Chimeric, Demonic, and Composite Creature Symbolism and Meanings - Cody Swain

This wiki page describes the symbolic meanings of the Mesopotamian chimeric creatures, demons, and iconography. The concept of composite creatures originated in Mesopotamia and as such tells a great deal about the people, rule, lands, religion, and societal stratification. Numerous other aspects of the civilization and its interactions, as well as diffusionism subsequently through the trade of regional goods, with surrounding peoples creates a picture that demonstrates the significance of composite creatures,
see Keegans page for more information pertaining to the spread of symbols, concepts, and art.

Key Words, Files, and Videos

Composite creature
Creation myths
Demonic symbols
The Lion Gate
Mythical creatures
Eastern mythical creatures
Fabled animals
Multi piece animal
Creature carvings

Author's Interest

My interest in Mesopotamia, as well as the immediate region, is focused on the chimeric creatures, demons, and symbols of this area as well as other surrounding and interactive areas. The symbolism behind these creatures and the universality of them intrigues me. They are ancient interpretations of power, guardians, the world, and governing bodies among many other aspects. They adorn every culture and give a look at a possibly universal concept, a generic base, of how humans have and do interpret their world. The makeup of the creatures, their cohesive parts, can tell a story of and interpret the area's and culture's views and importance of concepts at a specific time. Religious and political notions are enclosed more deeply in these creatures and figures; however, they are present and noticeable with the help of other tools of interpretation, such as art and historical references, as well as using the characteristics of the culture.

Chimera and Demon Art, the following depictions are from earlier Mesopotamian art and it is not until the later period of Akkad that the prolific use of a large array of animal figures is used in art depictions.

external image anzunin.jpg
external image anzu.jpg
external image goldenlion300.jpg
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Queen of the Night

Representative Depictions of Important Mesopotamian Chimeric Creatures

Apkallo griffin
Apkallo human
Bull of Heaven
Human headed bull
Scorpion people
Queen of the Night

The Composite Creature and Myth

The following quote was presented by John Bussanich and describes his reasoning behind the human creation of mythical figures, creatures, symbols, and deities, " Making sense of myth past and present depends on how one approaches this challenge: reality always outruns our cognitive grasp and all our representations, which are inevitably partial and inadequate." In essence he is describing the human mind's ability, as its default, to create and define mythical concepts in order to bring order to the unknown. This idea that Bussanich presents is exceptionally pertinent to making sense of the creation of chimeric, demonic, and other mythical creatures as well as symbols. In the specific case of the chimeras the intention of the creator can be somewhat more easily seen due to the makeup of the varying parts which are attributed to a specific creature. An example would be the classic lion structure adorned with wings and a human face. Generally representing courage and divinity with an attached human element to the animal form. This is not always the case though in that this structure is a creature to be slain in Mesopotamian myth and the ideology of this creature and story carries over to such cultures as that of ancient Greece. At a very basic level of analysis the creature creator concept can be seen, within myth story, as simply a way to show or accent the emotion that is being presented within the story. Undoubtedly, expressing certain characteristics of an area and representational of an entire gambit of regional characteristics from topography and resource richness to demography.

Chimeric, Demonic, and Symbolic Information Pertaining to Mesopotamia's Influence Upon Greek Gods and Creatures

In particular, concerning the matter of this section's title, the Greek god Sandas is represented as a goat-lion cross bread creature. The animal is responsible for releasing pestilence upon the world in accordance with its Mesopotamian roots. The beast is trapped within the underworld and is a guardian of this particular realm, being separate from the more well known three-headed Cerberas; while Cerberas is actually a later interpretation of Sandas and his minion. While the Mesopotamian model is the catalyst for this Greek goat-lion's creation and representative of disease, fear, anger, and distraught events, the Mesopotamian creature is associated with, analogous to the underworld concept, a band of demons which in essence represent the same concepts as the Greek model. The underlying meaning and thought about the Greek and Mesopotamian models will be discussed later (Mastrocinque). For more information pertaining to the routes and methods of how concepts were spread, see Katy's Section (Temporary Title) for extensive detail on material trade routes.

The case of the Greek chimera is interesting due to it divine origin association with the early Greek god Sandas. As previously mentioned, Sandas was a Mesopotamian demonic figure associated with the idea of plague and the spread of disease. The goat-lion form that Sandas takes, or his accompanying demon, is a form that is commonly represented throughout Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Oriental civilizations. The lammasu is seen as a pair in Mesopotamia depicting the two conflicting halves of the Universe and is in fact the same depictions that are seen in the oriental cultures.


The lamassu is interesting due to its opposing halves. The symbolic nature of two opposing halves is associated with dichotomous relationships, such as good and evil, right and wrong, life and death, divine and not divine. This representation and relationship portrays much about the view of the Mesopotamian civilization. Typically, the orient region, as well as many of the world’s old cultures, has seen not dichotomies in life but rather continuums which show degrees of magnitude. The lamassu symbollogy is most likely indicative of the kingship’s rule of the culture. Dichotomies are prevalent in areas that see certain beings as being superior to others and as a right, many times through divine right, have the ability to control the flow of the world; such as, the characteristic seen in areas that are ruled by kingships.


Christopher A Faraone has recently studied these dichotomous relationships of guardian beings within the Mesopotamian and Greek cultures. Ultimately, showing that the burial of these guardians under houses, walls, forts, and so forth, are common in both regions (Mastrocinque 2007: 206). The depictions of the chimeric guardians are analogously similar and asks the question if the Greeks adopted dichotomous representations as a direct result of the Mesopotamian influence. This would be a divergence from the popular cultural thought that Greek civilization developed notions of morality and law independently.

Bussanich, John
2007 Eric Voegelin's Philosophy of Myth. European Legacy 12(2):187-198.

Mastrocinque, Attilio
2007 The Cilician God Sandas and the Greek Chimaera: Features of Near Eastern and Greek Mythology Concerning the Plague. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 7(2):197-217.

Divine Relationships Between Mesopotamian Kings and the Lion

The Accadian epic Poem of Erra shows an interesting depiction of a terrible god warrior called Erra, that was supposedly as potent or more so than the ancient Mesopotamian god, and patrin god of Babylon, Marduk. What is pertinent about this god warrior, concerning chimeric creatures, is that the form of his demonic warrior party was described as having the “face of a ravaging lion”, as is describe in the third of the four poem tablets. In the fourth tablet, Erra himself takes upon the features of a ferocious lion, imbuing himself with strength and ferocity. Erra's war party is represented by seven warlike demons that are supposedly unstoppable warriors. Their forms are depicted as ferocious demons taking on the shape of a lion for their head structures. Again the lion is used to show, in this case, ferocity of the beings. Inferences can be drawn from the idea that these warlike beasts are unstoppable and as such the lion itself, the essence, is associated with the concept of unstoppability.


The anthropomorphic depiction of the lion imbued with human is seen in many of the Mesopotamian creatures and gods, such as the bull of heaven, the lamassu, and Ugallu. This prolific depiction of the lion shows that lions were prevalent in the Mesopotamian region and were of great importance to the people. They are depicted as composite pieces of divinity and as such are rarely associated with humans accept for specific instances. The lion composite depiction is first seen in the city of Susa, somewhere around 5000 B.C., and is of a horned lion representation. The kings themselves are seen in the midst of lion hunts, battles, and using lions for various means of control, which elaborates on the societal status of the kings and their association, or attempt, with the divine. While conquering the lion, the king is simultaneously showing, not only bravery, courage, skill, and power, but the ability to destroy and conquer that which is associated with the divine. In effect, the king is depicting himself as a divinely gifted creature and, in essence, more than human. This was not a disclosed or even conscious desire by the kings, albeit some direct intention; however, it was one which is possibly an underlying result of hierarchical separation of society through the use of divine concepts. Since these acts of bravery and divine defiance are present in the Mesopotamian region, as well as earlier sporadic areas, it is important to discern the biobehavioral aspects of human development, regarding the possibility of relationships between divine thought and representation to that of hierarchical rule.

Mastrocinque, Attilio
2007 The Cilician God Sandas and the Greek Chimaera: Features of Near Eastern and Greek Mythology Concerning the Plague. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 7(2):197-217.

The Diffusionism of the Poem of Erra and the Warrior Gods

The diffusionism between Mesopotamia and the surrounding regions is evident in the Poem of Erra and his seven warrior demons. The Babylonian Erra poem corresponds to the Mesopotamian Poem of Nergal and Ereshkigal, as Nergal and Erra were apparently twins. Again, the concept of dichotomies is represented in these poems as Erra and Negral are alter egos, the underworld and the sky, respectively (Mastrocinque 2007: 204). Mesopotamian influence reached Egypt in many different forms and in particular, it is represented in the depiction and mythos associated with the compound sphinx Tithoes. Tithoes is the Egyptian representation of Sandas and Erra as it is accompanied by a band of warrior emissaries capable of devastating regions with blight and disease, analogous to the previous pair's abilities (Mastrocinque 2007: 204). The Egyptians represented Tithoes as part lion and human, this is in line with the Mesopotamian depictions and would be interesting to research if this is simply due to direct representative diffusionism or if the particular composite combination is an underlying representation of human order, see Justin C's Section for more extensive representations of Egyptian variations of Mesopotamian art and concepts. Tithoes, although capable of grave destruction, had a distinct symbolic meaning meant to ward off disease and death; instead of the more widespread depiction of the portrayal of the harbinger of pestilence (Mastrocinque 2007: 206). The widespread depiction of this creature, as the malevolent being, is indicative of an external view of this symbol. Most likely this would have taken place due to the Egyptian regions tendency to expand their lands. The symbolic nature of the chimeric creature in warfare will be discussed later on this page. Tithoes is depicted in the divine, again the lion form denotes this, with human elements attributing its body. This theme of human divinity is prolific in advanced cultures and would appear to be a subtle representation of human affinity to express its relationship between itself and the unknown, or the divine.

The concepts of anthropomorphic representation are seen in a specific form concerning the ritual activities and depictions of the Greek Delphians. The Delphians were said to be part wolf and part human, as they acted as if they were wild wolves during sacrifices to the god Apollo (Mastrocinque 2007: 208). Analogously to the representations seen in the Mesopotamian views of composite creatures, the underlying message that is associated with the Delphians is that of being 'more than human'. The Delphian's mythical representation as demons is analogous with the depiction of the servants of the Egyptian sphinx Tithoes (Mastrocinque 2007: 208). They were associated with plague bringers as were the Mesopotamian and Egyptian equivalents.

Mastrocinque, Attilio
2007 The Cilician God Sandas and the Greek Chimaera: Features of Near Eastern and Greek Mythology Concerning the Plague. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 7(2):197-217.

Dichotomies In Mesopotamian Order and the Symbolism Seen in Chimeric Creatures

The lamassu dichotomy is depicted elsewhere in Mesopotamian life. Particularly relevant are the guardian dogs that are, many times, found buried underneath houses; as was mentioned earlier. Inscriptions were carved on these figurines reading concepts that are familiar to the meanings of the lamassu guardians and are as follows, ‘go out evil, come in good’, ‘come in favourable demon, go out evil demon’, or ‘go out death, come in life’ (Refrew 1994: 181).


All are concepts associated with opposing forces and reaffirms the notion that dichotomies were quite common in Mesopotamia. The use of the dog symbol also hints at the figures that the Mesopotamians thought of as 'civilized' or representative of human attainment. Just as the hound was the representation of human civilization and was a 'domesticated and civilized' animal the external world, outside of the city, was often represented through the depiction of wild animals; such as, the various types of deer found in the region (Mastrocinque 2007: 207). Evil omens were presented as incarnations by these wild 'external' animals and as such, the Mesopotamian view of externalities and internalities is portrayed. Those inside the city are, in essence, civilized and part of order, while the external forces are those of the 'wild' uncontrolled populations and less than the inner core. These bad omens could be avoided by the sacrificial offering of a goat and this practice is seen later in Greek culture and then, even later, in Roman culture; ultimately leading to the portrayal of the Christian Devil as part goat and part human. The Devil's portrayal is represented in this form due to the stipulation of a red goat representing grave destruction to order and the damaging effects of wilderness (Mastocinque 2007: 207). Again, the dichotomous relationship is represented as external and internal or human and not human.


Drawing from this idea, this author assumes that the anthropomorphic representations, of kings and gods, as composite creatures, show a distinct possibility that humans are dichotomous in nature. In essence, this representation is a subtle way of defining and representing human nature through the medium of animal characteristics. Possibly, it is more interesting that the gods of the Mesopotamian area were depicted as these composite and dichotomous creatures. This author speculates that this relationship may have arisen as a result of living in close proximity of various groups, such as that seen in Uruk or later. The reasoning for this is that with the pros of city living comes the cons, such as theft, security, legitimacy, difficulty of order and numerous others. These issues call for strict punishment in order to organize a large group of individuals and as such, the use of dichotomies, as deterrents, is seen. The dichotomous nature of order is simply seen as either abiding by law or not abiding by law and as a result this relationship is depicted in art, religion, architecture, and other areas further reinforcing the concept of order.

Renfrew, Colin, and Ezra B. W. Zubrow
1994 The Ancient Mind : Elements of Cognitive Archaeology. Cambridge England ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Meaning and Representations of Horned, Antlered, and 'Ferocious' Animals in Ancient Mesopotamia

The Albenda resource describes, in depth, the unique characteristics associated with exotic animals; according to the perceptions of the Mesopotamian region. The hunts that are associated with the kings of the region are described in detail. In particular, the example of the hunt of the lion is provided. The lion hunt was associated with bravery, courage, and danger. The lion was considered to be the most dangerous of game animals and offered the most prestige from a successful hunt.

While there were many antlered and horned animals, such as deer and other like creatures that were hunted as game in the Mesopotamia region, the animals that posed a high degree of danger served as the most honored trophies. This source is particularly relevant to the topic of chimeric creatures because it gives meaning to the individual animals which make up the parts of the chimera. Through these individual animal characteristics, described by Mesopotamian kings and hunters, inferences can be made about the symbolic meanings of the chimera.


The rather prolific depictions of genies holding ibexes in their arms is thought to be representative of control. Many of these depictions are associated with conquered areas, leading to the belief that these representations show a genie, the king or conquerors, holding a deer, the conquered, in the control of the genie's arms, the conqueror's control (Albenda 2008: 65). This representation is particularly important because it, again, shows the relationship between the divine and the 'civilized'. The king is, in essence, depicted in a form of a genie, if this interpretation is correct. The king's victory is then associated with divinity and the divine, the king, now control the fate of the conquered.

Albenda, Pauline
2008 Assyrian Royal Hunts: Antlered and Horned Animals from Distant Lands. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research(349):61-78.

The Chimeric Creature and Warfare

The representation of the chimera is particularly telling of enemies and allies. The reason for this is that the chimera, true to its composite nature, is displayed in opposing ways dependent upon the region it is seen in. When represented in a victor's city, or an ally's city, the chimeric creature takes on the presence of good, order, civilization, richness, and well-being, while in enemy territories the creature is represented in quite the opposite. An example of this relationship is seen in the representations of the Tarsus monster, a ravaging goat-lion monster. While in Tarsus it is depicted as a guardian and a benevolent creature, but, quite differently, external of Tarsus, is the depiction of a terror and destructor. The creature shows alter egos as it is made of a hunter, the lion, and prey, the goat. Again, this representation illustrates the dichotomous relationship of two extremes and is seen in the Egyptian culture's Tithoes, as previously discussed. This underlying depiction is prolific in Mesopotamian composite creatures and symbols. The chimeric creature, in Mesopotamia, would seem to present the idea of dualities at a very basic level of interpretation. The depiction of opposing animals is so common in archaeological remains that this is almost certainly an intended, albeit subtle, meaning of the chimeric creature in this region.

Author’s Concluding Remarks
While composite creatures adorn almost all civilizations throughout time, it is at Mesopotamia that this concept originated. The depictions of the chimeric and demonic creatures portray very unique characteristics in Mesopotamian thought. Embedded within these figures are depictions of social stratification, ideology, religious concepts, concepts of philosophy, and many others. The obvious dichotomous relationship that is represented again and again in the depiction of chimeric creatures portrays a people which looked at the universe in very strict and defined terms. The ideas, discussed above, portray a system which defined actions in the Mesopotamian region, in effect, as either correct or incorrect. It is no wonder that the first set of law codes arose here. There is much more information on this subject than is discussed on this one page. The idea of iconography expressing complicated concepts is very deep and elusive in many respects. The information presented on this page is a collaboration of research that is, for the majority, not specific to composite creatures; rather, what has been presented is the underlying meanings and symbolism of the aspects which make up these creatures. This author hopes that what has been presented gives a clearer depiction of the significance of composite creatures and has shown that these symbols are more than simple artistic depictions.

Important Sources

Albenda, Pauline
2008 Assyrian Royal Hunts: Antlered and Horned Animals from Distant Lands. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research(349):61-78.

Brown, Louisa
2004 The Magic of Myth. School Arts 104(3):24-25.

Burnett, Joel S.
2006 The Triumph of the Symbol: Pictorial Representations of Deities in Mesopotamia and the Biblical Image Ban. Review of Biblical Literature 8:61-64.

Bussanich, John
2007 Eric Voegelin's Philosophy of Myth. European Legacy 12(2):187-198.

Maneker, Roberta
2007 Fearsome Feline. Art & Antiques 30(12):32-33.

Mastrocinque, Attilio
2007 The Cilician God Sandas and the Greek Chimaera: Features of Near Eastern and Greek Mythology Concerning the Plague. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 7(2):197-217.

Nakamura, Carolyn. World Archaeology, Mar2004, Vol. 36 Issue 1, p11-25, 15p; DOI: 10.1080/0043824042000192687; (AN 13072706)

Renfrew, Colin, and Ezra B. W. Zubrow
1994 The Ancient Mind : Elements of Cognitive Archaeology. Cambridge England ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Evaluation of Source

The Albenda source, referenced below, is exceptionally in depth pertaining to the symbolism, characteristics, species, and more, of antlered and horned animals in Mesopotamia. The source also does quite a good job of explaining the relationship of not only these herbivores but their relationship to the lion. The Albenda source is rather useful to information about the meaning behind chimeric creatures. The particular relevance is in the symbolism, which the source describes in depth. Composite creatures are not specifically mentioned but the characteristics of the animals which make up the composite creatures are described and explained. When searching for the meaning behind chimeric creatures this information is exceptionally helpful in discerning the relationship of the animals that makeup the chimeric creature and what the composite meaning is to social, political, and warfare characteristics.

Albenda, Pauline
2008 Assyrian Royal Hunts: Antlered and Horned Animals from Distant Lands. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research(349):61-78.

JSTOR article sentence

"The floodplains along the Nile constitute an important but as yet little utilized series of laboratories for the comparative study of the origins and interaction of ancient civilizations."

“Kerma: The Rise of an African Civilization,” Bruce G. Trigger, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1. (1976), pp. 1-21.