A Compendious History


Monstrous Fishes

As depicted on the Carta Marina (1539) by Olaus, Magnus, Archbishop of Uppsala

Here Be Serpents


Sea Cows

Olaus Magnus's Carta Marina is the first map of the Nordic countries to give details and place names. The map also includes a number of fantastical sea creatures.

These wondrous sea creatures are identified in the Carta Marina map key. More detailed descriptions of these sea monsters can also be found in Olaus Magnus' 'A Description of the Northern Peoples'. A whole section of this book is given to the 'Monstrous Fishes' of the 'Norway Ocean'. In this section entire chapters are spent describing some of the incredible sea monsters depicted on the Carta Marina.

Carry on reading to discover how Olaus Magnus described each of the frightening sea creatures depicted on his Marine Map of the Northern Lands.

The Zipheus

The Sword-fish is like no other but in something it is like a Whale. He hath as ugly a head as an Owl: His mouth is wondrous deep, as a vast pit, whereby he terrifies and drives away those that look into it. His Eyes are horrible, his Back Wedge-fashion, or elevated like a sword; his Snout is pointed. These often enter upon the Northern Coasts, as Thieves, and hurtful Guests, that are always doing mischief to ships they meet, by boaring holes in them, and sinking them.

The Sea Orm

They who in Works of Navigation, on the Coasts of Norway, employ themselves in fishing or Merchandise, do all agree in this strange story, that there is a Serpent there which is of a vast magnitude, namely 200 foot long, and more - over 20 feet thick; and is wont to live in Rocks and Caves toward the Sea-coast about Berge: which will go alone from his holes in a clear night, in Summer, and devour Calves, Lambs, and Hogs, or else he goes into the Sea to feed on Polypus [octopus], Locusts [lobsters], and all sorts of Sea-Crabs. He hath commonly hair hanging from his neck a Cubit long, and sharp Scales, and is black, and he hath flaming shining eyes. This Snake disquiets the Shippers, and he puts up his head on high like a pillar, and catcheth away men, and he devours them; and this hapneth not, but it signifies some wonderful change of the Kingdom near at hand; namely that the Princes shall die, or be banished; or some Tumultuous Wars shall presently follow.

The Whirlpool, or Prister

THE Whirlpool, or Prister, is of the kind of Whales, two hundred Cubits long, and is very cruel. For to the danger of Sea-men, he will sometimes raise himself beyond the Sail-yards, and casts such floods of Waters above his head, which he had sucked in, that with a Cloud of them, he will often sink the strongest ships, or expose the Marriners to extream danger. This Beast hath also a long and large round mouth, like a Lamprey, whereby he sucks in his meat or water, and by his weight cast upon the Fore or Hinder-Deck, he sinks and drowns a ship. Sometimes, not content to do hurt by water onely, as I said, he will cruelly overthrow the ship like any small Vessel, striking it with his back, or tail. He hath a thick black Skin all his body over, long Fins like to broad feet, and a forked Tail, 15 or 20 foot broad, wherewith he forcibly binds any parts of the ship, he twists it about, a Trumpet of War is the fit remedy against him, by reason of the sharp noise, which he cannot endure: and by casting out huge great Vessels, that hinders this Monsters passage, or for him to play with all: or with strong Canon and Guns, with the sound whereof he is more frighted, than with a Stone or Iron Bullet; because this Ball loseth its force, being hindered by his Fat, or by the Water, or wounds but a little his most vast body, that hath a Rampart of mighty fat to defend it. Also, I must add, that on the Coasts of Norway, most frequently both old and new Monsters are seen, chiefly by reason of the inscruta|ble depth of the Waters. Moreover, in the deep Sea, there are many kinds of fishes, that seldome or never are seen by men.

The Fight of the Whale Against the Orca

A Whale is a very great fish about one hundred or three hundred foot long, and the body is of a vast magnitude; yet the Orca, which is smaller in quantity, but more nimble to assault, and cruel to come on, is his deadly Enemy. An Orca is like, a Hull turned inside outward; a Beast with fierce Teeth, with which, as with the Stern of a Ship, he rends the Whales Guts, and tears his Calves body, or he quickly runs and drives him up and down with his prickly back, that he makes him run to Fords, and Shores. But the Whale that cannot turn its huge body, not knowing how to resist the wily Orca, puts all its hopes in flight; yet that flight is weak, because this sluggish Beast, burdned with its own weight, wants one to guide her, to fly to the Foords to escape the dangers.

The Rosmarus or Norway Morsus

The Norway Coast, toward the more Northern parts, hath huge great Fish as big as Elephants, which are called Morsi, or Rosmari, may be they are so from their sharp biting; for if they see any man on the Sea-shore, and can catch him, they come suddenly upon him, and rend him with their Teeth, that they will kill him in a trice. Therefore, these Fish called Rosmari, or Morsi, have heads fashioned like to an Oxes, and a hairy Skin, and hair growing as thick as straw or corn-reeds, that lye loose very largely. They will raise themselves with their Teeth as by Ladders to the very tops of Rocks, that they may feed on the Dewie Grasse, or fresh Water, and role themselves in it, and then go to the Sea again, unless in the mean while they fast very fast asleep, and rest upon the Rocks, for then Fisher-men make all the haste they can, and begin at the Tail, and part the Skin from the Fat; and into this that is parted, they put most strong Cords, and fasten them on the rugged Rocks, or Trees, that are near; then they throw stones at his head, out of a Sling, to raise him, and they compel him to descend, spoiled, or the greatest part of his Skin which is fastened to the Ropes: he being thereby debilitated, fearful, and half dead, he is made a rich prey, especially for his Teeth, that are very pretious amongst the Scythians, the Moscovites, Russians, and Tartars, (as Ivory amongst the Indians) by reason of its hardness, whiteness, and ponderousnesse. For which cause, by excellent industry of Artificers, they are made fit for handles for Javelins: And this is also testified by Mechovita, an Historian of Poland, in his double Sarmatia, and Paulus Jovius after him, relates it by the Relation of one Demetrius, that was sent from the great Duke of Moscovy, to Pope Clement the 7th.

The Polypus

On the Coasts of Norway there is a Polypus, or Creature with many feet, which hath a pipe on his back, whereby he puts to Sea, and he moves that sometimes to the right side, sometimes to the left. Moreover, with his Legs as it were by hollow places, dispersed here and there, and by his Toothed Nippers, he fastneth on every living Creature that comes near to him, that wants blood. Whatever he eats, he heaps up in the holes where he resides: Then he casts out the Skins, having eaten the flesh, and hunts after fishes that swim to them: Also he casts out the shels, and hard out-sides of Crabs that remain. He changeth his colour by the colour of the stone he sticks unto, especially when he is frighted at the sight of his Enemy, the Conger. He hath 4 great middle feet, and in all 8; a little body, which the great feet make amends for. He hath also some small feet that are shadowed, and can scarce be perceived. By these he sustains, moves, and defends himself, and takes hold of what is from •im: and he lies on his back upon the stones, that he can scarce be gotten off, unlesse you put some stinking smell to him.

The Dog Fish

There is a fish of the kind of Sea-Dog-fish, called Boloma, in Italian, and in Norway, Haafisck, that will set upon a man swimming in the Salt-Waters, so greedily, in Troops, unawares, that he will sink a man to the bottome, not onely by his biting, but also by his weight; and he will eat his more tender parts, as his Nostrils, Fingers, Privities, until such time as the Ray come to reveng these injuries, which runs thorow the Waters armed with her natural fins & with some violence drives away these fish that set upon the drown'd man, and doth what he can to urge him to swim out. And he also keeps the man, until such time as his spirit being quite gone; and after some days, as the Sea naturally purgeth it self, he is cast up. This miserable spectacle is seen on the Coasts of Norway, when men to wash themselves, namely strangers and Marriners, that are ignorant of the dangers, leap out of their ships into the Sea. For these Dog-fish, or Boloma, lie hid under the ships riding at Anchor, as Water-Rams, that they may catch men, their malicious Natures stirring them to it. But the Urinators avoid this danger with sharp stiles tyed by lines; for with these, they kill these Sea-Rams, and Dog-fish: and unlesse they be stricken through with these, they will scarce retreat. So cruel a fight is fought with them under water. For these Creatures covet for a mans privities, and his heel, and all parts that look white. The Skin of this Dog-fish, for the roughnesse of it to polish wood and bones, is of the same nature with a Rays Skin.

The Very Long Worm

Also there is, on the Coasts of Norway, a Worm of a blew and gray colour, that is above 40 Cubits long, yet is hardly so thick as the arm of a child. He goes forward in the Sea like a Line, that he can hardly be perceived how he goes; he hurts no man, unless he be crushed in a mans hand: for by the touch of his most tender Skin, the fingers of one that toucheth him will swell. When he is vexed and tormented by Crabs, be twines himself about hoping to get away, but cannot. For the Crab with his Claws, as with Toothed Pincers, takes so fast hold at him, that he is held as fast, as a ship is by an Anchor. I oft saw this Worm, but touched it not, being fore-warned by the Marriners.

The Sea Cow

THE Sea-Cow is a huge Monster, strong, angry, and injurious; she brings forth a young one like to her self; yet not above two, but one often, which she loves very much, and leads it about carefully with her, whither soever she swims to Sea, or goes on Land. She is great ten moneths. Lastly, this Creature is known to have lived 130 years, by cutting off her Tail.

This copy of the 'Carta Marina' is owned by the John Carter Brown Library.

You can learn more about how this scrollytelling map of the Carta Marina was made by visiting Maps Mania.