The chimera, this monstrous creature made of various animal parts, has been haunting the twisted spirits of men for more than 32.000 years.
She appeared in Homo Sapiens' dreams as a mix of himself and the animals surrounding him, and took shape from his hands as the sculpture of a "lion-man" (the "Löwenmensch" - Naturhistorishes Museum, Vienna, Austria).
She would later make her way in the minds of Summerians, with for example the first appearance of griffins (body of a lion, head and wings of an eagle) in 2.000 BC.
She will find a place in the rich bestiary of Greeks, bearing for the first time the name of Chimera. She then takes the head of a lion, the body (or sometimes just the head growing out of her body) of a goat, and the tail of a snake. She is said to have given birth to the Sphynx, itself a composite creature.
Chimeric creatures were quite popular in the Middle-Ages. Their grotesque personalities facinated the monks (whose whole existence was dedicated to the invisible and supernatural, making them very fit to enjoy fantasy !) who would create an infinity of funny chimeras in the borders of their manuscripts, and other much darker and sinister in their visions of Hell. The gargoyles and columns of churches are of course packed with them too.
In a time when a large part of the world was still Terra Incognita, a large part of its population was logicaly Gens Incognita. Imagination ignites and men start to populate unexplored territories with chimeras, monstrous creatures sometimes based on mythologies, described with enthusiasm and details in the most serious of books.
But chimeras also lived among us. With Renaissance, any physical abnormality would transform you into an hybrid creature which would be avidly listed and depicted in a medicine or zoology book : the frog-boy, the bear-boy, the duck-boy, the cat-woman... and those living chimeras will continue to facinate the curious audience of freak-shows until XXth century.
In early XIXth century, the taxidermy techniques are fully mastered and specialists start to play with them to make all those fantasies of exotic composite creatures real. These chimeras would sometime fool scientists, curiosities collectors, and often the public, and will travel along freaks in lucrative sideshows like P.T. Barnum's.
The most (in)famous is still the Feejee Mermaid, "half-mammal, half-fish", created in the 1840's and composed of a fish tail, a baby orang-outan's body and a small monkey's head. She would be endlessly imitated, just like the jackalope, a rabbit with antlers that appeared in XVIth century drawings and can now be easily purchased in taxidermy form on ebay...
Just like H.G. Wells' Dr Moreau, modern science is giving a brand new dimension to that 32.000 years old concept of chimera. It had to happen sometimes, and the time is now : the in-vitro creation of man-beast living creatures has become legal in the U.K. since May 2007. The embryos are for study only and should not be kept to grow further than 14 days, but that's a huge step indeed towards the absolute monster apocalypse video games have been warning us about for years ! (hopefully they also taught us how to kill the bastards. Geeks shall save the world !)
Today, as a tribute to XIXth century taxidermists, an impressive number of talented artists are playing Frankenstein by creating fabulous stuffed creatures. Here is a selection of their works :
Sarina Brewer : Custom Creature
Thomas Grunfeld :
Takeshi Yamada :
Jacques Gilbert :
And finally, all hail the greatest living chimera, king of impossible creatures : the mighty platypus !