Sciapodes or Monopods (aka skiapods, skiapodes, Monocoli) are dwarf-like creatures with a single, large foot extending from one thick leg centered in the middle of their body.
The name Sciapodes is derived from σκιαποδες- ‘shadow foots’ in Greek, monocoli from μονοκωλοι- ‘one legged’ in Greek.
Pliny the Elder describes in Naturalis Historia how travellers have reported their encounters or sights of Monopods and remarks that they are first mentioned by Ctesias who places them in India. Pliny describes them as thus in Natural History 7:2:
He [Ctesias] speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility. The same people are also called Sciapodae, because they are in the habit of lying on their backs, during the time of the extreme heat, and protect themselves from the sun by the shade of their feet.
The legend of the Monopod survived into the Middle Ages. Isidore of Seville mentions this strange creature in his Etymologiae.
From the account of Pliny, monopods have one large foot in a shape that somewhat resembles a small boat or canoe, so instead of walking, they would hop from one location to another, landing with a huge thud.
Another notable characteristic of the monopods was their method of sleeping. Instead of lying on their side, they would put their foot straight into the air and lie on their back. Thus the foot became a giant umbrella that could protect them from sun and rain.
Origin of the myth
It is possible that the myth derived from a misinterpretation of the practice of Indian sadhus who sometimes meditate on one foot. It can also be connected to the disease of tropical elephantiasis.