In a land and time far away and long ago there were other species of man that predated and coincided with homo sapiens. Some are fairly well documented by modern science, some are just recently being learned of, such as Homo floresiensis, aka the hobbit. Then of course there are the unknown human species that have yet to be discovered by modern science. Many of those whose fossil records have not yet been revealed may well still live on hidden in the recesses of our gene pool, while others are simply extinct.
Although these mystery men - missing links in the human family tree have not yet been documented by science they have left an imprint on our legend venue.
Some have speculated that these legends may be derived from early sightings of extant primates - apes and baboons which were exaggerated and aggrandized. One ancient Greek tale has the daughter of a hero Hermolycos mating with an ape man and giving birth to several hybrid ape men "hermo-apes".[*1]
Alexander Battles the Ape Men
Fast forward to semi recorded ancient history and we have records of Alexander the Great doing battle with an Army of ape Men ...
"They, astounded at the flash of the armour, and the swiftness of the charge, and attacked by showers of arrows and missiles, half naked as they were, never stopped to resist but gave way. Some were killed in flight; others were captured; but some escaped into the hills. Those captured were hairy, not only their heads but the rest of their bodies; their nails were rather like beasts' claws; they used their nails as if they were iron tools... everything else they cleft with sharp stones; for iron they did not possess. For clothing they wore skins of animals, some even the thick skins of the larger fishes." [*2]
15th Century Fables based on earlier stories tells of Alexander the Great arriving in a land of the apes. The fables are based on earlier works from Hellenistic literature, the English translation being from 1883. It tells of 2 varieties of ape-men. The first was large viscous , cannibalistic and resembled Gorillas or even yeti. The second was a small hospitable and friendly variety.
Hindu legends speak of a race of forest dwellers known as the Vanara. The old Sanskrit word Vanara literally translates to "forest-man" vana = forest and nara = man. An alternative translation has it being derived from the old Sanskrit words vav and nara - vav = Is it ? and Nara once again meaning man - so basically "is it man" ? Apparently the Hindu scholars and contemporary writers were uncertain as to whether these "people" were apes or men as their descriptions of them will attest to. See - The Vanara Ape Men
Islamic tradition, although not truly ancient in its origins also speaks of ape men.
"...other apes, and even bore all kinds of weapons. He descended from his flying carpet, and marched into the valley with a few of his troops. The apes hurried together to drive him back, but one of their elders stepped forward and said, "Let us rather seek safety in submission, for our foe is a holy prophet." Three apes were immediately chosen as ambassadors to negotiate with Solomon. He received them kindly, and inquired to which class of apes they belonged, and how it came to pass that they were so skilled in all human arts. The ambassadors replied, "Be not astonished at us, for we are descended from men, and are the remnant of a Jewish community, which, notwithstanding all admonition, continued to desecrate the Sabbath until Allah cursed them, and turned them into apes." 1> [*3]
In the Hebrew tradition the Talmud mentions an ape like creature. An animal that so resembled humans that its dead body, would render a tent unclean - the same as a mans dead body would. The translation/interpretation of its name has been rendered as chimpanzee and orangutan even though other more common words existed for those creatures. So it is uncertain what animal the writers were actually speaking of.
In the Old Testament we have the story of Esau the prodigal son of Isaac and fraternal twin brother of Jacob. Esau is rather dim wiited, in the modern world we would call him "special" not only because he would have special needs in any homo sapien school, but because he was coated in a thick red fur.
Genesis 25:25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.
Esau had the traits of a primitive hunter gatherer - Genesis 25:27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents.
Esau was dim witted and had a ravenous appetite that needed to be satiated on demand, as he traded his birth right for a meal. Genesis 25: 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom) Edom meaning red.31 Jacob replied, 'First sell me your birthright.' 32 'Look, I am about to die,' Esau said. 'What good is the birthright to me?' 33 But Jacob said, 'Swear to me first.' So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Esau may quite have possibly been evidence of a recessive gene inherent in homo sapiens that bore a man with primal hunter gatherer traits
Then of course in the Judeo-Christian legends we have the nephilim. The nephilim, or at least some of the tales regarding them may well derive from an extinct branch of humanity to which Esau may have belonged. The Neanderthal, Cro Magnon man or another member of the Human family tree that is yet to be discovered. - See - Neanderthal in The Bible
Footnotes and References
1. Anthologia Graeca. Munich: Heimerman; 1968. book 11, epigram 353.
2. Nearchus voyage home - http://www.livius.org/aj-al/alexander/alexander_t53.html note - The full original work is lost, a summary was found in another work called Indike, written by the Greek author Arrian of Nicomedia.
3. The Bible, the Koran, and the Talmud: Or, Biblical Legends of the Mussulmans pg. 238