Story: Octopus and squid

Historical account of a giant squid

Historical account of a giant squid

The first scientific description of a giant squid was in the 19th century, but for hundreds of years there were stories of great, many-armed beasts that rose out of the ocean to capsize ships. In this mid-16th-century account by the Archbishop of Uppsala, Olaus Magnus, it is possible that his description (translated below from the Latin) of a large-headed animal with globular eyes and root-like tendrils is of a giant squid:

‘Their forms are horrible, their heads square, all set with prickles, and surrounded by long sharp horns like the roots of an upturned tree: these heads are ten or twelve cubits long, very black, with huge globular eyes which are at least 8 to 10 cubits [360 to 450 centimetres] in circumference: the pupil one cubit in diameter, and is red and fiery colored, which in the dark night appears to far-off fishermen as a burning fire amongst the waves: It ‘has hairs like goose feathers, thick and long, like a beard hanging down; the rest of the body, compared to the greatness of the head (which is square) is very small, not being above 14 or 15 cubits [630 or 675 centimetres] long. One of these sea-monsters will easily capsize or sink many great ships provided with the strongest sailors.’

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Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Reference: Olaus Magnus, Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, Romae, 1555. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1972 (originally published 1555), p. 734

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How to cite this page:

Maggy Wassilieff and Steve O’Shea, 'Octopus and squid - Feeding and predation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/document/7922/historical-account-of-a-giant-squid (accessed 18 July 2019)

Story by Maggy Wassilieff and Steve O’Shea, published 12 Jun 2006