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Pyrausta, or pyralli, are insectoid creatures with a fire affinity described by several Greek and Roman naturalists. They are sometimes interpreted as small dragons.

Appearance Edit

Pyrausta are animals a little larger than a blue-bottle fly that sport a pair of wings.[1][2] One description specifies that they have four legs.[3] Most interpretations show them as small, insectoid dragons.

Aristotle includes them in a passage about insects, but uses the word θηρία (beast) to describe them. This makes it ambiguous as to whether they were originally insects, and in fact one translation of Aristotle's work interprets it as a bird.[4]

Behaviour Edit

Pyrausta lived in the fires of the copper-smelting furnaces of Cyprus. They were able to fly with their wings, but would also hop or crawl through the embers. Pyrausta die instantly if they leave the fire.[3] Aristotle noted their similarity to the mythical salamanders due to their fire affinity.[1]

Anthropological information Edit

There are few primary sources describing the pyrausta, and none of them have much information. However, Una Woodruff revived the legend with her book Inventorum Naturum, a fictional translation of a nonexistent journal by Pliny the Elder.[5] Her interpretation of the creatures as small, insectoid dragons has been mistakenly attributed to Pliny himself, and the draconic image of pyrausta has spread to popular culture.[6]

Pyrausta may be an explanation for or misinterpretation of sparks. Alternatively, Em. Janssens proposes that they are Melanophila acuminata or fire beetles, real insects with heat-sensing organs that might have flown around the furnaces. His reasoning for the insects dying when they leave the flames is simply that their dark coloration would give the illusion that they had disappeared when not illuminated by the fire.[4]

In popular culture Edit

  • Pyrausta are featured in Inventorum Naturum by Una Woodruff, a book presented as a lost journal of Pliny the Elder.
  • A genus of moths and a genus of beetles have been named after these creatures.
  • They appear as monsters in the tabletop game Pathfinder.

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Aristotle. The History of Animals, Book V, The Internet Classics Archive. Part 19.
  2. Aelian. On the Characteristics of Animals, Books I-V, Harvard University Press (1958). Pg 89
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pliny the Elder. The Natural History, Perseus (1855). Book 11, Chapter 42.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Janssens, Em. Le «Pyrotocon» De Pline L'AncienLatomus, vol. 9, no. 3 (1950). Pg. 283-286.
  5. Woodruff, Una. Inventorum Natura, Paper Tiger (1979). Pg 18-19.
  6. Bane, Theresa. Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore, McFarland (2016). Pg 505.