The 20 Most Dangerous Monsters and Mythological Creatures
Each culture around the world has its own set of legends and mythological creatures, each of which is more amazing than the last. Here, I have compiled a list of 20 of the most dangerous mythological creatures and their folklore. Enjoy!
The Top 20 Mythical Creatures and Monsters
- Centaurs (Greek and Roman)
- Basilisks (Greek and Roman)
- The Chimera (Greek)
- Medusa (Greek and Roman)
- Cyclopes (Greek and Roman)
- The Minotaur (Greek)
- The Kraken (Scandinavian)
- Cerberus (Greek)
- The Sphinx (Greek and Egyptian)
- Mermaids (a.k.a. Sirens) (Many cultures)
- The Lernaean Hydra (Greek and Roman)
- Kappas (Japanese)
- Lamia (Greek)
- Dragons (Many cultures)
- Harpies (Greek and Roman)
- Typhon (Greek and Roman)
- Echidna (Greek)
- The Furies (Greek and Roman)
- Scylla and Charybdis (Greek)
- Banshees (Celtic)
The centaur or hippocentaur is a legendary creature from Greek mythology. It is said to have the upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse. But how did they come to be?
It is said that Ixion was in love with Hera, the wife of Zeus, and apparently tried to rape her while at Olympus by Zeus's gracious invitation. Hera informed Zeus about his actions, and he decided to test her story. He molded the clouds into a nymph named Nephele who resembled Hera and laid it near Ixion. Fooled by the ruse, Ixion raped Nephele.
On finding this out, Zeus bound Ixion to a fiery wheel destined to whirl perpetually through the air (or in other versions, through the Underworld). The result of the union between Ixion and Nephele was the centaurs, who Nephele gave birth to in the form of a rain shower on the slopes of Mount Pelion.
Note: Chiron was considered to be the wisest and justest of the centaurs, but unlike them, he was the immortal son of the titan Cronos and the nymph Philyra. Chiron (who later sacrificed his eternal life for Prometheus) was a teacher who taught many Greek heroes, including Achilles and Heracles.
The basilisk (also known as a cockatrice) is a creature from Roman and Greek mythology, though many contemporary readers might be more familiar with the representation in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. A basilisk is born from a serpent's egg incubated by a cockerel, so the resulting creature is half-bird and half-snake.
The basilisk is said to be the king of serpents, and its name means "little king". It is said to have the power to kill a person with a single glare, making it one of the most feared and deadly creatures of the mythological world. They are said to be extremely hostile towards humans, and their venom is so toxic that it can kill a man from a meter's distance. In one story, the venom of the basilisk traveled up the spear of the warrior who stabbed it and killed not only the rider but his horse as well!
3. The Chimera
According to Greek mythology, the Chimera is a fire-breathing, female monster from Asia Minor. The Chimera looks like a lion with the head of a goat protruding from its back and a snake as its tail. Interestingly, the goat's head is the one that breathed fire!
The Chimera had already ransacked many villages—occasionally killing innocent bystanders, though she mainly slew cattle—by the time King Iobates commanded the hero Bellerophon to slay this beast.
Though she was once believed to be nearly invincible (as she had a lion's strength, a goat's cunning, and a snake's venom), Bellerophon rode into battle on his winged horse Pegasus and drove a lead-tipped sword into the Chimera's flame-covered mouth, choking her on the molten metal.
Note: The term "chimera" has now been used to describe any mythical creature which has parts from various animals.
Medusa was the only mortal of the three Gorgon sisters—Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale. She used to be a beautiful maiden, but then Poseidon raped her in the temple of Athena. The enraged Athena turned Medusa into a hideous creature with the face of an ugly woman, and snakes for hair. But worse still, anyone who dared look her in the eye would be turned to stone.
In her despair, she became as gruesome as her outward appearance. She fled to Africa, where young snakes dropped from her hair. According to the Greeks, this was how the continent became inhabited by many poisonous snakes. Medusa was finally slain by Perseus. It is said that when Perseus cut off her head from the blood were born two creatures—Chrysaor and Pegasus.
A Ghastly Gift
Perseus eventually gave Medusa's severed head to Athena, but not before using it to turn a few of his enemies to stone first.
We're all familiar with these famous one-eyed monsters, but what's the real story behind them?
According to Hesiod's Theogony, there were three Cyclopes—Arges, Steropes and Brontes—born to Uranus and Gaea. All three were skilled blacksmiths; it was the Cyclopes who provided Zeus's thunderbolt, Hades' helmet of invisibility and Poseidon's trident. These were the weapons used to destroy the Titans.
Most people, however, are unfamiliar with Hesiod's trio of mild-mannered Cyclopes. Today, Homer's race of violent and dimwitted Cyclopes—the most famous of which was Polyphemus, who attempted to eat Odysseus and his crew—are far more well known.
Note: The word cyclopes mean "round eye".
6. The Minotaur
The Minotaur was a half-man, half-bull monster in Greek mythology. He lived in a labyrinth below the court of King Minos in Crete.
Poseidon had gifted Minos with a Cretan bull that was supposed to be sacrificed, but Minos kept the bull instead of sacrificing it. This enraged Poseidon, and in his anger, he made Minos' wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with the bull. The Minotaur was their offspring.
The newborn Minotaur would only eat humans, so Minos created a labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur (as advised by the Oracle) and sent human sacrifices as food for the creature.
Theseus, the son of the king of Athens, eventually slew the Minotaur with the help of Minos's daughter, who fell in love with Theseus and aided him with a sword and length of rope. The rope was tied outside the labyrinth so that it could be followed all the way out after slaying the beast.
Note: Though the Minotaur's prison is always described as a labyrinth, literary descriptions make it clear that he was trapped in a complex maze.
Is a Labyrinth the Same as a Maze?
No! Though most people use these terms interchangeably, they have different meanings. Labyrinths are unicursal, meaning they have a single entrance/exit and one non-branching path. A maze, on the other hand, is multicursal. This means it has various choices of path and direction, and may have multiple entrances and exits, as well as plenty of dead ends.
7. The Kraken
According to Scandinavian mythology, the Kraken is a legendary sea monster of gigantic proportions said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. The Kraken is usually described as a giant squid or octopus-like creature, but it has also been described as crab-like.
There are various tales of the Kraken attacking and destroying ships. It is also capable of making giant whirlpools capable of bringing down ships. It is believed that the myth of the Kraken could have originated from giant squids which could grow up to 18 meters long and were rarely seen by humans.
According to Greek mythology, Cerberus is the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the Underworld, where the dead are allowed to enter but no one is allowed to leave. Apart from its three heads, Cerberus has the tail of a serpent, a mane of snakes and the claws of a lion.
His three heads are supposed to denote the past, present and future, as well as birth, youth and old age. Depending on the source, Cerberus is described as having deadly breath, venomous saliva and razor-sharp teeth.
Note: While most artistic representations show Cerberus with three heads, contradictory testimonies from the likes of Hesiod (the first to give the hound of Hades a name) and Pindar assert that Cerberus has anywhere from 50 to 100 heads!
9. The Sphinx
The Sphinx is a monster present in both Greek and Egyptian mythology portrayed as having the head of a human and the body of a lion. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx was considered to be a woman and had the wings of a bird (and often the tail of a serpent). But whereas in Egypt, Sphinxes were considered a sign of royal power (in fact, it's speculated that the face of Giza's Great Sphinx was modeled off the pharaoh Khafra), the Sphinx of Greek myth is portrayed as a cunning and dangerous creature.
According to myth, she stayed outside the city of Thebes and asked travelers a famous riddle: "Which creature has one voice but four feet in the morning, two at noon and three feet at night?" Anyone who answered incorrectly was eaten. Finally, Oedipus answered her riddles correctly, upon which the Sphinx killed herself.
10. Mermaids (a.k.a. Sirens)
Mermaids, often called sirens, are legendary aquatic creatures with the head and upper body of a female human and the lower body of a fish. Mermaids appear in folklore from around the world and are associated with misfortunes such as drownings and shipwrecks. They are known for being stunningly beautiful and leading sailors astray onto rocky shoals.
Their male counterparts are called mermen. They, too, have a fierce reputation for summoning storms, sinking ships and drowning men.
According to some, there have been modern sightings of mermaids around the world, but there is no definitive proof.
11. The Lernaean Hydra
The Lernaean Hydra is a water monster from Greek mythology. It is said that the Hydra had many heads (most accounts say nine), and whenever a head was chopped off, two heads grew back in its place.
The Hydra also had poisonous breath and blood. It is said that the hero Heracles killed the Hydra with a sword and fire. He protected his nose from the poisonous gas using a cloth, and after cutting off a head, he cauterized the open wound with fire to stop it from regenerating. Hera—who raised the Hydra—then turned the dead monster into a constellation of the same name.
Remember how Perseus used Medusa's severed head to take out a few of his enemies before gifting it to Athena? Heracles took a page out of the same book, dipping his arrows into the Hydra's poisonous blood in order to cause fatal wounds to future foes.
The kappa is an imp or demon in Japanese folklore. Its name means "river child". Kappas have a small pool of water suspended above their head, signifying their life force and habitat. The kappa resembles a frog or a monkey the size of a 10-year-old child. They are supposed to have a humanoid face, tortoise's beak and shell and scaly skin.
Japanese children are warned not to go near rivers or lakes, as the kappa are often said to lure people near the water and pull them in. Stories about kappas invariably reference their capability to keep promises, which they only lose if tricked into bowing their head and causing the water above their head (their life force) to spill. Once the water is spilled, they lose their supernatural powers.
Quick, Grab a Cucumber!
Kappas are said to have a love of cucumbers, and throwing a cucumber into the waters they live in is a common way of appeasing them. So that's why they call it a kappa roll!
According to Greek mythology, Lamia was the mistress of the God Zeus. In retaliation, Zeus's jealous wife, Hera, killed Lamia's children and transformed her into a monster that hunts and devours the children of others.
It is said that she had the lower body of a serpent, though she could shapeshift into a flawlessly beautiful woman during the day in order to seduce men. She was also cursed to not be able to close her eyes so that she would forever obsess over her lost children. Zeus, however, took pity on her and enabled her to remove her eyes from their sockets. He did this so that she could rest, as she could not close her eyes.
It is said that Lamia had a voracious sexual appetite matched only by her hunger for hunting children. Scylla was one of Lamia's only children who escaped, but she was also turned into a monster.
Dragons are legendary creatures present in the folklore of many cultures, though they are depicted differently in each. In Western cultures, they are usually described as winged, four-legged reptiles capable of flying and breathing fire. In Eastern cultures, however, they are depicted as large, four-legged serpents with a very high level of intelligence. Here's an impressive list of dragons in mythology and folklore for those of you who want to know more!
One could say that dragons are the most famous of all mythological monsters, and they continue to appear in various fantasy shows and movies even now (like The Hobbit, for example).
The harpy is a creature from Greek and Roman mythology depicted as a half-bird and half-woman personification of storm winds. They have the pale face of a maiden and long claws, which makes sense as their name literally means "snatchers" or "swift robbers".
While early harpies were not described as disgusting or dangerous, they were later depicted as hideous creatures with evil intent. In Greek mythology, the first description of them as loathsome and treacherous creatures appeared in the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. Dante created his own version of the harpies in his Inferno. They were said to inhabit the seventh ring of hell, where the souls of people who have attempted or committed suicide are transformed into thorny trees and fed upon by the harpies.
Typhon was a serpentine giant and the most deadly creature in Greek mythology, because in addition to being a monster, he was also a god. Considered the "Father of all monsters", it is said that when he stood upright, his head brushed against the stars.
His lower body consisted of two coiled viper tails that were constantly hissing, and instead of fingers, hundreds of snakes erupted from his hands. He also had a hundred snake heads (with a few dragon heads thrown in for good measure) protruding from his main head. His wings were so wide that they blotted out the sun, and fire flashed from his eyes, striking fear even among the Olympians.
Typhon was the youngest son of Gaia and Tartarus. He tried to overthrow Zeus but was later defeated by his thunderbolts and locked in Tartarus. In some accounts, he was said to have been confined under Mount Etna, where he was the cause of volcanic eruptions. He is said to be the father of Cerberus, Hydra, Chimera and dangerous winds (typhoons).
Flesh-eating Echidna, the wife of fearsome Typhon, was half woman, half serpent. Both she and her husband were children of Gaea and Tartarus (perhaps this is why their children were all so monstrous?), but while Typhon was confined below Mount Etna after challenging Zeus, Echidna and her children were spared in order to challenge future heroes (six of whom Heracles would go on to best or kill).
18. The Furies
Also known as the Erinyes, the Furies were the cthonic goddesses of vengeance—often inflicting madness or disease on their victims. They are often represented as ugly, winged women with serpents in their hair (much like Medusa).
According to Hesiod, these fearsome creatures were the daughters of Gaea, born from the blood of her husband Uranus's castration. (Aphrodite—oft depicted as emerging lustrous from a wave of sea foam—was actually born from the "foam" of the same castration.)
The Furies lived in the Underworld, but they would ascend to Earth to pursue those who had upset the world's natural order, such as those who offended the gods or committed murder or perjury. Victims in search of justice could call the curse of the Furies upon the person who wronged them.
19. Scylla and Charybdis
This monstrous duo packed a real punch for anyone sailing the Strait of Messina. Scylla was a six-headed, twelve-footed creature with a waist girdled by the heads of fiercely barking dogs. She ate anything that ventured too close, including six of Odysseus's men.
Charybdis, most likely the personification of a whirlpool and just a bowshot away from Scylla, would drain and subsequently expel the waters all around her three times each day, creating a fatal obstacle for any seamen passing through the strait.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
This legend was the origin of the common phrase "between a rock and a hard place", used to express the idea of being stuck between two equally unpleasant alternatives. Next time, you can say you're caught between Scylla and Charybdis!
A Banshee ("Bean Sidhe" in Irish and "Ban Sith" in Scots Gaelic) is a female spirit from Celtic folklore. The word "banshee" means "woman of the fairy mound" or "fairy woman", and her scream is believed to be an omen of death. The wail or scream is also called a "caoine", which means "keening", and is supposed to be a warning about an imminent death in the family.
Some banshees are considered to have strong ties with families, in fact, some believe that each family has a banshee. They sing sorrowful, haunting songs filled with love and concern for the families. For this reason, this entry is more of an honorable mention. Terrifying as they are, banshees actually mean well and only want to help families prepare for the death of a loved one.
Which mythological creature did you find most interesting?
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