It is interesting to note that while Chamcha embodies the demonization process which victimizes the immigrant, the Manticore illuminates the purpose of Rushdie’s appropriative strategies with even greater subtlety. As Rushdie himself informs us, the Manticore is a man-tiger with three rows of teeth escaped from Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero’s Manual de Zoologma Fantastica. The entry cites Pliny’s original description, followed by Flaubert’s reworking of it in the last pages of La tentation de Saint Antoine. In his monumental Historia Naturalis, Pliny the Elder devotes a number of books to the cataloguing and description of animals world-wide. Drawing on Aristotle and Ctesias among others, Pliny’s inventory happily mixes fantastic beings and wild, exotic animals such as elephants or lions. The Manticore is mentioned “multaque alia monstri similia” roaming the wilderness of Ethiopia. Characteristically, the fabulous beast is a hybrid, half-human half-animal, with “three rows of teeth which intertwine like the teeth of a comb, the face and the ears of a human being, blue eyes, the purplish body of a lion and a tail which ends with a sting, like a scorpio. It runs very fast and human flesh is its favourite dish; its voice sounds like the flute and the trumpet mixed together.” Pliny’s description strikingly reveals the nature of the collective fantasies which the center projects onto the confines of the Roman Empire. Like most imaginary creatures in the Historia Naturalis, the Manticore crystallizes the mixture of fear and fascination the Ethiops and other “barbaros” inspire to the Romans. What is more, the association of difference with monstrosity takes place in the naturalizing context of Pliny’s “scientific” enterprise. Through his allusion to Pliny’s Manticore, Rushdie not only draws the reader’s attention to how knowledge is constructed and what kinds of fantasies are invested in it, but it also points to a long tradition of travel writing starting with Herodotus (on whom Ctesias heavily depends) which, by imaginatively mapping out unfamiliar places, will inspire colonial expeditions.
(For more detail, see Dutheil 138-139).