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(Redirected from Cynocephali)

The condition of cynocephaly, having the head of a dog— or of a jackal— is familiar to anyone who has looked at Egyptian inscriptions. Cynocephalus is a Greek word for a sacred Egyptian baboon with the face of a dog. (Cynocephalus has been adopted by scientists as the genus name for an Asian arboreal gliding mammal also known as a Colugo.)

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has not downgraded Saint Christopher, certain icons covertly identify him him with the head of a dog. The background to the dog-headed Christopher myth is laid in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, when a man named Reprebus Rebrebus or Reprobus (the "scoundrel") was captured in combat against tribes to the west of Egypt in Cyrenaica, and was assigned to the numerus Marmaritarum or "Unit of the Marmaritae", which suggests an otherwise-unidentified "Marmaritae" perhaps the same as the Marmaricae berber tribe of Cyrenaica. He was reported to be of enormous size, with the head of a dog instead of a man, apparently characteristic of the Marmaritae.

Cynocephali figure both in pagan and in Christian world-views.

A mythic tale that placed St. Andrew and St. Bartholomew among the Parthians presented the case of "Abominable," the citizen of the "city of cannibals...whose face was like unto that of a dog." After receiving baptism, however, he was released from his doggish aspect (White, 1991). Quite similar was the portrait of St. Christopher, a giant of a cynocephalic species in the land of the Chananeans (the "canines" of Canaan in the New Testament) who ate human flesh and barked. Eventually, Christopher met the Christ child, regretted his former behavior, and received baptism. He, too, was rewarded with a human appearance, whereupon he devoted his life to Christian service and became an athlete of God, one of the soldier-saints (Walter of Speyer, Vita et passio sancti Christopher martyris, 75).

The cynocephali offered such an evocative image of the magic and brutality deemed characteristic of bizarre people of distant places, that it kept returning in medieval literature: Augustine, Isidore of Seville, Paul the Deacon, Adam of Bremen, and Ratramnus all reported on the Cynocephalae, with the aplomb of anthropologists. Quoting St. Jerome, Thomas of Cantimpré corroborated the existence of Cynocephalos, in his Liber de Monstruosis Hominibus Orientis, xiv, ("Book of Monstrous men of the Orient"). The encyclopedist Vincent of Beauvais acquainted his patron St. Louis IX of France with "an animal with the head of the dog but with all other members of human appearance....Though he behaves like a man...and, when peaceful, he is tender like a man, when furious, he becomes cruel and retaliates on humankind" (Speculum naturale, 31:126). The werewolf tradition is an archaic Greek one as well as an ancient European one.

The use of dog-headed, human-bodied characters is still very strong in modern literature. In the domain of comics publishing in North America and in Europe many works feature an "all-cynocephalic" cast or use the heads of dogs and other animals together for social comment or other purposes. For instance, in the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman, Jews have human bodies and the heads of mice while characters with their roots in the United States have human bodies and the heads of dogs. Germans have human bodies and the heads of cats. French have human bodies and the heads of frogs.

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