From bedtime stories to fireside tales, people have told stories about mythical creatures throughout history.
Legends about fire-breathing dragons, snakes who could kill with a look, birds rising from ashes, and half-animal, half-human creatures enchanted audiences and passed down through oral histories and written accounts.
From dragons to mer-people, these stories come from Babylonia, ancient Egypt, Greek mythology, and Germanic or Scandinavian folktales.
Here are the 10 best myths about mythological creatures across the world.
Myth #1: The Aqrabuamelu
According to Akkadian mythology, the aqrabuamelu is a monstrous scorpion man that terrorized people in ancient Mesopotamia. These creatures also appear in Babylonian origin myths.
Half-scorpion, half-man, these hybrid horrors had a scaly body and poisonous scorpion’s tail, and a man’s face, arms, and chest.
In Babylonian tales, the aqrabuamelu wage epic wars against the gods. They also act as guardians to warn travelers about danger on the road.
Myth #2: Basilisk
Origins for stories about the basilisk, or a cockatrice, can be traced back to Hellenistic Greece and later the Roman Empire.
Hatched from a cockerel’s egg warmed by a toad or a serpent, the basilisk looked like a snake-like monster. Like the Gorgon sisters in Greek mythology, the basilisk would turn anyone who stared into its eyes into stone.
You could only kill a basilisk by making them smell a weasel, giving them griffins’ tears, or forcing it to look in a mirror.
By early medieval Europe, the Hellenistic legend about the basilisk evolved again. Now, the cockatrice looked like a hybrid creature with serpentine and rooster-like features.
Called the king of the serpents, the basilisk appears in famous European art and literature in Chaucer’s writings and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.
Myth #3: Centaurs
Animal and human hybrids abounded in the ancient world.
From Greek poets, natural historians, and writers come stories about the centaurs. These creatures had powerful, muscular equine bodies combined with a man’s head and chest.
While most centaurs roamed wild, one wise centaur named Chiron tutored many Greek heroes such as Jason, Hercules, Achilles, and Asclepius. He also features in legends about his great-grandson, Achilles.
Myth #4: Chimera
According to Greek myths, the Chimera was a mythical monster with the body of a goat, a lion, and a snake.
The Chimera also had links to underworld creatures like Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades.
The Greek hero Bellerophon defeated the Chimera with his winged horse Pegasus’ help during one of his adventures.
Today, a chimera refers to rare, animal or human hybrids that carry different species or DNA in the same body.
Myth #5: Dragons
According to certain sources, some medieval and Renaissance mapmakers marked unknown areas in the world with images and warnings about dragons. Some, like Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum map from 1570, inscribed their work with the phrase, “Here be Dragons”.
Myths and legends about winged, serpentine, or fire-breathing monsters appear in cultures around the world.
In ancient China, a wise race of Dragon Kings ruled the four parts of the sea. In India, dragons personified drought and fought the mighty Indra river god.
In Scandinavia and western Europe, gods, saints, and giants fought fire-breathing dragons who attacked castles and demanded human sacrifices.
Some cultures believe that dragons such as giant reptiles existed in real life but died out in prehistoric times like the dinosaurs.
Myth #6: Fauns
When the Romans conquered Greece, they adopted multiple legends from Greek Antiquity. These myths involved goat-men called Satyrs or fauns.
With pointed ears, hooves, horns, and a man’s upper body, fauns danced, frolicked, and rollicked in the forest. They also assisted passing travelers.
Pan, the greatest Satyr, is considered one of the oldest Greek gods. Originally a shepherd from pastoral Acadia, Pan became known for riotous living and playing on his pan pipes.
Myth #7: Hydra
Ancient Greek artists and writers depicted the Hydra as a giant, multi-headed, serpentine monster. Each terrifying head could spray an acid substance at its enemies.
No one could defeat the Hydra since every time someone cut off the Hydra’s head, two more would grow back.
The Hydra lurked in the marshes of Lerna, terrorizing the people in the area. When Hercules set out to complete his Twelve Labors, he defeated the Hydra by chopping off its heads and burying them underground so they could never grow again.
Myth #8: Mermaids
From time immemorial, men have stared out to sea and seen beautiful maidens with long hair singing, diving, or resting on rocks.
Stories about mermaids have enchanted people throughout history. With half-fish, half-female bodies, these magical creatures appear in tales from ancient Babylon, Syria, Greece, Polynesia, Scotland, Germanic regions, and Slavic countries.
In Irish folktales, mermaids transformed into beautiful women, married and had families.
In other cultures, mermaids had more sinister overtones since seeing or hearing them portended shipwreck or disaster.
On land, mermaids still felt the lure of the sea pulling them into the dark depths.
Myth #9: The Minotaur
According to Greek mythology, the Minotaur was the result of Poseidon’s curse.
When the stormy god gave Minos, King of Crete a regal bull from the sea to sacrifice in his honor, the king developed a soft spot for the bull and couldn’t bear to kill it.
Instead, he sacrificed a different bull to Poseidon. When he discovered the trick, the enraged god made the king’s wife fall in love with and mate with the bull.
As a result, she gave birth to the Minotaur, a terrible creature with a man’s body and a bull’s head and tail.
Horrified, King Minos imprisoned the Minotaur in a complex maze known as the Labyrinth.
Myth #10: Phoenix
From ancient Egypt comes the persistent myth of the Phoenix. Depicted first in Egyptian and later classical Greek art, the phoenix is a magical, eagle-shaped creature.
With gold and crimson feathers, the phoenix burst into flame when it died, then resurrected, and lived for a thousand years.
The phoenix became a symbol representing immortal powers, eternal life, and resurrection.