|Aggressivity||Low to Extreme, depending on the source|
|Language||Barking (but capable of understanding human languages)|
|Place of origin||Africa|
Island east of Fusang
|Habitat||Mountains (according to Ctesias)|
|Lifespan||170 - 200 years (according to Ctesias)|
|Behind the Scenes|
The Cynocephali (singular: Cynocephalus), are a mythological race of dog-headed humanoids, variously said to inhabit many parts of the world, including Africa, India, Europe, an island in the Pacific, the Andaman Islands or even the Caribbean. They are featured in the mythology of numerous cultures, and have been known by multiple different names. For instance, in Turkish myth they are known as Itbaraks, as described in the Oghuz Khagan Narratives. The Greek poet Hesiod refers to them as Hemicynes (singular: Hemicyon) and identifies them as one of the many races descendant from the goddess Gaia and the Egyptian demigod Epaphus.
Cynocephali have been described in Herodotus' Histories as one of the native inhabitants of ancient Libya, along with the Akephaloi. They were reportedly encountered in the Middle-East by Alexander the Great, who wrote about them to his tutor Aristotle. They were also encountered and battled by the Argonauts in their journey.
Ctesias' Indica firmly places these creatures in India (along with other strange species such as the Sciapods). Ctesias describes the Cynocephali as inhabiting caves in the Indian mountains "as far as the river Indos", wearing clothes made from the skin of wild animals, eating raw meet (although they leave it under the sun to dry) and being "extremely just, like the rest of the Indians with whom they associate". Although they understand the languages spoken by humans in India, they are incapable of speaking them and instead communicate with each other by barking. Physically, they're described with dark skin, large teeth (larger than those of a common dog) and nails that are similar to a dog's claws except for being longer and rounder. Their tails are also longer and hairier than dog tails, and they are very swift hunters, skilled with the bow-and-arrow. They live longer than humans, having an average lifespan of about 170 or even 200 years. The Indians refer to them as Kalystrii and claim they number about 120,000 in total.
Ctesias goes on to describe the culture and social habits of the dog-headed ones.
|“|| The women have a bath once a month, the men do not have a bath at all, but only wash their hands. They anoint themselves three times a month with oil made from milk and wipe themselves with skins. The clothes of men and women alike are not skins with the hair on, but skins tanned and very fine. The richest wear linen clothes, but they are few in number. They have no beds, but sleep on leaves or grass. He who possesses the greatest number of sheep is considered the richest, and so in regard to their other possessions.||”|
— Ctesias, Indica
Although he initially claims that they "do not practice any trade but live by hunting", he later goes on to describe some habits which seem to include commerce.
|“|| They also rear numbers of sheep, goats, and asses, drinking the milk of the sheep and whey made from it. They eat the fruit of the Siptachora, whence amber is procured, since it is sweet. They also dry it and keep it in baskets, as the Greeks keep their dried grapes. They make rafts which they load with this fruit together with well-cleaned purple flowers and 260 talents of amber, with the same quantity of the purple dye, and 1000 additional talents of amber, which they send annually to the king of India. They exchange the rest for bread, flour, and cotton stuffs with the Indians, from whom they also buy swords for hunting wild beasts, bows, and arrows, being very skillful in drawing the bow and hurling the spear. They cannot be defeated in war, since they inhabit lofty and inaccessible mountains. Every five years the king sends them a present of 300,000 bows, as many spears, 120,000 shields, and 50,000 swords.||”|
— Ctesias, Indica
Roman authors such as Pliny the Elder and Claudius Aelianus also give a closely-matching description of the Cynocephali's culture, even though they place them in Africa, rather than India. It's worth-noting that Aelianus still regarded these creatures as mere animals, due to their "inarticulate" and "unintelligible" speech, even though he acknowledges that they're intelligent, practice agriculture and animal husbandry, understand human speech and do not attack people. Similarly, St. Isidore of Seville would also classify them as beasts, rather than people.
The question of whether Cynocephali and other fantastic races should be regarded as human or animal also interested other Christian authors such as St. Augustine of Hippo, who argued that, if human, they're to be considered descendants of Adam. This matter was important, because if such races were to be regarded as humans, missionaries who encountered them should preach the Gospels to them, but if they were to be regarded as animals, such would be pointless. Many people believed that creatures like these, although fierce and bestial, could still be redeemed and have their souls saved. This idea culminated in the traditional representations of St. Christopher as a Cynocephalus, who became human after converting. However, some scholars have argued that this backstory for St. Christopher seems to have originated from a translation error, in which the Latin term Cananeus (an inhabitant of Canaan) was incorrectly believed to mean the same as canineus (dog-like).
Although the Greek and Roman descriptions of Cynocephali typically portrayed them as noble and usually not hostile towards humans (though the Argonauts did have to battle them, as did Alexander), this picture slowly changed with time, to the point that Medieval authors would typically regard them as brutal savages who feasted upon human meat at the slightest chance. At the same time, the geographical origin of the dog-headed ones continued to change, with some sources - notably the Arthurian legends - placing them on Europe rather than Asia. According to the Speculum Maius, by Vincent of Beauvais, it's possible that a Cynocephalus was at some point present in the court of St. Louis IX of France. Beauvais describes the creature's disposition as variable: "when peaceful, he is tender like a man, when furious, he becomes cruel and retaliates on humankind".
Chinese authors have also written about dog-headed people. The Buddhist missionary Hui-Sheng claims that in the sea beyond the fabled Eastern nation of Fusang, there is an entire island populated by such creatures. This dog nation is also mentioned by Li Yanshou in History of the Northern Dynasties.
In the legends of King Arthur, the dog-headed people who inhabit the Great Britain are referred to by the name Cinbin (which means "dog-heads"), and are inimical towards Arthur's men, who battle them in the mountains of Eidyn (Edinburgh). It is implied that the murderer Gwrgi Garwlwyd was one of them. His first name can be translated as "man-dog" and many scholars identify him as either a Cinbin or a Lycanthrope. The hairy humanoid Gurgi from The Chronicles of Prydain (and the Disney film The Black Cauldron) is named after him.
In the 12th to 14th century, a number of explorers have related encounters with the dog-headed people. Among them is Giovanni da Pian del Carpine - one of the first Europeans to enter the court of Ögedei Khan - who claimed that they lived on the lands north of the Dalai-Nor (Northern Ocean), and Lake Baikal.
Marco Polo, on the other hand, placed them in the Andaman Islands - specifically in the Island of Angamanain. He also describes them as a savage race.
|“|| Angamanain is a very large Island. The people are without a king and are Idolaters, and no better than wild beasts. And I assure you all the men of this Island of Angamanain have heads like dogs, and teeth and eyes likewise; in fact, in the face they are all just like big mastiff dogs! They have a quantity of spices; but they are a most cruel generation, and eat everybody that they can catch, if not of their own race. They live on flesh and rice and milk, and have fruits different from any of ours.||”|
— Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo
Similarly, Odoric of Pordenone places the Cynocephali in the nearby Nicobar Islands. Curiously, Sir John Mandeville would later claim that the Andaman Islands were inhabited by Blemmyes, and refer to the dog-headed people as "Nacumerians", which might also mean that they're from the Nicobar Islands. Unlike Marco Polo's, Mandeville's Cynocephali are indeed ruled by a king, and worship the figure of an ox.
On his way to Sumatra, Ibn Battuta describes visiting a land inhabited by the "Barahnakar", a people whose males he describes as having "mouths like those of dogs", but being otherwise human. The females, on the other hand, have human mouths. Battuta describes them as a "vile race" which has no religion and practices polygyny, each men having up to 30 wives. The fact that the females appear human is interesting, in that other authors, including Alexander, have claimed that the Cynocephali often abduct human females and mate with them. Some sources even claimed that they regularly mate with the legendary Amazons tribe, and that the female (human) babies born from such unions were raised by the Amazons whereas the male (dog-headed) ones were raised by the Cynocephali. Still, it is clear that female Cynocephali do exist according to sources ranging from Ctesias to John Mandeville, among many others. Interestingly, the Oghuz Khagan Narratives did describe Itbarak females as "pretty".
In accordance with the early ancient sources, the 14th century French cardinal Pierre d'Ailly locates the barking Cynocephali in India. Curiously, however, he also describes a second race of dog-headed people called "Carismaspi", which have a single eye like a Cyclops.
Similarly, Christopher Columbus has related stories told about the natives of some Caribbean islands who are known as "Canina" or "Caniba", and who have dog-heads with a single eye on the forehead and feed upon human flesh. In his later writings, though, it appears that Columbus has become convinced that such creatures do not exist, as he has never actually encountered them. Even today, however, stories about encounters with a mysterious race of dog-headed people still occasionally show up in the annals of cryptozoology.
- The word Cynocephalus is also used as the scientific name of the Philippine flying lemur, and Hemicyon as that of an extinct animal known as the dog-bear. Additionally, the scientific name of the yellow baboon is Papio cynocephalus, and some scholars have argued that encounters with baboons may have been one of the inspirations for the Cynocephali (baboons being also known in French as cynocéphales). Cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans and British naturalist David Attenborough have notably suggested the lion-tailed macaque and the indri as alternate candidates, respectively. Finally, the extinct thylacine also has it as the second part of its binomial name, Thylacinus cynocephalus.