According to Greek mythology, the Amphisbaena was spawned from the blood that dripped from Medusa’s head as Perseus flew over the Libyan Desert with it in his hand.
The classical Greek writer Lucan, who described the Amphisbaena as a winged reptile with an extra head on the end of its long prehensile tail, first mentions this creature in his bookPharsalia.
The creature’s name means ‘to go both ways’. It became a favorite device of the compilers and embellishes of medieval bestiaries, who often showed this creature in the margins of their books. Wounds inflicted by the creature generally failed to heal and brought death to the person who had been bitten.
It is described as living in the deserts of Libya and may possibly be based on an actual reptile that is capable of running in both directions, and that raises its tail like a scorpion when threatened. It appears among the great bestiary of creatures in European heraldry.
It is generally shown with its tail curved above its back, grasping its extra head in the jaws of its normal mouth. In this position, it was able to travel by rolling along the ground like a wheel. It must have been a formidable adversary to encounter, since it could run in either direction, possessed the legs of an eagle with claws to grip its victims, and eyes that gave forth beams of light in the darkness.
Medicine from the Amphisbaena
Despite its evil nature, it was much sought-after during the Middle Ages for its medical properties. It is said that a pregnant woman wearing a live Amphisbaena around her neck would have a safe pregnancy, however if just its skin was worn it could relieve the pain of rheumatism.
It is also said that by eating the meat of the Amphisbaena one could attract many lovers of the opposite sex, and slaying one during the full moon could give power to one who is pure of heart and mind.