Map Monsters: The Sea Pig!

Sea Pig, © 2015 Liz Vitale

Going back to at least the first century with Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, there was a theory that every land animal has an counterpart in the sea. It was believed that there were sea dogs, sea lions, sea pigs, etc. Some of these are now the names of real animals—sea lions are the “eared” seals and sea pigs are many-legged deep water sea cucumbers. The medieval imaginings,however, were the literal hybrid of the known land animal with a fish. Here is the medieval sea pig,which was compared to heretics that distorted truth and lived like swine, lived in the North Sea on Olaus Magnus’s 1539 Carta Marina, a lushly illustrated map that inspired many after it. Olaus Magnus called it “The Monstrous Hog of the German Ocean,” and that it had “a Hog’s head, and a quarter of a Circle, like the Moon, in the hinder part of its head, four feet like a Dragon’s, two eyes on both sides in his Loyns, and a third in his belly, inclining towards his Navel; behind he had a forked Tail, like to other Fish commonly.”

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