Mad-dogs and Eagles-men, what Craziness is THIS?!
Updated: Jul 6, 2019
Swoop, the Philadelphia Eagles mascot, & Chris Long's "Underdog" have a long tradition in visual art.
Fly, Eagles Fly!!
I lived seventeen years in Philly and a lot of my heart is still there, including my eldest son James, who is a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Go the green!
Most people understand the symbolism of the American eagle that stretches right back to 1782 when the Great Seal of the United States was developed. [Fig. 2] Native to North America the bald eagle is strong, fiercely loyal to its family, a skillful hunter, and majestic. I think we can all be thankful that Ben Franklin’s wish to elevate the turkey didn’t pan out!
But what about this phenomena of people wearing eagle—and this Super Bowl season —- (under) dog masks? Where did THAT come from?? [Fig. 1A & B.]
Therianthropy is a term out of Greek mythology roughly translated as “animal headedness” that refers to the ability of a person to transform into a beast. It has many versions across multiple cultures dating back as far as 13,000 B.C., as evidenced by a series of cave drawings found in the south of France.[i]
The most common form of human-animal is having the head of a dog or wolf. Anubis, the funerary god of ancient Egypt for example, protected the dead by being part jackal and chasing off scavengers looking to feed off a mummified corpse. And in Turkic legend, the Ashina clan were ten half-human sons birthed by the she-wolf Asena who became leaders of the Göktürk Khaganate in what is now central China. Don’t be mistaken however in thinking that therianthropy was essentially pagan; in a curious tradition Saint Cristopher / Hristofor of Romania protected travelers from being attacked by becoming part wolf. [Fig. 3 & 4]
Fig. 3 & 4
The most prevalent legend cutting across all cultures is lycanthropy, the ability to change into a werewolf such as the character Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter series. But, in this instance, the person becomes either human or wolf, not both. In Native American and First Nation legends, powerful shamans can change into their spirit animal, but with caution as the transformation could inflict fear upon the community with ill-intended effect. In Mesoamerican folk tradition, a skilled magician can transform into animal form at night. Within the Codex Borgia (also called the Codex Yoalli Ehēcatl) dating to the late 15th century made by Aztec priests of animal skins folded into 39 double-sided pages, it is thought that some form of ritual or mythological shape-shifting is being illustrated for practical reference. [Fig. 5]
Then there are the documented instances of perceived transformations due to some form of mental illness; such as happened to the Byzantine city of Amida that fell victim to a collective case of madness in 560 AD. In that year an entire town started barking like dogs, running around on all fours and scavenging for food![ii]
Perhaps the best known human with a head of a bird, is the Egyptian god Horus who patrolled the skies and protected kinship wearing the head of a Falcon. The other known instance is the harpy, a monster in-reverse with a female head described by the Roman poet Virgil as birds, “…but with face like woman-kind; foul-flowing bellies, hands with crooked claws, and ghastly lips they have, with hunger pale.”[iii] Ugh. A harpy, it seems was not to be trifled with. [Fig. 6 & 7]
Fig. 6 & 7
So that leads us to Swoop and the Underdog of Super Bowl No. 52.
The mascot of the Philadelphia Eagles, Swoop was apparently a real bird who was found in ill health at Neshaminy State Park by an avid fan, and given a jersey to wear that miraculously increased his strength. There is a cute comic about the story on the team’s website.[iv] The man-bird constumed version made is television debut on August 21, 1996 when he was parachuted into the stadium from an airplane. Honestly, the historic video footage is worth watching![v]
Then this year, after having beaten the Atlanta Falcons on January 13, 2018 Eagles players Lane Johnson and Chris Long donned dog masks in order to embrace their team’s “underdog” status. The idea swiftly caught on with fans embracing all associations canine. Even T-shirts created by the NFL with replicas of Long's German Shepherd mask are being sold for charity for $27.99. And like any good sports mascot, the mask is having its effect in unsettling the enemy. As Long crowed to a non-Philadelphia reporter: "People are terrified. You guys are scared right now! You’re shaking all over.”[vi]
And that’s such as it should be. Philadelphia Eagles: hunt like a flying predator and fight like a dog. Be loyal, and fierce, and never, never, give in !!
[i] The Cave of the Trois-Frères. https://www.britannica.com/place/Trois-Freres
[ii] Nadine Metzger, medical historian researcher, paper presented at King’s College, London. March 14, 2017.
[iii] Virgil, Aeneid, Book III, 216 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0054%3Abook%3D3%3Acard%3D192
[vi] Frank, Reuben. “The Story Behind Eagles’ Dog Masks,” NBC Sports, January 13, 2018. http://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/eagles/story-behind-eagles-dog-masks
1. A. & B. Online images of Chris Long as the “Underdog,” on January 21, 2018 and the Philadelphia Eagles mascot.
2. Sixteen-cent airmail stamp from 1934 showing the Great Seal of the United States in the collection of the National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
3. Statuette of Anubis from the Ptolemaic Period 332-30 B.C. Egypt. Plastered and painted wood, Metropolitan Museum of Art collection
4. Saint Cristopher/Hristofor is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on the 8th of May. This panel icon painting is in the collection of the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens.
5. Codex Borgia (facsimile) drawn by Agnostino Aglio in c.1825-31 from the Mexican original dated c. 1500. Page 14. In the collection of the British Museum.
6. Wooden Funerary stela of the Third Intermediate period of Ancient Egypt depicting Deniuenkhons on the right and the falcon-headed god Ra-Horakhty-Atum otherwise known as Horus, on the left. British Museum collection.
7. German woodcut of a harpy by Melchior Lorck, 1582. British Museum collection.