Ancient word of the day: Kraken

Thule as Tile on the Carta Marina of 1539 by Olaus Magnus, where it is shown located to the northwest of the Orkney islands, with a "monster, seen in 1537", a whale ("balena"), and an orca nearby.

A Kraken is a mythical behemoth. A man-eating and fearsome gigantic cephalopod that drove fear into the hearts of sea-going Scandanavians. The word kraken comes from the Swedish word “krake”, which means twisted.

Seen traditionally as a beast to be feared and respected, it also embodied a sense of deep oceanic magic and mystery.

Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539

Kraken engraving by Édouard Riou, 1870

Kraken engraving by Édouard Riou, 1870
Kraken engraving by Édouard Riou, 1870

A Natural History of Norway 1755

“In the ocean many things are hidden. Amongst the many great things which are in the ocean .. is the Kraken. This creature is the largest and most surprising of the animal creation.” OED’s first record of ‘Kraken’ in English (1755)

The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi

The Viking Imagination: Medieval Cartography of Scandinavia http://wp.me/p41CQf-Iuf
The Viking Imagination: Medieval Cartography of Scandinavia http://wp.me/p41CQf-Iuf


Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Here be the Viking Hoard: The Mystery of the Lewis Chessmen http://wp.me/p41CQf-ItW
Here be the Viking Hoard: The Mystery of the Lewis Chessmen http://wp.me/p41CQf-ItW Walrus hunting in the Middle Ages

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

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