Sciapods: The One-legged Mythical Creature of Antiquity

Sciapods one legged creaturesSciapods were a mythical race of men with only one giant foot centered in the middle of their bodies. They had a habit of lying on their backs during the hot season and using their big foot to shade themselves from the heat of the sun. 

They may have a single leg that enables them to move from one place to another through leaping or jumping, but you will be surprised by their agility, in this article, we will tell you all about these creatures.

What Are Sciapods?

Sciapods are creatures that look like ordinary humans; however, their only distinct difference from an ordinary humans is their single-giant foot, which helps them to balance themselves upright, according to mythology. They are brown-skinned people with dark-colored curly hair, and their eye color also tends to be dark.

How Sciapods Moved

Different cultures assume or saw that these creatures are clumsy and display slow movement as they were single-footed. However, they are actually fast, and they can easily balance and maneuver.

Their foot resembles a human foot in all aspects but the size, and not all Sciapods’ foot faces the same angle; some are left-footed while others are right-footed. However, they do not view being single-footed as a disability or an impairment. As a matter of fact, they are well-known for sheltering refugees, castoffs, and runaways who have been physically disfigured from other communities.

In their social life, like normal humans, Sciapods’ anatomical differences tend to give them different benefits and challenges. There are certain occasional disagreements, rivalries, or competitions between left-footer Sciapods and right-footer Sciapods. However, just like humans, they moved quite similarly.

Sciapods in Literature

Accounts of their existence first arose in a written work of Pliny the Elder in Natural History. They are mentioned to be one of the races that originated from Greek and Roman mythology, legend, and folklore, they also appear in English, Roman, and even old Norse Literature.

Greek Literature

Sciapods appeared in ancient Greek and Roman works of literature as early as 414 BC when the play of Aristophanes entitled The Birds was first performed. They were also mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which tells stories from travelers who journeyed to India where they encountered and sighted Sciapods. He also cites that Sciapods was first mentioned in the book Indika.

Indika is a book written in the fifth century BC by Ctesias, the classical Greek physician, purporting to describe India. Ctesias was serving King Artaxerxes II of Persia as the court physician during that time. He wrote the book based on stories brought by traders to Persia and not on his own experiences.

However, another Greek writer, Scylax, in a reported fragment, mentioned Sciapods as having two feet. This meant that Pliny the Elder is the one responsible for having an illustration of a one-footed man raising his foot over his head to use as a sunshade during the medieval and the early modern period.

In a book by Philostratus entitled Life of Apollonius of Tyana, he also mentioned Sciapods. Apollonius believed the Sciapods reside in Ethiopia and India and questioned a spiritual teacher about their actuality. In St. Augustine’s book, in Chapter 8 of Book 16 of The City of God, he said that it is unknown whether such creatures exist.

References to Sciapods progress into the medieval era. In Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae, it is stated, “The race of Sciopodes are said to live in Ethiopia.” He added that these creatures are wonderfully speedy despite having only one leg, and the Greeks call them “shade-footed ones” because they lie on the ground when it is hot and are shaded by the great size of their foot.

Aside from being popular in medieval bestiaries, they are also well-known in map illustrations of Terra Incognita, as humans have a habit of illustrating the edge of their maps with peculiar creatures, such as dragons, unicorns, cyclops, Sciapods, and many more. The Hereford Mappa Mundi, which is drawn dating from circa 1300, illustrates Sciapods on one edge. The same is true for the world map in Beatus of Liebana’s drawn, dating back to circa 730 to circa 800.

English Literature

Sciapods were also featured in a few works of fiction. In the novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, part of the series The Chronicles of Narnia, a magician named Coriakin inhabits an island near the edge of Narnia together with a tribe of foolish dwarves called Duffers. Coriakin transformed the Duffers into monopods as punishment, and they were not happy with what they looked like and so decided to make themselves invisible.

They were rediscovered by the explorers from the Dawn Treader who arrived at the island to rest. They requested Lucy Pevensie to make them visible again, and so she did. They became known as “Dufflepuds” from their old name, “Duffers,” and their new name, “Monopods.” In accordance with the book The Land of Narnia by Brian Sibley, C.S. Lewis may have copied the Sciapods’ appearance on drawings from the Hereford Mappa Mundi.

Roman Literature

There was also a Sciapod mentioned in Umberto Eco’s novel entitled Baudolino, and his name was Gavagai. While in his other novel, The Name of the Rose, they were described as “the inhabitants of the unknown world,” and, “Sciapods, who run swiftly on their single leg and, when they want to take shelter from the sun, stretch out and hold up their great foot like an umbrella.”

Norse Literature

Another encounter was written in the Saga of Erik the Red. According to it, in the early 11th century, Thorfinn Karlsefni, together with a group of Icelandic settlers in North America, allegedly encountered a race of the “One-Legged” or the “Uniped.”

Thorvald Eiriksson, with the others, gathered to search for Thorhall. While navigating for a lengthy period of time in the river, a one-legged man suddenly shot them and hit Thorvald. He meets his end because of a wound in the abdomen caused by the arrow. The search party continued their journey up north and reached what they assumed to be the “Country of the Unipeds” or “Land of the One-Legged.”

The Origin of the One-footer Creature

The origin of the one-footer creatures remains uncertain, but there are various folklore and stories from different places that mention them, even before the medieval ages. These stories could relate to the Sciapods’ origins. However, in an explanation provided by Giovanni de’ Marignolli about his journey to India.

Marignolli explained that all Indians commonly go naked and have a habit of holding a thing that can be similar to a little tent-roof with a cane handle, and they use it as protection when it is raining or it is sunny. Indians even called it Chatyr, and he brought one from his travels. He said that this thing is the one assumed by those poets to be afoot.

However, it did not put a stop to having various one-footed creatures turn up in myths from several places. In South American legend, they have the Patasola or the one-foot of Columbian lore, the figure of a terrifying creature who lures lumberjacks into the woods for courtship, and after that, the lumberjacks never return.

In Sir John Mandeville’s work, he described that in Ethiopia, there are some who are single-footed yet run so fast. It is a marvel to see them, and their foot is so big that it can cover and shade all the body from the sun, which obviously relates to the Sciapods from the book of Ctesias.

The more likely explanation for their origin is the Indian lore’s one-legged demons and gods. According to Carl A.P. Ruck, the Monopods mentioned to exist in India refer to the Vedas Aja Ekapada, which means “Not-born Single-foot.” It is an epithet for Soma, a botanical deity that represents the stem of an entheogenic fungus or plant. In other references, Ekapada refers to a single-footed aspect of Shiva, the Hindu god.

In sum, the existence of Sciapods is either a result of listening meticulously to Indian stories, encountering the Hindu iconography of the Ekapada, or stories that come from the pantheon of pre-classical India.

Meaning of the Word Sciapods

The term is “Sciapodes” in Latin and “Skiapodes” in Greek. Sciapods meaning is “Shadow foot.” “Skia” means shadow, and “pod” means foot. They were also known as Monocoli, which means “single leg,” and were also called Monopod meaning “one foot.” However, Monopods were usually described as dwarf-like creatures, but in some accounts, it is said that Sciapods and Monopods are just the same creatures.

Conclusion

Sciapods were mythical human-like or dwarf-like creatures that made their appearance even before the medieval period. However, it is uncertain whether they really exist, but one thing is absolute: they are not harmless.

  • Sciapods all you need to knowSciapods are creatures that appeared in medieval iconography, represented as a human-like figure with a single large foot raised as a sunshade.
  • They were also called Monopods or Monocoli. Some of them are left-footed, whereas others are right-footed.
  • They were written about in different literary worlds.
  • They move fast and are agile, contrary to what most people assume given that they are one-legged.
  • Sciapod encounters and sightings were cited numerous times in medieval literature.

In sum, Sciapods are fascinating creatures that carry this magical and fascinating intrigue in them that has gained a huge interest in the ancient literature space.

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