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The catoblepas (from the Greek καταβλέπω, (katablÚpō) "to look downwards") is a legendary creature from Ethiopia, described first by Pliny the Elder and later by Claudius Aelianus. It is said to have the body of a buffalo and the head of a hog. Its back has scales that protect the beast, and its head is always pointing downwards. Its stare or breath could either turn people into stone, or kill them. The catoblepas is often thought to be based on real-life encounters with wildebeest, such that some dictionaries say that the word is synonymous with "gnu."
Ancient and medieval descriptions
Pliny the Elder (Natural History, 8.77) described the catoblepas as a mid-sized creature, sluggish, with a heavy head and a face always turned to the ground. He thought its gaze, like that of the basilisk, was lethal, making the heaviness of its head quite fortunate.
Claudius Aelianus (On the Nature of Animals, 7.6) provided a fuller description: the creature was a mid-sized herbivore, about the size of a domestic bull, with a heavy mane, narrow, bloodshot eyes, a scaly back and shaggy eyebrows. The head was so heavy that the beast could only look down. In his description, the animal's gaze was not lethal, but its breath was poison, since it ate only poisonous vegetation.