A Fable Is An Animal Tale That Has No Purpose Companion of the Dead

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Many years ago hyenas were common throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. Today hyenas are found in parts of the Middle East, India and Africa. To understand the development of the myths and legends surrounding the hyena, a brief biology lesson follows.

Hyenas are considered the most intelligent of all types of predators on the planet, and some scientists consider them to be as intelligent as monkeys. Moving their kill closer to other pack members is an example of this intelligence, as are the different hunting methods used for different prey. A hyena’s heart is twice the size of a lion’s, enabling it to run long distances to tire out its prey. Hyenas have a very special call; a screeching, eerie “whoah” that manages to sound like human laughter. When their cry rings out in the silent night, it can be terrifying. There is also no definition between male and female hyena, and the social structure of the group centers around a matriarch. The hyena’s jaws are perhaps the strongest in the animal kingdom, and their digestive system contains bacteria that enable them to eat any part of the carcass – teeth, skin, hair, bones, horns and hooves.

End of science lesson. Most stories about the hyena cast the animal in a negative light, partly because of their physical attributes and partly because they have been known to scavenge cemeteries in search of food. The fact that a hyena will devour a rotting carcass whole has led to associations with cowardice, filth and gluttony. Their “laughter” call led to the belief that they have the ability to mimic human voices and can call their victims by name.

African folklore is a rich source of hyena tales and fables. Some African tribes believe that witches can turn into hyenas. The spotted hyena is to Africa what the black cat is to the Western world – a creature synonymous with magic and witches. One legend claims that each witch owns a herd of hyenas, called “night cattle. The hyenas are invisibly branded with the witch’s personal mark, and they live and raise their young in the witch’s home. Some tribes claim that the witch milks the hyena. every day. preparing hyena butter, which is used to replenish the flaming torch used to light the path during night journeys on the hyena’s steep back. It is considered dangerous to kill one, because if its owner reveals that it will kill the hunter using magic… perhaps this explains why the hyena is not on any endangered species list.

While many Africans neither fear nor believe in witches and sorcery, they view the hyena with nervous disgust. Even the mention of the name will elicit a scornful laugh, for the simple reason that hyenas consume human corpses. And this is the same reason why other cultures consider the hyena a repulsive symbol. While these animals are almost extinct in the Middle East and Balkan regions, legends are still told in places like Bulgaria, Greece and Syria about hyenas, which moved in organized herds that sometimes included wolves. There was also a medieval European belief that a lioness would mate with a hyena, resulting in the birth of a leucrotta. This terrifying creature had a human voice and the ability to mimic human speech was used to lure travelers into its foul clutches.

While some readers may find the hyena more appropriate for horror writing, the actual character (or variations thereof) has been featured in several stories. Examples:

Narcissus is a hyena (variation on the hyena) in the book Narcissus in Chains, one of Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter book series.

Jean M Auel’s Children of the Earth book series detail the main character Ayla’s distaste for hyenas, due to bad experiences with them in the past.

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” features a hyena watching over Harry, a writer on safari, who develops gangrene from a thorn wound. As Harry slowly succumbs to the infection, the hyena sits… and waits.

Not everyone sees the hyena as a ruthless, deceitful, disgusting creature – the animal has its admirers. The fact that hyenas carry out organized hunts, have a complex social family structure and – on occasion – will share their kill can be taken as proof of their high intelligence. Perhaps this can be seen as a threat from humanity, which is supposed to be the supreme intelligence on our planet. Like vultures, hyenas are a very effective waste disposal system, making them an important part of the ecosystem. Hyena packs are led by a matriarch and female hyenas are respected and not discriminated against by their male counterparts.

Perhaps a more accurate way to describe the hyena’s “cowardice” would be to accept it as a calculating animal that understands its enemies, selects its prey after much evaluation, and does not endanger itself or the herd. The hyena’s unfortunate appearance also works in the animal’s favor; it doesn’t have a sleek fur coat or luxurious mane. There are no ivory tusks, shiny tusks or decorative horns, and his ugly face is not something few hunters would want displayed on their wall. And few people would agree to eat hyena meat. A hunter describes a translation of the hyena’s laugh with this interpretation: “I may look like a slob, my friend… but the real slob is you.”

I will close this issue with a positive story from 4th century Russian mythology about a hyena. One night, 90-year-old Saint Anthony had a vision from God, who told him to go visit an ascetic (monk) who lived at the opposite end of the Egyptian desert. The next morning, Saint Anthony set out on his journey through the desert. It was difficult – the sun burned on him during the day, and at night he fought with temperatures below zero degrees. The only water available was what he carried from his house, and the wind blew hot sand along his path. When exhaustion threatened to overwhelm St. Anthony a hyena suddenly appeared… but it didn’t attack the man. Instead, she ran forward, leading to the ascetic’s cave, which was actually very well hidden, with a palm tree hiding the entrance.

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