This word is metal from the rich romantic ore of myth. It names a magical beastie indeed, but not like a unicorn, though the words share a phonological core. No, there are no dreamy books and smeary posters of this critter marketed at the not-quite-post-fluffy-bunny set of girls – though, given the current popularity of vampires, perhaps we should wait for it.
It’s a courtly enough word, after all (even if looking a bit like a British version of a name of a city in India), starting with a mannered pair of nasals, then hardening to a pair of stops, and in all this moving from the front of the mouth to the back; it then finishes with a round vowel and a liquid consonant, and the flourish of an orthographic e. It may not have the plunging neckline of vampire, but it has such a savour to it, of a romantic man, cordial but with a mysterious core.
Well, young girls do swoon over amazingly inappropriate targets betimes, so why not this one? A manticore is a creature that comes to us from Persian legend (as does its name, changed by way of Greek and Latin). It has the body of a lion (or similar animal), the head of a man (but with a mouth with extra rows of sharp teeth), and a barbed tail that can shoot poisonous arrows. Sounds like something from Dungeons and Dragons, really.
Manticore may make you think of mantis, but this beast doesn’t pray, it just preys. It doesn’t eat manicotti, either; rather, it eats any man it’s caught, and it doesn’t waste time with riddles, either – it just kills them (through a-sphynx-iation?) and eats them entirely, leaving no trace. I’m inclined to cue Hall and Oates – “Who-oa, here she comes, she’s a man-eater” – but it seems that (unlike the sphynx) this one is a man to the core. Or anyway it’s male.
Because it ate even the clothes, disappearances of persons were taken as evidence of its existence (making it like a Windigo, for instance). The very absence of evidence is the evidence of presence. Clever beastie, able to swallow not just people but logical reasoning whole (and leave a kind of logical reasoning that is more than a little hard to swallow). Who could ask for more antics!
At least in some ancient accounts, it is thought that the manticore was really a tiger with embellishments in the telling. In the modern world, perhaps by coincidence, the manticora (note the last letter) is a kind of tiger beetle – a big black bug with massive mandibles, known in African legend as an evil doombringer. But Canadians are most likely to see manticore in a more novel form: the second novel in Robertson Davies’s Deptford Trilogy, The Manticore. The book follows a Jungian psychoanalysis wherein elements of the subconscious are manifested in mythical form – the obvious eponymous.
Manticore was also the name of the tiger that attacked Roy of Siegfried and Roy. One must be on one’s guard with real beasties; they can be prone to myth-behaviour.
I will be on vacation for the next two weeks. I will try to write a few word tasting notes, but they will be sporadic.