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Monday, 14 July 2014

Roman and Byzantine- Age Sea Monsters

Peter Costello drew attention to this mosaic in In Search Of Lake Monsters and surmised that it represented the same kind of Longnecked Sea-serpent that witnesses continued seeing and which were the basis for many reports of Lake Monsters worldwide.He noted that it could not be a reconstruction of a fossil animal because it contained features which occurred in the reports and which could not possibly be inferred from fossils. Later critical response included the assertion that it and the similar depictions below must have been made to account for fossils. Fossils do not indicate ears or horns, manes or humps on the back (often called "Coils" and thought of as being a long body thrown up into twists and turns)

It was also asserted that these creatures do not have rear fins and they have an imaginary kind of triple tail sometimes later seen in depictions of dragons. On the contrary this triple tail could easily be meant to include a representation of the rear flippers and the fact that they are sometimes shown as adjacent to a reptilian cloaca proves that they do not really belong at the end of the tail. The cloaca would instead represent the base of the tail.
(I have pointed this out to both Tyler Stone and Jay Cooney)

Illustrations of "Cetus" (Ketos in Greek) from 1st-2nd Century mosaics at Rome. The "Cetus" (Now used to mean "Whale" but it is evidently an even older IndoEuropean root meaning "a Disturbance or a Shaking",ie, "That which disturbs the waters from below"). The Greek story of Perseus had him rescuing a Phoenician princess from a Cetus (Ketos), and it is the name of one of the constellations as a result. The constellation is traditionally represented as a long-necked sea monster.

Be cause of the ambiguity of the term, many early Christians had the mistaken notion that Jonah had been swallowed by a Cetus (later "a Whale") and that representation became regular for many years before it fell out of fashion. The original text nowhere specifies what kind of a sea creature swallowed Jonah. It is a mistaken notion because almost certainly, Longnecks are not equipped to be able to really swallow people. However you do get many interesting repeated views of a Longnecked animal in Periscope position showing its foreflippers while it was considered the proper thing.

Kykkos, Cyprus, Byzantine Sea Monster . There are also several parallel examples of the same kinds odf sea monsters continuing on into the Byzantine Empire which folloed after Rome. Once again the depictions indicate such things as ears or horns, manes, and humps on the back, that occur in sightings but which could not be guessed from fossils. The flippers are usually shown as winglike fins. At this time the alternate name of "Pistrix" (="Pisces, Fish") was used instead of the older  "Cetus" ("Whale"). And the same creature carried over into medieval bestiaries. One type of these sea animals was commonly called a "Hippocampus" or "Water Horse" but the larger category did not necessarily all fall into that subgroup. the following Bestiary page uses the label "Pisces"


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