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Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through
with a thorn? Will he make many supplications unto thee? Will he speak soft
words unto thee? Will he make a covenant with thee? Wilt thou take him for a
servant for ever? Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him
for thy maidens ? Shall the companions make a banquet of him? Shall they part him among the merchants? Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons ? or his head with fish
spears? Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more."
Or, as it has been rendered, “Thou wilt not do it again."
Pliny speaks of monster serpents dwelling in the ocean, and says that serpents three hundred feet long came out of the Ganges. He mentions a monstrous serpent, able to seize and draw down an elephant, which was seen in the Indian Ocean. Palladius, writing of the Odontotyrannus of the Ganges, says it "swallowed an elephant without chewing it.” Sea-serpents often figure in ancient Hindoo books.
Stories of them multiplied during the Middle Ages. Du Cange quotes a Latin manuscript where the devil is called Hydros, or water-serpent. El Kazwini says that monstrous serpents came out of the China sea, to devour elephants.
But it is to Norse accounts we must turn for "full and particular” accounts of the sea-serpent. In northern mythology, Jörmundgandr, the great Midgard serpent, lies at the bottom of the seas, for ever trying to bite his own tail, and is so large that he can encircle the world. When he heaves up the coils of his enormous body,
storms arise. At the destruction of the world, he will burst over the land and infect the very air. But on the other hand, he is sometimes said to be already defunct, Thor, the northern Hercules, having caught him at a disadvantage, and struck his head off with a hammer.
It was a common mediæval Norse belief that these serpents formerly lived on land, only taking to the sea after a visitation of the Black Death, or plague.
Olaus Magnus, in his "History of the Goths" (1658), thus describes the sea-serpent: “All seamen say that there is a sea-serpent two hundred feet long, and twenty feet thick, who comes out at night to devour cattle. It has long, black hair hanging down from its head, and flaming eyes, with sharp scales on its body.” The same writer speaks of a mere "worm" on the coast of Norway, over forty feet long, yet not so thick as the arm of a child. It was not at all vicious, though its skin was poisonous to the touch.
Bishop Pontoppidan, in his "Natural History of Norway," speaking of the “Soe Ormen, the Sea-snake," (Serpens Marinus Magnus), says that in all his inquiries he never found any intelligent person who doubted its existence. "Some of our North traders," says he, “that come here every year with their merchandise, think it a very strange question when they are seriously asked, whether there be any such creature; they think it as ridiculous as if the question was put to them, whether there be such fish as eel or cod.”
Next follows the sworn testimony of Captain Lawrence de Ferry, vouched for by two seafaring men who had been with him, to the following effect:
“The latter end of August, in the year 1746, as I was on a voyage, in my return from Trundheim, in a very calm and hot day, having a mind to put in at Molde, it happened, that when we were arrived with my vessel within six English miles of the aforesaid Molde, being at a place called JuleNæss, as I was reading in a book, I heard a kind of murmuring voice from amongst the men at the oars, who were eight in number, and observed that the man at the helm kept off from the land. Upon this I inquired what was the matter, and was informed that there was a sea-snake before us. I then ordered the man at the helm to keep to the land again, and to come up with this creature, of which I had heard so many stories. Though the fellows were under some apprehensions, they were obliged to obey my orders. In the mean time this sea-snake passed by us, and we were obliged to tack the vessel about in order to get nearer to it. As the snake swam faster than we could row, I took my gun, that was ready charged, and fired at it; on this he immediately plunged under the water. We rowed to the place where it sank down (which in the calm might easily be observed) and lay upon our oars, thinking that it would come up again to the surface; however, it did not. When the snake plunged down, the water appeared thick and red; perhaps some of the shot might wound it, the distance being very little. The head of this snake, which it held more than two feet above the surface of the water, resembled that of a horse. It was of a greyish colour, and the mouth was quite black, and very large. It had black eyes, and a long white mane that hung down from the neck to the surface of the water.
Besides the head and neck, we saw seven or eight folds of coils of this snake, which were very thick, and as far as we could guess, there was about a fathom (six feet) distance between each fold."
Pontoppidan also cites the following from the Rev. Mr. Egede's journal of the Greenland mission:
"On the 6th of July, 1734, there appeared a very large and frightful sea-monster, which raised itself up so high out of the water, that its head reached above our main-top. It had a long, sharp snout, and spouted water like a whale, and very broad paws. The body seemed to be covered with scales, and the skin was uneven and wrinkled, and the lower part was formed like a snake. After some time the creature plunged backwards into the water, and then turned its tail up above the surface a whole ship-length from the head."
So far Egede; now for Pontoppidan's remarks. He concludes, from Egede's pictorial illustration, that there are sea-snakes, like other fish, of different sorts. That which Egede saw, and probably all those who sailed with him, had under its body two flaps, or perhaps two broad fins; the head was longer, and the body thicker, but much shorter than those sea-snakes of which Pontoppidan had received the most consistent accounts. “Though," says the worthy bishop, “one cannot have an opportunity of taking the exact dimensions of this creature, yet all that have seen it are unanimous in affirming, as far as they can judge at a distance, it appears to be the length of a cable, i. e., one hundred fathoms, or six hundred English feet; that it lies on the surface of the water (when it is very calm) in many folds, and that there are in a line with the head, some small parts of the back to be seen above the surface of the water when it moves or bends. These at a distance appear like so many casks or hogsheads floating in a line, with a considerable distance between each of them."
Pontoppidan tells us that he learned from sailors that
the sea-serpent would cast himself in the tracks of vessels, on well-known passages, rising suddenly and seizing one of the terrified crew or passengers as his prey.
Another writer states that the movement of the seaserpent is very rapid, “the Norwegian poets comparing it to the flight of a rapid arrow. When fishermen see it at the surface they row fast, toward the sun, the monster not being able to see them when his head is turned toward that luminary. It is said that he sometimes throws himself into a circle about a ship, and then they find themselves surrounded on all sides. Experience of the sailors has taught them not to row towards the open places left by the folds of his body, for then he will move on and so overturn the bark. It is safer to steer for his head, for it is probable that the animal will plunge in and disappear, above all when one can spread on the deck the essence of musk. So the boats do when they cannot avoid it."
Another tradition avers that on the 6th of June, 1650, a great sea-serpent came out of the sea, during an inundation. It had lived in the rivers Miös and Branz, and crawled into the fields from the banks of the latter. It advanced like the long masts of a ship, overthrowing trees and huts in its progress. Its whistles and cries made all shudder who heard them, and all were rejoiced when it disappeared and died. Many fishermen of Odale were so terrified that they renounced their calling, and did not dare even to walk the beaches. Its head was like a great cask, its body large in proportion.
Sir Walter Scott, in notes to "The Pirate," and speaking of Shetland and Orkney fishermen, says:
"The sea-snake was also known, which, arising out of the depths of the ocean, stretches to the skies his enormous neck, covered with a mane like that of a war-horse,