Let’s get the obvious out the way. Yale the college is named after this heraldic beast and they have a few around the campus. Most notably, it shows up on the banner for the University President and above the gateway to the Davenport Campus. Yet, the college has a bulldog as it’s mascot, but I guess it’s easier to get a costume made of that. I mean, the bulldog is such a common mascot that it’d be hard not to find one when needed. We’re going to use Centicore for the rest of the post though just to avoid confusion.
I found two name origins though:
- It comes from the Hebrew word ‘yael’, which means ibex.
- It comes from the ancient Greek words of ‘ealen’ (^ over second e) and eilo (^ over the o), which mean roll back. This is in connection to the horns.
The description of the Centicore is rather straight-forward. It is a goat or antelope with the tusks of a boar and tail of an elephant. They are either black or tawny colored. The biggest identifier is that they have horns, which can be swiveled. So, they can aim their horns in any direction including each one going in a different direction. Some stories say that these horns can furl when not in use. As far as size goes, they are as big as a ‘water-horse’. That caught me off-guard since it had been a while since I’d seen the term. For those who don’t know, that’s another name for the hippopotamus, which is odd. The pictures I found showed a slender and lean antelope while the description makes it sound like it should be large and hefty.
Of course, I found some variations from the more common depiction. Some versions gave the Centicore the body of a bull. Another gave it the body of a lion with the snout and tusks of a boar. Yet, the rotating horned antelope is the version you’re going to see the most because of its popularity.
Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher, first mentioned the Centicore in his Natural History series. He claimed it was from Ethiopia. From there, it moved into Eastern European mythology and heraldry of the British Royal Family. It was seen as a symbol of defense. Anyone who has looked at British heraldry symbols in passing has probably seen it and thought ‘goat’. I know I did, so I was surprised to see that this figure was something more.
The Centicore began being used as a heraldic symbol with Henry VII because his mother, Lady Margaret, was from the Beaufort family. They inherited a heraldic legacy that included the Centicore. So, this beast ended up getting used more often. For example, they are found on the roof of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. It was also used as one of the Queen’s Beasts, which were 10 heraldic statues used during the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II. They represented her genealogy and that included the Centicore.
And there you have it. A fairly simple creature that has an interesting past and continues to appear from time to time.