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    Leviathan’s in the Mediterranean


    Whales have been following the currents of the ocean for thousands of years like clockwork knowing and teaching the paths to generations to come. In some cultures, like the northern arctic Inuit in Canada, Russia, and Iceland, whales became a staple source of food and even shelter. However, for the people of the Mediterranean whales were mythical beasts of the ocean rumored to have great power and great mystery. Some larger than the biggest ships and capable of sending entire crews to their deaths, whales played a very different role in Mediterranean culture. In the early history of the city of Athens the word ketos is used to describe large sea creatures and ‘monsters’, whales fell into this category of terminology. Eventually ketos became cetacean, which is the contemporary scientific term for both whale and dolphin. For many Mediterranean’s whales were seen as leviathans, which is a biblical creature in the old testament that is associated with evil, and the wrath and omnipotence of God. The leviathan was so feared because of its existence in the earthly realm compared to heavenly or hellish creatures. The ocean is its domain and it attacks at random. One whale caused so much havoc off of the shore of Troy that it was given a name, Porphiyos. Porphiyos for nearly fifty years would destroy ships, and scare away herds of fish. Eventually Porphiyos ran aground and the locals saw their chance to exact their revenge. The people of the town dragged Porphiyos to shore and bludgeoned him to death and cut him to pieces. Contemporary scholars believe that the whale was a Sperm whale roughly 45ft long and 15ft wide. Whales were rare in the Mediterranean, but not so rare that they were unknown to many people. Archaeologists have found several different artifacts that prove whalebones were used for things such as cutting boards, leatherworking and scrimshaw. Most exposure that the people had to whales was accidental. Most commonly people would find them beached or washed up onto shore, but sometimes fisherman would unknowingly spear a smaller whale, though whales were never actively hunted. Whales were often represented in art as huge beasts destroying ships, or represented as the mythical creature Andromeda that terrorized a town demanding virgin sacrifices. In the arctic regions of Russia, Alaska, Iceland, and Canada, whales were extremely common and served a multitude of purposes. Whales were a source of food, heating, building materials, and other tools. When a wale was killed its entire body was used for the village. Its meat was of course served as food, its blubber used as oil for lamps, and even its bones were used as rafters for partially subterranean homes. Very different from the people of the Mediterranean, the Inuit had a healthy respect for the strength and abilities of these animals, but they were anything but leviathans of the sea. Mythology often times shows similarities between cultures that are separated by mountains and seas, but this is a great instance of how things are very different. Creatures like Whales can hold such drastically different meanings to so many cultures. This is just an example of how one culture can find something to be an evil creature that is the incarnation of God’s wrath and omnipotence to one culture, and to another a swimming warehouse of valuable goods that can support a village. Myths not only influence our history, but also our fears, hopes, and understanding.