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RE: Krakenology

Yes, it is likely that the 'ketos' was inspired by a real animal, presumably a 
whale.  It's also possible that the myth was inspired by dead whales that 
washed up on the shore, and the carcasses rotted in such a way that made them 
look much more serpent-like than in life.

Greek and Roman myth were full of monsters that probably had some basis in fact 
(Jaime's "nugget of truth").  Manatees and dugongs are purported to have given 
rise to the legend of sirens.  And other mythical creatures are though to have 
been inspired by subfossil or fossil remains, such as the one-eyed cyclops 
(elephant skull), winged griffin (_Protoceratops_ skeleton), and so on (see 
Adrienne Mayor's work, among others).  

On that last point, check out this ancient picture of a 'cetus'.  The head 
looks astonishingly like a fossil skull:


On the issue of sharks, the Greeks also used the word 'lamia' for shark.  This 
was also the name of a frightful female demon (originally a Libyan queen) that 
devoured children.  The two meanings were interwoven in mythology, with reports 
of predatory sharks possibly inspiring the legend of a rapacious, child-eating 
demon.  Obviously, as with 'ketos', a great deal of embellishment occurred 
along the way.  Like 'squalus' (_Squalus_), 'lamia' is used for a genus of 
modern shark (as the variant _Lamna_).  So too for 'scylla', in the form of 
_Scyllium_, and as the root of many other shark genera (e.g., _Heteroscyllium_).



--- On Mon, 8/3/10, Jaime Headden <qi_leong@hotmail.com> wrote:

> From: Jaime Headden <qi_leong@hotmail.com>
> Subject: RE: Krakenology
> To: "David Marjanovic" <david.marjanovic@gmx.at>, 
> Dinosaur.Mailing.List@listproc.usc.edu
> Received: Monday, 8 March, 2010, 6:20 AM
>   Whale, as derived from "hwæl" (old English)
> eventially derived from the Nordic hvalr (and as combined
> with hvalfiskr) lit. "large fish." One might say that
> "whale" thus meant "large" as deriving for any animal in the
> ocean.  But that's just THAT word
> Mediterranean concept, one of which is the _squalus_ and was
> used for anything from snake-like to shark-like animals, and
> probably smaller whales.  It seems fairly easy to
> assume that the Greek Ketos was conceived from a whale as
> seen from the Atlantic or entering the Med, very large,
> serpentine-seeming from the surface (elongate, sinuous, with
> a large mouth).  How hard then would it be to derive a
> broadly-concepted thing such as the Judaic "fish" (in the
> Hebraic portion of this story, "dag") that swallowed Jonah
> as a great and monstrous fish ... or whale?  In case
> this hasn't been pointed out before, many legends of weird
> creatures are based at some level on a nugget of truth, even
> if the idea is ludicrous, such as conceiving of various
> aquatic "monsters" from tales of seafarers witnessing
> narwhals, whales, dugongs, without ever bringing it out or
> studying it in any scientific concept (ignoring that first
> nation peoples of North America and northern Eurasia
> regularly hunted and slew these animals, but their
> traditions being oral give us little comparison with written
> texts such as the Bible or the Eddas).
> Cheers,
> Jaime A. Headden