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A sea serpent or sea dragon is a type of dragon described in various mythologies, most notably Greek (Cetus, Echidna, Hydra, Scylla), Mesopotamian (Tiamat), Hebrew (Leviathan), and Norse (Jörmungandr).
A sea serpent from Olaus Magnus's book
History of the Northern Peoples (1555).
|Sub grouping||Sea monster|
|Other name(s)||Worm, wyrm, cetus|
The "Drachenkampf" mytheme, the chief god in the role of the hero slaying a sea serpent, is widespread both in the Ancient Near East and in Indo-European mythology, e.g. Lotan and Hadad, Leviathan and Yahweh, Tiamat and Marduk (see also Labbu, Bašmu, Mušḫuššu), Illuyanka and Tarhunt, Yammu and Baal in the Baal Cycle etc. The Hebrew Bible also has less mythological descriptions of large sea creatures as part of creation under God's command, such as the Tannin mentioned in Book of Genesis 1:21 and the "great serpent" of Amos 9:3. In the Aeneid, a pair of sea serpents killed Laocoön and his sons when Laocoön argued against bringing the Trojan Horse into Troy.
In antiquity and in the bible, dragons were imagined as huge serpentine monsters, which means that the image of a fire-breathing dragon with four/two legs and wings came much later—in the late Middle Ages; Most of stories say that they live in the sea, the Babylonian myths of Tiamat, the myth of the Hydra, Scylla, Cetus and Echidna in the Greek mythology and maybe even the Leviathan, confirm that.
In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr, or "Midgarðsormr" was a sea serpent so long that it encircled the entire world, Midgard. Some stories report of sailors mistaking its back for a chain of islands. Sea serpents also appear frequently in later Scandinavian folklore, particularly in that of Norway.
In 1028 AD, Saint Olaf is said to have killed a sea serpent in Valldal, Norway, throwing its body onto the mountain Syltefjellet. Marks on the mountain are associated with the legend. In Swedish ecclesiastic and writer Olaus Magnus's Carta marina, many marine monsters of varied form, including an immense sea serpent, appear. In his 1555 work History of the Northern Peoples, Magnus gives the following description of a Norwegian sea serpent:
Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or to fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs and pigs, or it fares out to the sea and feeds on sea nettles, crabs and similar marine animals. It has ell-long hair hanging from its neck, sharp black scales and flaming red eyes. It attacks vessels, grabs and swallows people, as it lifts itself up like a column from the water.
An apparent eye-witness account is found in Aristotle's Historia Animalium. Strabo makes reference to an eye witness account of a dead sea creature sighted by Poseidonius on the coast of the northern Levant. He reports the following: "As for the plains, the first, beginning at the sea, is called Macras, or Macra-Plain. Here, as reported by Poseidonius, was seen the fallen dragon, the corpse of which was about a plethrum [100 feet] in length, and so bulky that horsemen standing by it on either side could not see one another; and its jaws were large enough to admit a man on horseback, and each flake of its horny scales exceeded an oblong shield in length."(Geography, book 16, chapter two, paragraph 17) The creature was seen by Poseidonius, a Philosopher, sometime between 130 and 51 BC.
Hans Egede, the national saint of Greenland, gives an 18th-century description of a sea serpent. On July 6, 1734 his ship sailed past the coast of Greenland when suddenly those on board "saw a most terrible creature, resembling nothing they saw before. The monster lifted its head so high that it seemed to be higher than the crow's nest on the mainmast. The head was small and the body short and wrinkled. The unknown creature was using giant fins which propelled it through the water. Later the sailors saw its tail as well. The monster was longer than our whole ship", wrote Egede. (Mareš, 1997)
A sea serpent depicted in the coat of arms of Seljord in Norway
Sea serpent reported by Hans Egede, Bishop of Greenland, in 1734. Henry Lee suggested the giant squid as an explanation.
Albert Koch's 115-foot-long (35 m) "Hydrarchos" fossil skeleton from 1845. It was found to be an assembled collection of bones from at least five fossil specimens of Basilosaurus.
Supposed Appearance Of The Great Sea-Serpent, From H.M.S. Plumper, Sketched By An Officer On Board, Illustrated London News, 14 April 1849
Oarfish that washed ashore on a Bermuda beach in 1860. The animal was 16 feet long and was originally described as a sea serpent.
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