Peering into the unknown this evening, my good friend Jacob Farr (A University of Kent Classics graduate) delves into the mystery surrounding many a seafarers’ worst nightmare; The Kraken
As I was sat watching David Attenborough, a deep burning fire was reignited as I gazed in awe at the colossal squid sprawling across my screen. Being a Classics graduate, I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with giant mythical creatures. From Greek to Norse mythology, giant squid-like creatures have been ever present, and in my cynical teenage years, I even questioned their existence.
Now, I understand that colossal squids are real, that they can grow to a whopping 40-50m in length, weighing up to 750kg, and they are the largest known invertebrates on the planet. However, I still cannot get my head around the possibility that these giant monsters of the deep could be capable of attacking humans and ships with their gigantic tentacles and hooks.
Still, it is no stretch of the imagination to assume that scientists have not fully grasped the spectrum of growth for the colossal squid as previous tests have only been conducted on much smaller members of the species. There is certainly a possibility for their estimates being out by several tens of metres – especially when you consider that the ocean landscape would have been vastly different to the one we observe today. New discoveries are happening all the time; for instance, the European cave lion and the American cave lion were found to grow much larger than the modern African lion.
We know more about cave lions because they died on land and therefore make life easier when excavating discoveries. A colossal squid of say, 10,000 years ago, is almost impossible to find, let alone analyse, and may be something we are never truly aware of.
In ancient Greek mythology, from my memory of reading the classics, I do not remember coming across any colossal squids eating people. There were, however, a lot of similarities between certain mythical creatures within these texts and the colossal squid. Hercules’ second labour was to defeat the Hydra near Lake Lerna; with a fire and sword the mythical hero was said to have slain the beast that was a constant in many notable classical authors’ works.
Alcaeus is originally attributed with the first documented mention of the Hydra, a type of serpent with several heads and two tails, which dwells at the entrance to the underworld. Virgil, Heraclitus, Pliny the Elder and Eurpidis join a list of Babylonian authors who have cited a similar creature within their own accounts of mythology where seamen and their ships met their end. It is entirely plausible that ships were mistaken for whales or prey, falling victim to the destructive sea monsters hooks and teeth.
It is not far-fetched to believe that our classical ancestors perhaps misinterpreted what they saw out at sea. Fishermen and explorers’ tales may have been exaggerated to create a more monster-like creature for good of the tales they would tell. It is worth noting however that more often than not myth is based on some form of truth. The aforementioned evidence for the colossal squid being capable of swallowing men and ships whole it is shaky at best, but fear not, as Norse mythology is much more fruitful when finding possible traces of a colossal squid capable of wreaking havoc upon a seafaring fleet.
In the Old Icelandic saga ‘Orvar-Oddr’, the protagonists are on a journey through the Greenland Sea when they encounter two creatures, one of which was named Hafgufa, ‘The Kraken’:
“It is the nature of this creature to swallow men and ships, and even whales and everything else within reach. It stays submerged for days, then rears its head and nostrils above surface and stays that way at least until the change of tide. Now, that sound we just sailed through was the space between its jaws, and its nostrils and lower jaw were those rocks that appeared in the sea…”
An old Norwegian scientific work, Konungs skuggsjá, written around 1250, describes in great detail how the Kraken feasts and how it has been described by several fisherman. Since its mention in text, the Kraken has been described in many similar forms, creating whirlpools that can capsize a ship and then swallow its crew whole. Carl Linnaeus was followed by many notable scientists to try to insert the Kraken into natural encyclopaedias and were backed up by a multitude of fisherman and sailors across the Atlantic Ocean.
To this day their claims are still met with the utmost scrutiny and ridicule by modern academics.
Regardless of your take on the tales of old, or the claims of aged academics, it comes down to whether or not you believe that we have not truly discovered all that it is out there or could be out there. It is possible that these giant creatures bide at the deepest and darkest depths of the Arctic Ocean, that they were much greater in numbers once upon a time with their populations spread across the world’s oceans.
Discoveries are happening every day, showing the world and living species to be much older and mythical than ever thought before. Humour with the kid from within and join me in believing. One thing is for certain, I truly believe that there are colossal squid far bigger than we ever thought out there today, and the history of mythical squid attacks is much more than an old fishermen’s tale.
[I’d like to thank Jacob for providing such an interesting article. Furthermore, he is the first guest I have featured on this blog, hopefully you will see more from him in the future!
If you’d like to get to know him better, you can find him at https://www.the-perception.com, a site that Jacob coordinates offering a range of interesting topics and articles.]