These ornately carved water-spouts were built to carry off water from the gutters of large buildings. Most represent grotesque monsters, deformed men or fabulous animals.
It appears that stonemasons developed a taste for carving figures which could not be satisfied by the drainage requirements of buildings, and some of the carvings shown here are 'hieroglyphicals', which have no practical function. Among those in Magdalen are hippopotami, wrestlers, a jester, a griffin, a greyhound, a camel with an unidentified animal on its back, Moses, a man in a sober hat, and seven miscellaneous monsters.
Some people believe that they symbolise a complete pattern of academic discipline - others that they represent the several virtues and vices that members of the College should follow and eschew, respectively. According to this interpretation, the hippopotamus with young on his shoulder symbolises 'a good tutor, or Fellow of College, who is set to watch over the youth of the society, and by whose prudence they are to be led through the dangers of their first entrance into the world'. It is doubtful whether the dons of Magdalen would appreciate the analogy.