From the beginning the surrealism deals intensively with mythologies. Antique mythologies, mythologies of primitive people, European legends are all absorbed in the surrealistic idioms.
Central are a number of animal-figures:
1. Praying mantis
(French: mante réligieuse): this animal was attractive for the surrealists because its antagonism – on one hand she is looking like a harmless praying woman, while on the other hand she kills the male after having sex. Therefore she was a perfect symbol for the man-killing and sexually dominating woman (femme fatale) – she symbolizes a scary but desired (female) dominator. This symbol/figure is a good example for a typical ambivalent surrealistic ensemble (world) – and brings together the basic instincts (Sigmund Freud): love- and dead-instinct (Greek: eros and thanatos).
(or Melusina) is a figure of European legends and folklore, a feminine spirit of fresh waters in sacred springs and rivers. She is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish (much like a mermaid) from the waist down. She is also sometimes illustrated with wings (like a bird), two tails or both. The melusine is a metamorphic figure (chimera) – half man/half fish; half human/half animal; living on earth and in water – and is a central symbol of the surrealists. Bretons defined the melusine as an alliance of “consciousness and un-consciousness”or of “reality and unreality”. The melusine is a main symbol of the surrealists, a reality where consciousness is no longer contradictory to dreams. She became the personification of the surrealistic poetry.
3. The Sphinx
(a chimera as well as the melusine) is an iconic image of a recumbent lion with a human (female) head, invented by the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, but a cultural import in archaic Greek mythology, where it received its name (Greek Σφινξ, "strangler").
Quite similar interpretations as melusine are possible! She is too living in two worlds (animal and human) and symbolizes with her half-being a woman a mythic extreme sexuality. Further more she is the personification of the woman-puzzle which asks the man dead-bringing questions.
4. Beside those
(above mentioned) feminine chimers there was (at least) one masculine: Minotaurus.
The Minotaurus is a mixture of Human and Taurus. Especially Picasso and André Masson used this as a symbol for a masculine and potent-creative artist who is – parallel – independent from women.
Mythos,gender-specific codes, sexuality and metamorphosis where the center of the surrealistic animal-pictures. Even in the Dictionaire abrégé du Surréalisme (edited by André Breton and Paul Eluard in 1938) the terminus (word) “Métamorphose” was explained with two animal-examples.
Beside those collectively important figures a number of autobiographically motivated figures are known – which took the symbolic and metamorphic and developed them subjectively. The surrealisms offers an ideal ground for individual-mythological autobiographic stiles, which are connected with the history of the artists own life, his psychological mood, his surrealistic mythologismen.