When did the squids start to live?

Disgust, lust and other abysses

Myth or Truth? Horrible tales of octopus. A case for writers and psychologists

We feel connected to life that is based on bones and feel disgust towards other forms of life. ”What the Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser (1920–1991) explains in the foreword of his book“ Vampyroteuthis infernalis ”in 1987 makes the octopus, squid and squid with it Most disgusting on the human scale. Squids belong to the molluscs and are phylogenetically, that is, in the phylogenetic development, as far removed from humans as the equally disgusting worms. He is a "slimy, soft and slow being", he "stares at us with his hate-filled, human-like eyes, while his pneumatic skin changes from gray to purple and blue, his suction organs open and close, jets of water gush out of his mouth", writes Vilém Flusser.

The fables in which squids are used as repulsive beasts and monsters run through the entire history of literature. Starting with Homer's adventure hero Odysseus, who had to watch as six of his bravest friends were frantically fidgeted by the bloodthirsty, twelve-footed and six-headed monster Scylla, to the contemporary novel "Beast" by Peter Benchley, the sequel to the horror classic "The Jaws" .

In the Middle Ages it is the first systematic natural histories of the seafaring bishops - such as Olaus Magnus from Uppsala in 1555 and Erik Pontopiddan at the beginning of the 18th century - who tell of a swimming monster. The "deceptive octopus" that the latter claims to have sighted is as big "as an island washed by drifting seaweed, the back alone 1.5 English nautical miles with many horns like the masts of medium-sized ships". With its innumerable tentacles, it can easily pull even the largest ships into the depths. Such descriptions caused horror among the rural residents, albeit in the service of the church: an octopus is said - according to the legend of the Dane Bartholinus - only to go into hiding when the mass on his back had been finished.

The story of the sea octopus sinking on a ship also became the model for Jules Verne's famous novel "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". “And wasn't his head crowned by eight tentacles that move on the water like a snake's nest?” The servant Conseil asks Professor Aronnax on board the “Nautilus”. “Exactly.” “And weren't his eyes quite large just above his head?” “Yes, Conseil.” “And was his mouth not like a parrot's beak, but a very large one?” “Indeed, Conseil.” “Eh bien ! May my lord look out of the window: If this is not Captain Bouguer's squid, it is at least one of his brothers. ”Captain Nemo and the crew of the“ Nautilus ”had every effort to avoid this“ freak of nature ”, this“ Mollusc with a bird's beak ”and its tentacles with ax blows.

For his novel, Jules Verne uses the knowledge of the 19th century and especially the event that happened on board the sailing ship “Alceton”. The ship had hunted a giant octopus in 1861, shot it with cannons and at least caught a piece of a tentacle. The captain Bouguer wrote a report for the Academy of Sciences and with it finally brought the scientific proof of the existence of this monster.

The myth of the giant squid, taken up in the Romantic era by Jules Verne, Herman Melville and others, is not confirmed by the research expeditions of the late 19th century. The American author Richard Ellis gives a detailed analysis of the well-known legends and sagas in his book "Sea Monsters". "Architeuthis, the giant squid, is the ultimate sea monster and is believed to be responsible for more horror tales and myths than any other sea creature." The author lists around 140 historical sightings of the giant squid Architeuthis on water and on land. Interestingly, since the book was first published in 1994, despite the greatest scientific efforts with submersibles, bait and even camera-equipped whales, there has still been no live observation. So still a challenge for the cryptozoologists, those scientists who have made the research of undiscovered animals such as the sea monster from "Loch Ness" or the giant squid their task.

While the legends already described mostly dealt with the really existing giant squid named Architeuthis, there are also numerous mythical stories about the octopus or octopus that live on the coasts. The size of the octopus - the species Octopus dofleini that lives in the North Pacific reaches spans of nine meters and a weight of 250 kilograms - is not so much in the foreground as the danger to body and soul from the eight-armed, suckers-holding and devouring Monster.

With the naturalistic reports of Pliny and Aristotle, antiquity already had a very precise knowledge of the biology of the octopus. The animal was considered a symbol of love and initially evidently caused neither horror nor disgust. Squids can be found as an ornamental sea motif on numerous coins, vases and in pottery from Knossos, Mycenae and Cyprus. His dexterity was particularly valued and interpreted as prudence and sagacity, even as strength of soul. On the other hand, the first sagas were spun about the cruel octopus migrating into the depths of the sea. The six-headed, voracious monster Scylla in Homer and the snake-shaped, hairy head of the Gorgon refer more to mythical creatures from the realm of the imagination, but the octopus was certainly a stimulus for this.

Christianity was uneasy about the gift of cunning and deception. The octopus, which deceives its prey by camouflage, ultimately embodies the devil himself or the sinful woman, because he does not let the careless person recognize the fate. The octopus becomes a symbol for the tempter, traitor, liar and curmudgeon, who particularly likes to hoard treasures that he has extorted from his victims. The latter metaphor has persisted to this day.

An imposing prosaic adaptation of the octopus myth comes from Victor Hugo. His novel “The Workers of the Sea”, published in 1866, is about the hero Gilliat's almost futile fight with a terrible octopus. Gilliat, who crouches lonely on a rock after a shipwreck and has to go into the water to fetch mussels where the monster lives, suffers terrible visions from his aquatic adversary. “Something wobbly that has a will, what could be more horrific! Slime permeated with hatred ”, Hugo describes the monster in the depths. The octopus' most terrifying weapon are its tentacles: “A claw is nothing against a suction cup. An animal digs into our flesh with its claw; through the suction cup we pass into the animal ourselves. ”The victim is“ tapped into by innumerable mean mouths ”and slurped out of the living body. Hugo's metaphysical novel was hugely successful - it was published fifteen times in the first year - and the octopus became fashionable: from octopus hats to banquet delicacies.

The meat of the octopus has been considered aphrodisiac since the Greeks. And a living being that can embrace with so many arms and suck with so many mouths had to become a symbol of love.

In distant Japan, the Kraken's imagined lustfulness served as a motif for a famous woodcut by Hokusai. Between the thighs of a prostrate woman, the octopus hangs greedily on the sex of this undoubtedly ecstatic and ecstatic prey. Fainted with pleasure, the partners give themselves to the touch in so many places at the same time. “My wishes will finally come true, day of the day, finally I have taken hold of you. Your body is ripe and full, how wonderful. Suck, suck and suck again. After our masterpiece, I'll take you to the dragon palace of the sea god and cling to you forever, "says the octopus to the girl in the accompanying poem. The entangled pearl diver, who confesses in another, linguistically even more direct stanza, to have been the octopus for the men so far, cannot help but overwhelm the many sucking tentacles.

This is an excerpt from the text. You can read the whole article in mare No. 9. Subscribers can also read it here in the mare archive.