Maps from the Medieval and Renaissance eras are rife with strange, mythological sea creatures. During this time period, of course, these creatures were not considered myths. European sailors really did fear that dangerous beasts patrolled the oceans, ready to attack their ships and send them down to the briny deep. Cartographers peppered these creatures across their maps, warning would-be explorers against the perils that awaited them, or perhaps just adding some much-needed flair to an otherwise boring expanse of ocean.
Here is just one example of such a map from the Renaissance. The Atlantic Ocean here is practically bursting with vicious sea creatures:
The monsters in the above map, from 1539, were possibly intended to discourage travelers from entering Scandinavian waters. The beasts are identified and described in Latin. Some of them are actually real; the “ballena” in the lower left is a whale. But the odd creature in the lower middle named Ziphius, which looks like a whale with a bird-face, is quite fake.
Although these sea monsters have disappeared from the maps, they have not disappeared completely from our imaginations. One map-loving artist in Toronto, Bailey Henderson, used these mythological creatures as inspiration for a series of beautifully grotesque sculptures.
Below are just a few of her creations. The first is our good old friend the Ziphius. Following that is the cockatrice, which is like a rooster with a very long tail that can breathe fire. Finally, Henderson created a pinniped, which is like a cross between a dog, a seal, and a pig. Pretty creepy stuff that I would hate to encounter on the open sea, but fun to look at from the comfort of my living room.
For more on Henderson’s creations, go here: http://hifructose.com/2015/01/29/bailey-henderson-sculpts-mythological-sea-monsters-from-medieval-maps/