December 16 – Kraken

Monday 16 December 2019
Kraken from Olaus Magnus’ Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus, 1567 (TypSwB.B67HM)

The kraken is a giant sea monster from Scandinavian folklore, said to plague sailors. Olaus Magnus, a Swedish author most well known for his Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (A Description of the Northern Peoples), described the kraken as a monstrous fish with sharp horns and a beard hanging down. Our 1567 edition of his work includes this woodcut illustration of the kraken complete with its sharp horns and beard.

Bearded whale of Kraken from Gesner’s Historiae animalium (1551-1558).

His work informed Gesner’s, resulting in very similar depictions of the kraken (or bearded whale) as shown in this illustration from the Historiae animalium (1551-1558). A very similar image also features in the sea monster chart in Münster’s Cosmographia (1550) featured in the December 3 post.

From the sea monster chart in Münster’s Cosmographia (1550)

Much later illustrations of this beast tended to be more squid-like, such as Denys Montfort’s octopus-like kraken in 1801.

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One reply to "December 16 – Kraken"

  • clcouch123
    Monday 16 December 2019, 10.52pm

    When I first read Tennyson’s “The Kraken,” I got an image of the monster that was not the giant squid so often depicted, though I think I read much later that there really is a creature called Kraken that is a squid. Or maybe that’s a nickname and-or application of folklore. Anyway, these illustrations are wonderfully unique, a lion in the ocean or what have you. (Apologies to lionfish.) Thank you for sharing these!


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