The Myrmecoleon is an animal from classical times and is found in Medieval bestiaries such as the Hortus Sanitatis of Jacob Meydenbach. Also it is referenced in some sources as a Formicaleon, Formicaleun or Mirmicioleon—-all meaning “Antlion”.
There are two interpretations of what a Myrmecoleon is. In one version, the antlion is so called because it is the “lion of ants”— the larvae of the insect known as an antlion lacewing—- and hides in the dust and eats ants. In the other version, it is a beast that is the result of a mating between a lion and an ant(seriously?) It has the face of a lion and the body of an ant, with each part having its appropriate nature. Because the lion part will only eat meat and the ant part can only digest grain, the ant-lion starves. In my opinion, the above creature looks more like a pig with a beak and bird feet, pretty true to the engraving from which I drew it.
The ant-lion story may come from a mistranslation of a word in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, from the book of Job. The word in Hebrew is laiisch, an uncommon word for lion, which in other translations of Job is rendered as either lion or tiger; in the Septuagint it is translated as mermecolion, ant-lion.
This is drawn from a copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel [i.e Dr. Beak], a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, circa 1656.
Plague doctors served as public servants during the time of the Black Death of Europe in the fourteenth century. Their principal task, besides taking care of plague victims, was to record in public records the deaths due to the plague. Some of these “doctors” wore a special costume, although graphic sources show that plague doctors wore a variety of garments(and often had no medical training). The garments were invented by Charles de L’Orme in 1619; they were first used in Paris, but later spread to be used throughout Europe. The protective suit consisted of a heavy fabric overcoat that was waxed, a mask with glass eye openings and a cone nose shaped like a beak to hold scented substances. Some of the scented materials were ambergris, lemon balm,mint leaves, camphor, cloves,laudanum, myrrh, rose petals, storax. This was thought to protect the doctor from miasmatic bad air. There was also a bit of straw in the beak and this acted as a filter for the “bad air” that was thought to transmit the disease. Plague doctors also carried a wooden cane pointer that was used to point to and examine the patient without having to touch them.
Bartholomeus Anglicus, or Bartholomew the Englishman in English, was an early 13th-century scholastic scholar of Paris, and a Franciscan monk. He was the author of the compendium De proprietatibus rerum or “On the Properties of Things”. The work was intended for the use of students and the general public. Compiled in 1240, it was a sort of pre-encyclopedia and one of the most popular books in medieval times. This petite unicorn can be seen within its pages.