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Was the Kraken a Sea Monster From Greek Mythology?

A Kraken attacking a ship
The Kraken, as seen by the eye of imagination, 1887. Credit: Edgar Etherington, Public Domain

The Kraken is one of the most famous sea monsters around, and it is usually associated with Greek mythology. This association comes from the fact that it features in the classic Clash of the Titans movie from 1981, as well as the remake from 2010. However, was the Kraken really a sea monster from Greek mythology?

The Kraken in Clash of the Titans

In the 1981 Clash of the Titans, the Kraken appears at the end of the movie. It is the final monster that Perseus, the main character, needs to defeat. Zeus orders Poseidon to release the Kraken, referred to as the last of the Titans. He does this because King Acrisius of Argos has greatly offended him. Therefore, he sends the Kraken to destroy Argos.

At the end of the movie, the Kraken attacks the town of Joppa in Israel. Princess Andromeda (whom Perseus is betrothed to marry) is tied to a rock as a sacrifice to the monster. Perseus arrives just in time. He has recently killed Medusa, the creature who can turn anyone she looks at into stone.

By using Medusa’s head, Perseus turns the Kraken into stone. It crumbles into the sea, defeated.

The 2010 Clash of the Titans film features a similar plot. Because of these movies, lots of people today think that the Kraken really was a sea monster from Greek mythology. It also features in the card game Magic: The Gathering in the Theros set from 2013.

The Real Origin of the Kraken

In reality, the Kraken does not come from Greek mythology. It actually comes from Scandinavian folklore. This corpus of myths and legends is much more recent than Greek mythology, and the earliest references to the Kraken itself are especially recent. It was first mentioned in about 1700.

The references from that time and afterwards usually describe it as a sea creature with many arms. For that reason, researchers in the past identified it with either the octopus or a giant squid. Now, it is widely accepted that it came from exaggerated accounts of the giant squid.

Giant squids are very elusive creatures. However, scientists now know that they do inhabit the seas near Scandinavia. Therefore, it is logical that this could be the origin of the Kraken of Scandinavian mythology.

The Real Equivalent to the Kraken in Greek Mythology

However, that does not mean that the Kraken in the Clash of the Titans film (and its remake) does not have any basis in Greek mythology. In fact, the creators of that film simply took an existing sea monster from the story of Perseus and swapped it for the Kraken.

In the original Greek myth of Perseus, there is a sea monster that is released by the gods to wreak havoc on a coastal area. The sea monster in question is Cetus. This was actually the name of a type of sea monster, rather than an individual creature. Rather than a squid or octopus-type creature like the Kraken, this monster from Greek mythology was usually depicted as a giant whale or serpentine fish.

It also did not attack Argos or Joppa. Rather, this Cetus attacks the coast of Ethiopia. But in both the original myth and the film, Andromeda is chained to a rock as a sacrifice, due to the belief that this is the only way to satisfy the monster. Perseus comes across her – rather than being betrothed to marry her like in the film – and heroically saves her.

There are different versions of how Perseus defeats the Cetus. One version involves him stabbing it in the back with his sword. However, another version has him turning it to stone with Medusa’s head, just like in the film.

Presumably, the creators of Clash of the Titans swapped the Cetus for the Kraken because they thought it was more impressive. But in doing so, they have influenced the way an entire generation views the Kraken.

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