Imagine my surprise when I learned from an AP story picked up by Yahoo! News that the giant squid shows up in Greek Mythology:
Giant squid have long attracted human
fascination, appearing in myths of the ancient Greeks, as well as Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
What were these myths of the ancient Greeks that elevated the humble calamari, a delectable appetizer but not a monster, into the ranks of legend?
According to Richard Ellis in The Search for the Giant Squid, (a Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year), the monster from Homer's Odyssey, Scylla, qualifies as the first giant squid of Western literature. Here is the Odyssey as quoted by Ellis:
Her legs-- and there are twelve--
are like great tentacles,unjointed,
and upon her serpent necks are born
six heads like nightmares of ferocity
and triple-serried rows of fangs and deep
gullets of black death. Half her length
she sways her heads in the air,
outside her horrid cleft,
hunting the sea outside that promontory
for dolphins, dogfish, or what bigger game...
Tentacles? Not in my Greek. This translation (from Richmond Lattimore) is much more accurate:
She has twelve feet, and all of them wave in the air. She has six
necks upon her, grown to great length, and upon each neck
there is a horrible head, with teeth in it, set in three rows
close together and stiff, full of black death. Her body
from the waist down is holed up inside the hollow cavern,
but she holds her heads poked out and away from the terrible hollow,
and there she fishes, peering all over the cliffside, looking
for dolphins or dogfish to catch or anything bigger...
This monster is not a squid. It is a monster. What did Homer mean by the twelve feet which wave in the air? If they "wave," they don't wave in a very large arc, because they are inside the cave: "from the waist down" Scylla is "holed up inside the hollow cavern". Stanley Lombardo, another excellent translator, calls them "gangly legs", which makes more sense if they are confined in a hollow.
In any case, they are not tentacles. It's the necks which extend and catch prey, with their teeth-filled heads on the end of them.
Nor is this a sea-creature. It lives inside a cliff, in the open air.
Further detail is provided later, as the hero Odysseus describes how his men are caught by Scylla (Lattimore again):
but meanwhile Skylla out of the hollow vessel snatched six
of my companions, the best of them for strength and hands' work...
And as a fisherman with a very long rod, on a jutting
rock, will cast his treacherous bait for the little fishes,
and sinks the horn of a field-ranging ox into the water,
then hauls them up and throws them on the dry land, gasping
and struggling, so they gasped and struggled as they were hoisted
up the cliff...
The Hydra, a swamp snake, which Heracles defeats, also has multiple heads.
If the Greeks had wanted to imagine a giant squid, they could have done so with no trouble. Squid has been caught and eaten in Greece for thousands of years.
Another source for Scylla as the giant squid, from 1941.
Photo with recipe here!