This is a highly aggressive and extremely venomous species of serpent that is reputed to be the unholy progeny of Medusa and is said to have venomous heads at either end of its elongated, worm-like body.
While modern herpetologists will recognize the name “amphisbaena” as a genus belonging to the family “amphisbaenidae” or worm lizards, mythology mavens are more likely to associate the term with a unique and exceedingly dangerous species of two-headed serpent, which was first chronicled by Gaius Plinius Secondus (or as he is more commonly known, Pliny the Elder) sometime before A.D. 79. According to a clearly bemused historian:
“The amphisbaena has a twin head, that is one at the tail-end as well, as though it were not enough for poison to be poured out of one mouth.”
Other Medieval bestiaries by such esteemed historians as Lucan and Isidore of Seville also catalogued the Amphisbaena (sometimed referred to as the Anphivena). The Roman author and teacher Claudius Aelianus (better known as Aelian) even described the creature’s efficient method of locomotion, stating:
“The Amphisbaina (Amphisbaena) is a snake with two head, one at the top and one in the direction of the tail. When it advances, as need for a forward movement impels it, it leaves one end behind to serve as tail, while the other it uses as a head. Then again if it wants to move backwards, it uses the two heads in exactly the opposite manner from what it did before.”
Although it apparently had the ability to travel (or strike) in either direction at a moment’s notice, the Amphisbaena was also reportedly capable of clamping its two heads onto one another enabling it to roll like a bicycle wheel. This trait, as many investigators have noted in the past, bears an incredible likeness to the single-headed, North American cryptid known as the HOOP SNAKE.
As aforementioned, the appellation of “worm lizard” is applied to the family Amphisbaenidae, which (while decidedly mono-headed) look like their name imples: reptilian earthworms. They are found in most of the Western Hemisphere, some Caribbean islands and sub-Saharan Africa. There is even one primordial and rather unusual genus, Blanus, which is native from the Mediterranean region of Europe and North Africa, and may represent the original inspiration for the legends.
Tales of these ancient creatures come to us originally from Greek Mythology where it is said that the Amphisbaena was spawned from the blood that dripped from the severed head of the GORGON known as MEDUSA as the Legendary Perseus flew over the Libyan Desert with his prize. It has also been chronicled that Cato’s army plagued by the venomous serpents on their renowned march.
Unlike other multi-headed beasts (such as the HYDRA) this reptile’s torso does not split into separate necks, rather the animal is purported to have a head at each end of its body. In fact, its name — when translated from Greek — means “goes both ways“.
The Amphisbaena is also reputed to have incredible regenerative capacities, which include the ability to weld itself back together if its two sections are severed. This may indicated that the animal is not a reptile at all, but perhaps more in line with parasitic worms (helminthes) of some variety.
English author and physician, Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) further described the Amphisbaena’s bizarre attributes in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica, stating that an Amphisbaena is:
“…a smaller kind of Serpent, which moveth forward and backward, hath two heads… Which double formations do often happen unto multiparous generations, more especially that of Serpents; whose productions being numerous, and their Eggs in chains or links together (which sometime conjoin and inoculate into each other) they may unite into various shapes and come out in mixed formations.”
The last statement is particularly intriguing and instills (in me at least) visions of the old-school Transformers cartoon wherein various robots were able to combine to create a larger super robot such as the Constructicons who were able to merge into the super-sized Devastator. Perhaps these Amphisbaenas were able to turn themselves into a gigantic Mega-hydra. Or maybe I’m just a geek full of wishful thoughts. It’s almost certainly the latter.
Bestiaries have also described the Amphisbaena as having eyes that: “…glow like candles“. Still others zoological catalogues from the era have claimed that this twin-headed serpent incorporated elements of domestic fowl including strong legs, taloned feet, a bulky torso and even wings! This is a description which closely tallies with the notoriously toxic BASILISK; a creature that has been referred to as the “mother of ants” because it’s particular fondness for the insect delicacy.
The medical properties of the Amphisbaena were also recorded. According to Pliny, the wearing of a live Amphisbaena is a supposed safeguard in pregnancy, which makes sense seeing as anyone wearing a venomous, two-headed snake like a feather boa is likely to repulse most members of the opposite sex. Pliny also suggested that those suffering from rheumatism need only to drape the carcass of an Amphisbaena across their neck for instant relief.
As if that weren’t enough, Pliny insisted that those hearty souls who dared to consume the flesh of this fanged fiend would thereby become irresistible to the opposite gender, which — as in the tragic modern cases of rhinos, pangolins and tigers (just to name a few) all being massacred in the name of traditional medicine — could well have resulted in the inevitable extinct of this animal.
On top of everything else, legend had it that anyone of pure heart who had the fortune of slaying an Amphisbaena during a full moon would allegedly gain remarkable powers… I’m rooting for x-ray vision.
Rob Morphy is an artist / journalist / filmmaker / graphic designer / crypto historian / podcaster / co-founder of American Monsters, Cryptopia and Cryptonaut Podcast