean art we think of
as gryphon came to be associated with the mysterious monsters described by Aristeas
due to the appeal this image had to the Scythian peoples around the Black Sea, where
it was transmitted across Inner Asia. 118 Only much later in Classical tradition do we
find literary gryphons with avian characteristics that have been strongly influenced by
this Near Eastern gryphon of the visual arts. 119 Bremmers ideas also seem less than
reasonable, namely that the gryphon-gold myth is simply Herodotus recycling the antgold myth. 120 Connections between gryphons and gold are found in Aeschylus
contemporary Promethius Bound as well as Herodotus, both of whom appear to have
used Aristeas work. 121 Ant-gold is of course tied closely to Herodotus in its
transmission, but as seen, existed as a myth amongst the Indians. The two gold myths
are thoroughly distinct in their origins.
Laufer in order to strengthen his claim makes use of the fact that the ant-gold
myth does indeed occur in Mongolia. 122 Nonetheless, this is in conjunction with the
Mongolian versions of the Tibetan Geser epic traditions. 123 Bremmers strange
agreement with Laufer that the ant myth probably came from Mongolia, when it is so
closely housed in northern India and can be seen to reappear in the Tibetan Geser epic
tradition alongside other Indic references such as the river Brhmaputra, would seem
absurd. It is via Buddhism and Indic myth that the ant-gold myth comes to Tibet, and
via the Tibetan Geser tradition that it comes into Khalkh Mongolian and Buriat myth.
We have a clear transmission path. The figure of the king of the ants in the Khalkh
Geser and Buriat folklore, whether connected with gold or not, is merely often listed
as but one animal king amongst many or as simply a king whose name means
ant.124 But, where, should we ask, does the idea of an ant king come from? There
are myths of a king of ants associated with gold in Ladakhi folklore, 125 and it is most
likely via transmission of this Tibetan reinvention of the ant gold story that it came to
be present amongst the Mongolic peoples, through the influence of the Tibetan Geser.
For that matter, both Laufer and Bremmer also seem to believe that the goldants mentioned represent the Shiraigol people in the Mongolian versions of the
Aesch. P.V. 803-806; J. Ratcliffe, Arimaspians and Cyclopes, 22; H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, A
Greek English Lexicon, 561 which gives the term here as sharp-toothed, sharp-fanged
and note that, in relation to a sword, it is also found to mean sharp edged. None of this language
suggests that the gryphons of Aristeas possessed beaks or even wings.
117
Hdt. III. 103, IV. 13, 25; Tz. Chil.VII. 68692.
118
S. I. Rudenko, The Mythological Eagle, The Gryphon, the Winged Lion and the Wolf in the Art of
the Northern Nomads, Artibus Asiae 21.2 (1958): 101-122; J.D.P. Bolton, Aristeas, 87f; E. Jacobson,
Art of the Scythians: The Interpretation of Cultures at the Edge of the Hellenic World, (Leiden: E. J.
Brill Publishing, 1995), passim, esp. 117.
119
Plin. H.N. VI.34, VII.174; Strabo XV.1.57; Philostrat.Vit. Apoll. III.48; Ael. De Nat. An. IV.27.
120
J. N. Bremmer, The Early Greek Concept of the Soul. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press, 1987), 36-37.
121
Aesch. P.V. 803-806; J. D. P. Bolton. Aristeas, 45-49.
122
B. Laufer, Die Sage, 439.
123
, I. 19-20; W. Heissig, Geser-Studien: Untersuchungen zu den Erzhlstoffen in
den neuen Kapiteln des mongolischen Geser-Zyklus (Gttingen: Westdeutsche verlag, 1983), 466468.
124
B. Laufer, Die Sage, 435-437; L. Lrincz, Die Buriatischen Geser-Varianten, Acta Orientalia
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 29/1 (1975): 55-91 (84); G.M.H. Shoolbraid, The Oral Epic of
Siberia, (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1975), 30, 62-64.
125
M. Peissel, The Ants' Gold, 74.
116

18
Tibetan Geser epic because of their names similarity with the Mongolian word for
ant siruli(n) and by an almost free association the yellow river (Mong. sira ol).126
However, the name Shiraigol seems to actually represent the Trkic people the Sirag
Yugars of Gansu and Qinghai. 127 The Shiraigol in the Mongolian Geser simply
replace an older Tibetan tribe of enemies for Geser, the Hor. 128 There is nothing
substantial in this link at all.
Moreover, recourse to the idea that giant ants and wasps located in the north of
China in Chinese geographies support the links with Mongolia would seem
erroneous.129 There is no gold mentioned in conjunction with these, and certainly no
giant wasps in other sources. Further, the details of Herodotus and those after him in
the Greek world about the size of the ants and their pelts are extraneous. In Indian and
later Tibetan myth the piplika are normal sized ants and simply excavate gold with
their digging. In coming by word of mouth to Herodotus they have been enlarged for
the sake of enhancing storytelling, as with the sentimental yet wonderful detail about
the camel, and that is all. Searching for other giant insects would seem to have no
benefit.
5. Regions of Feathers.
Shortly after giving two different origin myths for the Scythians and their ancestor
Colaxas, Herodotus supplies a seemingly non-sequential sentiment concerning the
strange weather in the lands to the north of Scythia. We read:
As their land was great in size, Colaxas created three kingdoms for his sons.
He made one of them larger than the rest and in this the gold is kept. But as to
the upper portions of this country and those who dwell above it in the direction
of the North Wind, they say that one cannot see or progress onwards because of
the feathers that pour down. The earth and the air are full of feathers there, and
this shuts off the view. 130

There is something more than a little surreal about a region filled with feathers
blocking further progress for travellers. We are missing something particularly what
creature the feathers have been shed from. Herodotus attempts to rationalise the myth
by connecting the feathers with excessive snowfall in the north:
Regarding the feathers that the Scythians say fill up the air, and because of these
the fact that no one can see further or travel onwards into the more distant portions
of the hinterland, I have the following opinion. In the lands above Scythia it
always snows, less in the summer than in the winter, as is obvious. Anyone who
has ever seen snow falling close up knows what I mean, for snow looks like
feathers. And it is due to this winteriness that the lands to the north of the
hinterland are uninhabitable. I think that the Scythians and their neighbours say
this because they liken the snow to feathers.131

B. Laufer, Die Sage, 439; J. N. Bremmer, Concept of the Soul, 3637, The Rise and Fall of the
Afterlife, (London and New York: Routledge Publishing, 2002) 33.
127
G. N. Roerich, Gesar Epic, Journal of the Asiatic Society, (1943): 283.
128
. , . (: , 1957), 6061.
129
Chu Tzu., translated by D. Hawkes. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959) 9/4b; J. D. P. Bolton,
Aristeas, 81.
130
Hdt. IV. 7. Translated by Jonathan Ratcliffe.
131
Hdt. IV.31.
126

19
On this legendary and puzzling land of feathers, it is not until Pliny the Elder that we
find it possessing a name: Pterophorus. 132 Pterophorus, or feather-bearing, as it
means in Greek, seems to be a term that has been coined independent of Herodotus
account. Aside from this new addition, Pliny simply echoes Herodotus rationalisation
of the snow and feather equivalency. 133
Like much of the Scythic and other Inner Asian myth that Herodotus appears
to have drawn upon for the fourth book of his Histories, Aristeas Arimaspeia is most
likely the source.134 To cement this, Aeschylus Promethius Bound which appears to
have made solid use of the Arimaspeia in its description of the north includes the
phrase (white-winged snows).135 However, it is highly unlikely
that Pliny had access to the works of Aristeas, as they appear to have perished before
the third century BCE.136 One major reason to this, other than anecdotal evidence, is
the fact that from this point all we tend to find are comments almost identical to those
found in Herodotus, with only a few exceptions on Aristeas connections with
Pythagoreanism. Information on the geography of the North, for that matter, tends
overall to remain fairly conservative after Aristeas and Herodotus. For this reason
alone the first century CE Roman Plinys supplying of the region with a Greek name
otherwise unattested is promising for considering the possibility that the myth was
discussed in other sources now no longer extant. In spite of this, there are no other
links between feathers and snow found in Greek myth. The most likely solution is that
the land of feathers appears to be a genuine Scythic myth, which as will be shown,
echoes a number of other myths from Northern Eurasia attested since antiquity that
also make snow and feather equivalencies.
For instance, on the other side of Eurasia we find a description of a similar
land of feathers in the Chinese Bamboo Annals in a section of this ancient work that
may have been recorded during the fourth century BCE, a century or so later than the
Histories of Herodotus. Concerning the lands to the north of China, which may also
have taken their description from the geographic myths of Inner Asian peoples, we
may read:
King muin his expedition to the north, travelled over the country of the
moving sands, for 10,000 le, and that of Heaps of Feathers for 1,000 le. Then he
subdued the hordes of Keuen, and returned to the east, with their five kings as
captives. Westward, he pushed his expeditions to where the green birds cast their
feathers (the hill of San-Wei.) On these expeditions he travelled over 190,000 le.
137

This statement is little more than a note appended to the section on the tenth century
BCE King Mu of Zhou in the Annals, clarifying the fact that a number of certain
hordes of barbarians were moved during his reign from the region of Tae Yuen, or
the province of Shan-se in North Western China, bordering upon by what is now
132

Plin. H.N. IV.12.88.


Ibid.
134
J. D. P. Bolton, Aristeas, 101.
135
Aesch. P.V. 993. On Herodotus understanding of the symbolism inherent in the land of feathers and
his lack of mentioning snow cf. R. V. Munson, Black Doves Speak: Herodotus and the Languages of
Barbarians, (Harvard: Centre for Classical Studies, Harvard University Press, 2005), 40; A. Hollmann,
The Master of Signs: Signs and the Interpretation of Signs in Herodotus Histories, (Harvard: Centre
for Classical Studies, Harvard University Press, 2011), 42 n. 86.
136
Gell. NA. IX. 4. 14; Dion. Hal. Thuc. 23.
137
The Chinese Classics., translated by. J. Legge, (London and Hong Kong: Trbner, 1897), Vol. III.
1.p. 151; J.D.P. Bolton, Aristeas, 101.
133

20
Mongolia. 138 This is most likely the result of a far later period than anything applying
to the ancient King Mu and thus may apply to the nomadic peoples of Inner Asia
closer to Herodotus time. Most notably, in this account the land of feathers is
connected with actual feather-possessors, the mysterious green birds, whereas in
Herodotus the feathers simply exist in a geographical space. However, we do not have
any reference to snow given in the Chinese records, though the similarity with
Herodotus account would seem far too similar to begrudge this detail.
Furthermore, in reference to Mongolia at a later date we should also note an
incident in the thirteenth century CE Secret History of the Mongols in which a mythic
snow and feather equivalency that has gone largely unnoticed by scholars is
manifestly displayed. The Secret History is a unique text in that not only does it
represent a rare example of a perspective on the myths and history of an Inner Asian
people from themselves, but also because its first chapter, from whence the following
example is taken, contains many myths that appear to be far older than the Mongols.
These had most likely been handed down through oral tradition long before the Secret
History was composed. 139 Some examples such as the cyclopean ancestor Duwa
Soqur discussed previously, the lupine progenitor of the Mongols Brte in and the
fable of bundled rods given by the matriarch Alan Qoa to her children have very
definite prerequisites in Inner Asian myth leading back to antiquity and peoples such
as the Wu-sun and Scythians. 140 In the Secret History the semi-divine progenitor of
most of those who later become the Mongols, Bodonar, is disowned by his brothers
in the wilderness following Alan Qoas death but miraculously survives due to his
magical ancestry and pre-ordained fate:
Bodonar noticed a brown falcon snatch and eat a black grouse, and making
a snare from the hair of his grey horse with sores on its back and a black stripe
he caught that brown falcon and kept it. Because Bodonar had nothing to eat
he would shoot and eat game which had been trapped by wolves in a ravine or
feed his stomach by gathering the remains that wolves had been eating. He fed
his falcon on these too, and in this way he passed that year. When it became
spring, at the time when ducks return, he released his falcon and suspended
ducks and geese til they were rotten- from every tree there were stenches and
from every trunk there was rotting. From the low hills of Dyiren Mountain a
group of people came migrating towards Tnggelig Stream. Every day
Bodonar, having released his falcon, went to visit these people, and having
asked for and drunk their airag [fermented milk] he would return to his grass
hut at night to sleep. When those people asked Bodonar to give them his
falcon he would not give it to them.the older brother Buqa Qatagi came,
following his younger brother Bodonar Mungqahe asked if a horse and a
man of such and such a description had been seen. The people replied: Every
day a man comes to us and drinking our airag and then he leaves again. That
man and his horse are the same as the ones you ask us about. He has a falcon.
We do not know where he spends the night. When the wind blows from the

138

Ibid. see note.


I. de Rachewiltz, The Secret History, xxxiv-xxxv.
140
On the wolf: P. B. Golden A Qaraay Nart Tale of Lupine Origins: An Echo of the Aina
Tradition? In Omeljan Pritsak Armagam: (A Tribute to Omeljan Pritsak), edited by M. Alpargu and Y.
Ozturk, (Sakarya: Sakayray University Basimlevi, 2007), 149-65. On bundled arrows: I. de Rachewiltz.
The Secret History, 262-263; J. Ratcliffe, Some Comments on the Longevity of the Fable of Bundled
Arrows in Inner Asia and Its Reception in the West, Eurasian Studies Journal 2.3 (2014).
139

21
North West, the feathers of the ducks and geese which have been caught by his
falcon blow in like snow141

As we may see from this there is a very definite connection between feathers and
snow made here in relation to the obscene overabundance of game caught by
Bodonar. It remains a shame that behind the Scythian myth we do not have an
aetiology for the land being filled with snow-feathers and cannot deduce whether
there were specific birds in question or a legendary culture hero like Bodonar
Mungqa, who was viewed as performing some action in order to explain the
coordination. Most notably, the migration of birds may also have been the catalyst for
associating feathers with snow because of their departure with its onset and return
with spring, but we are missing the integral details to prove this. 142 The only other
example I have come across of a feather-snow coordination myth is from Germany in
relation to the popular folkloric figure Holda or Frau Holle a being who was most
likely once a pagan goddess of fertility. As Motz tells us: Frau Holle also is, in some
parts of Germany, in charge of making the weather, for she causes snow to fall when
she shakes her feather pillows.143 Carlo Ginzburg has famously suggested the notion
that much of Central European folklore can be understood through possible links with
through contact between Central Europeans and nomadic Inner Asian cultures from
the seventh century BCE to the time of the Huns and even after. Thraco-Cimmerian,
Scythic and subsequent cultures do appear to have left definite marks on the
archaeological cultures of the period such as the Szentes-Vekerzug and La Tne,144
but tracing myths and folklore is harder. Whether the presence of such a snow and
feather coordination could be down to Scythic influence or was simply a coordination
that could be made by multiple cultures due to the migration of birds - or even some
other factor - seems very difficult to say without more information.
Conclusions:
By re-engaging with the rarely consulted material described in this paper and the
various multiple sources and perspectives on it available I have aimed to reaffirm the
importance of Inner Asian cultures role in the exchange and evolution of mythic
conceptions of geography. Some wonders such as the one-eyed man and the dog-man
141

The Secret History of the Mongols, 26-31. Translation by J. Ratcliffe 2013/2014.


The Greeks themselves had a number of interesting theories about migratory birds due to the
manifest uncertainty of where they went. Hom. Il. VI.2-7 has cranes fly off to Africa to fight with the
distant Pygmies as soon as wintry wind appears. Arist. Hist. An. 49b, 632b14-633a28 believed that
some species changed into others during winter and that others simply hibernated, which is echoed by
Plin. H.N. VII.26, X.30. We should also note Alcaeus frag. 307 ap. Himmerius. Orat. XIV.10 and its
description of Apollo leading swans to the distant, clement land of Hyperborea to summer with the
proverbially distant and morally and climatically blessed Hyperboreans. Hyperborea, the land beyond
the north wind, and was constructed by the Greek mind out of the opposite of everything that the cold,
harsh, barbaric north of the world was seen to be: Hdt. I. 142; Hippoc. Aer. XIII.15-21; Porph. Antr.
Nymph. 13.33J; S. Romm, The Edges of the Earth, 63-69.
143
L. Motz, The Winter Goddess: Percht, Holda, and Related Figures, Folklore, Vol. 95, No. 2
(1984): 152.
144
C. Ginzburg, Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches Sabbath. (Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1991), esp.
212, 289; cf. more soberly and on the Huns: H. J. Kim, The Huns, Rome and the Birth of Europe,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 145. On archaeology: N. K. Chadwick, The Celts
(Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1971), 13-14; T. Sulimirski, The Scyths, in The Cambridge History of
Iran Vol. II: The Median and Achaemenid Periods, edited by I. Gershevitch, (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1985), 149-199; P. S. Wells, Mobility, Art and Identity in Early Iron Age Europe
and Asia, in The Golden Deer of Eurasia: Perspectives on the Steppe Nomads of the Ancient World,
edited by J. Aruz, J. et al. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art Press, 2006), 18-23.
142

22
clearly have implications of arising and being retained in Inner Asian cultures.
Analysis of the gryphons and gold-ants showed that some long-held assumptions by
scholars are weak and in need to being altered. The Amazons and region of feathers
have shown us the onus remains on scholars in these cases to admit and affirm
multiplicity rather than collapsing myths and symbols down into single, unchanging
ideas being transmitted. All this clearly displays the complexity of the issues at hand,
but also how with careful scrutiny some truth can emerge and enlighten us about both
Inner Asian conceptions of geography and how the travellers and scholars of cultures
around the rim of the steppe regions aided in the ongoing evolution of the monsters on
the horizon.
1. One-eyed beings. We have seen that the one-eyed man has been a well-spread
motif in Inner Asian cultures with a strong geographical function, not only for
the settled geographers who have received it, but for the peoples of Inner Asia
themselves as a marker of distant and mythic geography. As part of this
function it has also been closely linked with distant lands of dog-men.
2. Dog-Men. The dog-man is a very widely attested lens for understanding the
otherness of distant peoples, enhanced especially by the actual existence of
canine totemism and imitation in some cases. In antiquity in Inner Asia there
appears to have been such rituals amongst the Scythic people and later even
amongst the Khitan, but during the high middle ages the Trkic-Mongolian
peoples appear to have largely made use of the dog-man in order to legitimise
the stealing of women from distant and barbarous peoples. However, the dog
remains a multifaceted entity beyond mere totemism or ridicule throughout
Inner Asian history, as it does in most cultural spheres. For that reason an
overly general answer to its perceived nature would not seem to do the subject
matter justice.
3. Amazons. There are many strong connections between the myth of all female
societies and the regions of Inner Asia, but upon inspection what we appear to
find is a series of similar hyperbolic cultural constructs on the part of the
geographers of Greece, India, China and later Euorpean travellers. Meeting
with cultures, especially in Inner Asia, where women played some of the roles
such as that of the warrior or ruler appear to have led outsiders to transform
such experiences into entire female-only societies. However, Mongolic myths
have not been sufficiently taken into account in developing an analysis of the
history of the Amazon, which should be remedied as I have attempted to begin
in this paper.
4. Gold-Ants. The gold-ant story given by Herodotus appears to be an
embellished travellers account of Indian conceptions of ants excavating gold
rich soil, most likely in Bactria. This myth was transmitted not only to Persia
and Greece but also to Tibet and Mongolia. Thus presuming that its roots may
be sited in any of these latter locations, as some scholars have done, fails to
take into account this chain of borrowings accurately. Assuming that the ants r
5. Regions of Feathers. Herodotus gives the myth of a land of feathers to the
north of the Scythians without due explanation of the feathers source or
meaning. Pliny gives the land a name and connects the feathers with snow, a
link which we may find also in several other records and myths in Northern
Eurasia. One possibility is that the region of feathers indicates a myth
associated with the migration of birds, but we are lacking key evidence to
expand the details of the Scythian myth in particular.