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Wemic Origins [24 Nov 04]

I've been interested in the origins of wemics for a long time. As far as modern gaming goes (and, from there, every other modern reference I have found), it all starts with the First Edition Monster Card Set from 1982. Then there's 1990's Quest for Glory series of computer games, with a prominent role for liontaurs, but the Dungeons and Dragons' wemic clearly preceeds that.

But there the trail of modern wemics grows cold. Did they spring, full-formed, from Gary Gygax's brow? Or were the people at TSR (the company that made the first and second editions of the game) inspired by something else?

Well, with only that much in my head, I stumbled on the Wikipedia and wrote an entry for "Wemic." That was in December 2001. But I recently checked back on the entry, and I saw that someone had added a note on Wemic origins in September 2004! Specifically, "The lion-centaur appeared briefly in ancient Assyrian art, during the Middle Assyrian periods."

Well, that's a lead -- and it sent me a-Googling! Here's what I found (emphasis mine is all cases):

From Assyria: A study of symbols: "As for the rest of animal symbols, they are documented as following: Horse, horse's head, dog, cow & calf, turtle, snakes, scorpion, mongoose, fish, fly, walking bird, bird with back-turned head, bird on a low perch, long-neck bird standard, bird god, double lion-headed scepter, lion-headed staff, eagle-headed staff, ram-headed staff, goat-fish, Imdugud (bird-shaped), lion-centaur, bull of heaven, centaur, lion-dragon, lion-fish ... "

From Fisher Kings: "In Syria and Chaldea, the celestial she-goat plays an important and favored role in opposition to the invisible evil forces which she puts to flight; an Assyrian bas-relief shows her chasing a lion-centaur spirit."

From A Mousterian Sculpture Of The European Lion: Between Myth And Ritual: "The lion, according to the oriental tradition, beyond to being represented in "natural" way, also was represented, and in way rather fantastically composite, often winged, or half lion and half centaur, or with human head."

So it seems clear that there really were lion-centaurs -- or something -- in ancient Assyrian art. Interestingly, the same mythological Assyrian tradition also created lamassu, which also appeared in the First Edition game.

What's next in my search for wemic origins? Maybe tracking down and writing to Gary Gygax. Ditto Lori Ann and Corey Cole, who created the Quest for Glory PC games. Maybe a scholarly pursuit of lion-centaur images from Ancient Assyrian art? I'll let you know if I discover anything.

Home | This page last modified: 24 Nov 2004