All Yale buildings have details that are just waiting to be noticed by a keen set of eyes. While headed to Davenport to meet some friends for dinner, I noticed something strange: two goats standing guard over the York Street gate. A full stomach later, I ventured back outside, only to be confronted by another set of goats holding up a pediment on the Georgian side of the York Street gate. A Google search on my way back to my dorm revealed a majestical, mythical side to Yale.
In legend, there exists a mythical goat called a yale. “Yales” are not nearly as popular as unicorns or dragons, but they have earned their place in heraldic mythology. Sometimes spelled “eales” or “yaels” or referred to as “centicores,” yales are four-legged creatures with boar-like tusks and large horns. Most depictions of yales include one horn facing forward and the other facing back, but yales can swivel their horns in any direction. Yales can attack with one or both horns pointed forward; alternatively, they point both horns back to signify peace. It’s these dynamic horns that make the yale a serious defensive force.
Most hybrid animals, like our dear goat with boar tusks, are the result of explorers trying to make sense of real animals that they haven’t seen before. Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher and explorer, notes the yale in his Natural History as a beast “the size of a hippopotamus, with an elephant’s tail… with the jaws of a boar and movable horns more than a cubit in length.” When he saw this animal over his voyage to sub-Saharan Africa, what he saw was likely an antelope or water buffalo—not the supernatural yale.
Pliny might have been looking at an ibex, the mountain goat native to Afroeurasia, given that “yael” is its Hebrew translation. Male ibexes can be identified by their long, curved horns. Although ibexes have neither fangs nor the ability to move their horns, they closely resemble many depictions of the mythical yale.
Two British noble families found the yale endearing, and adopted it as part of their coat of arms. The older Bedford yale is a slender creature with straight horns and a long tail. The better known Beaufort yale, however, is presented as a stockier animal with curled horns. Bedford yales tend to be black or brown, while the Beaufort variety boasts golden horns, tusks, and hooves, and a gold-spotted white coat.
With the historic record set straight for this magical goat, what is the link between Yale the school and yale the animal? Other than the pairs of yales adorning Davenport College, the animals appear on a few other parts of the campus. Two more yales support the Timothy Dwight shield on a stone pediment above its Temple Street gate. Yales also appear on two of the four quadrants of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences shield.
The yales on the gothic side of Davenport’s gates grasp onto spears, giving them a ferocious aura. The bodies of the beasts are made of stone, whereas their horns are out of metal. These horns act as a secondary weapon. The beasts inside Davenport, however, are more dynamic with their whole body made of metal. While stone statues must be chiseled down to their desired shape, metal can be melted down into any form. These metal yales are freer to take any pose they want while the stone yales on the outside of the College are more stationary. Instead of guarding the College, these yales are rearing against the solid architecture. Those who want to enter Davenport must first confront the yales, then swipe their IDs.
The Davenport yales take a departure from traditional yale iconography. These yales are notably missing their long teeth, and display both of their horns forward. Although less common, yales have been depicted with bodies of horses, oxen, or even lions and tigers. These statues resemble horses more than they resemble goats—almost like a unicorn with two horns instead of one. This could be in homage to the coat of arms of the United Kingdom. On either side of the heraldic shield are a golden lion and a silver unicorn. John Davenport, the namesake of Davenport College, was an Englishman, and only moved to the colonies in his 40s. The move to make the Davenport yale look like a unicorn brings Davenport energy to the courtyard along with a colonial twist.
All this yale talk begs the question: why are we the Yale Bulldogs and not the Yale Yales? Although Yale was the first school to adopt the bulldog as its mascot, this short, fat, sickly animal is now the most popular mascot across all Division I football teams.
The original Handsome Dan was bought by a Yale football player in the 1880s. Dan was lead across the field before games and won the love of the student body. The bulldog only became the official mascot of the school after Dan’s passing. Handsome Dan I was truly a one-of-a-kind canine. Dan struck fear into the hearts of Harvard and Princeton and also went on to win Top Dog at the Westminster Dog Show.
Not only are bulldogs a basic mascot; they’re also are horribly inbred and sickly. It almost seems inhumane to subject these poor dogs to large crowds, loud noises, and constant attention. Of the 18 dogs with the title of Handsome Dan, six were retired due to stage fright or freak accidents. There is a difference between giving a dog love and bombarding it with affection to the point of emotional instability.
Perhaps the most interesting yale motif is the yale mace. At each year’s commencement procession, a marshall carries a mace topped with a yale head. The yale on the mace is depicted in the Beaufort style, with white fur and golden details. This yale, however, looks to be smiling, with his bright red tongue sticking out. The yale mace was designed in the 1950s by Theodore Sizer, an art historian and former director of the Yale University Art Gallery. Sizer also designed the shields for the original 10 residential colleges. In creating the mace, he proposed the yale would serve as an alternative mascot to the bulldog, endearing students with its droll demeanor.
Yales beautifully represent our student body. They are just obscure enough that self-important Yalies can scoff and say “you wouldn’t get it” to those who ask about the tusked goat mascot. On the other hand, pun-loving Yalies will love the neverending meme potential if it were the mascot. Mythical mascots are far from unheard of—think of the Phoenix of UChicago and the Drexel Dragons. Yales are far scarier than bulldogs. While Bulldogs are lovable balls of slobber, Yales are ferocious beasts with movable horns. If a 50-pound dog and a magical goat got into a fight, my money would be on the goat.