In the ancient Near East – bleeding historically over time into Europe and so on and so forth – there is a broad category of beasts conceptualized as “composite creatures.” Unsurprisingly given this name, the beings in question are a hodge-podge assembly of various animal parts. Without intending any kind of hierarchy, there are roughly three categories of composites:
- Creatures with human heads and animal bodies (note that several of these have human torsos and arms as well; the head is the most important part)
- Creatures with animal heads and human bodies
- Creatures that have no human components
In the first group, we would include sphinxes, lammasu, tritons/mermaids, satyr/fauns, centaurs, harpies, manticores, and so on.
In the second, the minotaur, cynocephali (dog-headed men; some sources imply that the original legend of Saint Christopher begins with them); also, lots and lots of Egyptian deities.
The last group contains the pegasus, hippocamp, griffin, chimera, and leucrotta.
It’s not a guarantee, but the possession of human parts seems frequently to bestow some kind of intellect upon the creature in question. The minotaur is an arguable exception, and certainly many of the creatures in question have wild and dangerous natures – look no further than the satyr that pursued Eurydice, causing her death at the fangs of a venomous serpent.
By all means, check out Theoi Greek Mythology for a great online bestiary with historical sources. It’s a fantastic site. http://www.theoi.com/
Incidentally, I am in no way meaning to give short shrift to the Rest of the World and the plethora of composite creatures to be found elsewhere. They’re certainly there, as will be seen in a couple of remarks below, but I don’t know enough about them to say much at all beyond the assurance that “yes, they’re there.”