The lynx, a type of wildcat, has a prominent role in Greek, Norse, and North American mythology. It is considered an elusive and mysterious creature, known in some American Indian traditions as a 'keeper of secrets'. It is also believed to be gifted with supernatural eyesight, capable of seeing even through solid objects. As a result, it often symbolises the unravelling of hidden truths, and the psychic power of clairvoyance.
Transformation of Lyncus
One of the earliest known depictions of the lynx in Roman mythology is recorded in Ovid's epic poem, Metamorphoses. The goddess Demeter (often conflated with the Roman goddess Ceres) commands Triptolemus to travel the world teaching the art of agriculture. He arrives at the court of King Lyncus, who grows desirous of the goddess's favour, and plots to kill Triptolemus in his sleep. No sooner than he raises his sword, however, he is transformed into a lynx.
Accademia dei Lincei
In 1603, the Accademia dei Lincei ("Academy of Lynxes") was founded by Federico Cesi. It was one of the world's oldest scientific societies, and counted such luminaries as Galileo Galilei among its members. The academy's founders were inspired by the illustration of a lynx on the cover of Magia Naturalis, and the words in the preface: "...with lynx-like eyes, examining those things which manifest themselves, so that having observed them, he may zealously use them." Their emblem was a lynx battling with Cerberus, the guardian of the underworld, invoking the lynx's reputation for seeing through falsehood and discovering the truth.
In medieval times, the lynx was said to produce a gem. According to many bestiaries, the lynx would urinate in a hole that it had dug in ground, and then cover it with dirt. After a number of days, the urine would harden into a gem that resembled a carbuncle. It was believed that the Latin name for amber, 'Lyncurium', was derived from this superstition. However, other medieval scholars pointed out that this amber was mined extensively in Lyguria, which may hint at a more plausible etymology.
Lynx is the name of a constellation in the northern sky, defined by Johannes Hevelius in 1687. The name is said to have been chosen because the stars which make up the constellation are so faint that only those with the eyesight of the lynx can perceive them.
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