The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times

By Adrienne Mayor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER6
Centaur Bones:
Paleontological Fictions

At ancient Sikyon, they keep an enormous sea monster
skull, with a statue of the God of Dreams
standing behind it.

Pausanias

Dreams and Beasts are two keys by which we are
to find out the secrets of our nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


THE PICKLED TRITON OF TANAGRA

PAUSANIAS, the intrepid traveler steeped in Greek mythohistory, went to Tanagra (Boeotia) in about A.D. 150 to have a look at the town’s famous marvel, a pickled Triton. The connoisseur of relics and enormous bones had already seen a smaller Triton preserved among the wonders of Rome. “But,” wrote Pausanias, “the Triton of Tanagra would really make you gasp!”

Tritons, wrote Pausanias, “are certainly a sight, with their sleek, froggy green hair and bodies bristling with very fine scales like sharkskin.” The curators at the Temple of Dionysus told Pausanias that this half-man, half-sea creature had been killed long ago by

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