15 Kraken Facts and Myths to Unleash In Conversation

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istock

There once was a time when uttering the name Kraken sent chills down a mariner’s spine. The legendary beast was known for dragging whole ships down into the watery depths of Davy Jones’s Locker. Today we see the monster largely as fiction, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have ties to reality. 

1. It comes from Norwegian folklore. 

According to 13th century Norse legend, hero Örvar-Oddr and his son came into contact with two threatening creatures from the deep. One of these encounters is later described in detail by Konungs skuggsjá, a Norwegian educational text written in the same century. Kraken comes from the Norwegian word krake, which is probably related to the German krake, which means octopus. 

2. The Kraken was originally more crab-like. 

While many modern depictions show the Kraken as a giant squid, earlier accounts of the beast described it as having spindly appendages like a crab’s. 

3. It’s far, far larger than your boat. 

Accounts disagree on exactly how big the Kraken really is, but one thing is certain: It’s huge. Descriptions go from vague (the length of 10 ships) to more specific (a mile and a half long). Some stories say that unlucky sailors would mistake the beast for an island and try to land on it. These foolish sea-goers would then be dragged down into the ocean. 

4. You know it’s coming when you see fish rise to the surface.

If sailors saw gurgling bubbles, surfacing fish, or a plethora of jellyfish, they knew something was up down below. While fleeing sea-life always preceded the Kraken’s approach, their appearance unfortunately didn’t give sailors enough time to get out of the way. The monster’s great size and many tentacles make it a difficult predator to evade. 

5. Kraken feces works as fish bait. 

Bishop Erik Pontoppidan wrote extensively about the Kraken in his 1750s book The Natural History of Norway. In it, he proposed that this great beast ate a great deal of fish, and therefore his waste must also be fairly fishy. This muddy concoction was allegedly so delicious smelling to other fish that they would come and congregate around it. The Kraken could then pounce on its meal and produce more bait, continuing the cycle.

6. Some of the best minds in history have tried to disprove the myth.

In 1848, the frigate Daedalus encountered a sea monster that the sailors estimated to be at least 60 feet long, which caused a sensation. Sir Richard Owen, the man who invented the word 'dinosaur,' argued that they saw a seal, which led to a longstanding argument between Owen and the captain of the Daedalus, who pointed out that they knew full well what a seal looked like. There were similar observations in 1845 that Owen similarly dismissed—until 1873, when a fisherman caught a giant squid.

7. Carl Von Linné listed the Kraken as a real creature in Systema Naturae. 

Zoologist Carl Von Linné (also known as Linnaeus) was a respected scientist who is considered the father of biological systematics. In Systema Naturae (1735), he describes the Kraken as an actual organism. 

8. It might have a natural explanation.

There is no solid evidence of mile-long monsters swimming in our oceans, but we do have giant squids. These deep-sea dwellers can weigh anywhere from 300 to 600 pounds. But, as these immense creatures are not likely to surface, it’s more likely that ancient sailors confused something else in the water for Krakens: Bubbles, dangerous currents, and the appearance of new land are all signs of underwater volcanic activity, something common in Iceland. 

9. There may have actually been a Kraken. 

Ichthyosaur bones have been discovered in patterns similar to the way that octopuses place the bones of their meals. Even more interestingly, one discovered ribcage shows signs of constriction, as if a large tentacle was wrapped around it. Ichthyosaurs were pretty hefty creatures (some were as long 30 feet), so it would take a very large cephalopod to catch and eat it. 

10. One prominent French zoologist insisted the Kraken was real. 

Zoologist Pierre Denys de Montfort was studying giant cephalopods in the 1700s after hearing accounts from captains of giant tentacles being discovered. He cited old pieces of artwork and ship disappearances as evidence of these beasts.  After 10 ships went missing in 1782, de Montfort made the bold assumption that the Kraken was to blame. The boats were truthfully lost in a hurricane and his reputation was ruined.

11. The Kraken lays low. 

Legend says that the sea monster enjoys solitude and resides deep on the ocean floor. It uses its tentacles to stay tethered to the bottom and hunts for food. The beast will only surface in warm weather—or when disrupted. 

12. The Kraken has no magic powers. 

Despite being a mythical creature, the Kraken doesn’t boast any supernatural abilities. The fearsome nature of the Kraken is its sheer size; sailors do not have to worry about it flying out of the water or putting a curse on them. Some modern-day cartoons suggest that if you defeat the Kraken, it will grant you a wish, but that deviates from Norwegian folklore.

13. Sailors had to worry about not only the Kraken itself, but also what it left in its wake. 

Because of its sheer size, the Kraken is believed to conjure a whirlpool when diving back into the ocean. The watery suction drags ships to the depths of the sea. 

14. Some legends suggest there’s more than one Kraken. 

Many tales talk of the Kraken, but sometimes there are stories that mention multiple giant cephalopods. This would make the waters particularly hazardous for those sailing over deep waters. 

15.  The Kraken has a big pop culture presence. 

For a mythical creature, the giant squid gets a lot of attention. From the 13th century to modern times, you can find the monster in poems, novels, television shows, video games, and movies. A number of products and companies also borrow the moniker. 

11 Facts About Eleanor of Aquitaine

A drawing of what Eleanor of Aquitaine might have looked like circa 1150
A drawing of what Eleanor of Aquitaine might have looked like circa 1150
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Eleanor of Aquitaine was among the most powerful women of the 12th century. She controlled an extensive estate, became Queen of France and then England, and gave birth to one of England's most famed rulers, Richard the Lionheart. While her biography is now tangled up with myths and legends—even her date and place of birth are difficult to pin down—much of her legacy and influence survives. Here are 11 facts about Eleanor of Aquitaine.

1. Young Eleanor of Aquitaine was Europe’s most eligible bachelorette.

Born around 1122 or 1124 possibly in today’s southern France, Eleanor was named for her mother, the Duchess Aénor de Châtellerault. She was the eldest of three children. Her father—William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou—presided over one of the biggest holdings of land in France. It’s thought that from an early age she was educated in Latin, philosophy, and horseback riding. And when her younger brother died in 1130, Eleanor became the heir to a formidable amount of land and power.

When William X died in 1137 while on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the teenaged Eleanor suddenly became the Duchess of Aquitaine, a woman of major wealth—and a very eligible match. There was little time for her to mourn. As soon as news of her father’s death reached France, her marriage to Louis VII, son of the King of France, was arranged. The king dispatched 500 men to transport Eleanor to Paris for the wedding. Not long after their summer ceremony, the king fell ill and then died. By the end of the year his son was on the throne, and Eleanor was crowned Queen of France.

2. Her beauty was celebrated, but her appearance is a mystery.

It’s not hard to find contemporary accounts of Eleanor’s good looks. The French medieval poet Bernard de Ventadour declared her "gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm," while Matthew Paris remarked on her "admirable beauty." Curiously, though, in all these celebrations of her fine features, not one person wrote down what she actually looked like. Her hair color, eye color, height, and face all remain a mystery. No art that has been definitively linked to her survives other than the effigy on her tomb—and the degree to which that resembles Eleanor's looks is unclear.

3. She didn't stay home during the Crusades.

When Louis VII answered the pope’s call for a Second Crusade to defend Jerusalem against the Muslims, Eleanor did not stay behind in France. Between 1147 and 1149, she traveled with her husband's party to Constantinople and then Jerusalem. (According to legend, she took along 300 ladies-in-waiting dressed as Amazons—but those tales have been debunked.)

Unfortunately, this was no romantic adventure for the royal couple. Louis and his headstrong queen were mismatched, and the strain between them culminated at the court of her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers at Antioch. Rumors of an incestuous infidelity between Eleanor of Aquitaine and her uncle, whose luxurious court thrilled her with its charms, darkened her reputation. She also made waves with her defiant support of her uncle’s plans for the crusade; he advised attacking Aleppo, while Louis preferred to continue to Jerusalem. Soon, Louis would force Eleanor to continue with him.

Ultimately, the Second Crusade was a debacle, culminating with the disastrous Siege of Damascus in 1148, which ended in a Muslim victory. Louis VII and the crusader army were sent home packing.

4. Her first marriage was annulled.

The royal marriage didn’t last much longer, its tensions furthered by the fact that Eleanor had yet to give birth to a male heir. The marriage was finally annulled in 1152. (The pair were granted the annulment on the grounds of consanguinity—the fact that they were technically related.) Eleanor kept her lands and was single again, but not for long. In May of that same year, she married Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. Two years later they were crowned the King and Queen of England.

5. She was a powerful Queen of England.

Eleanor was no less strong-willed as the Queen of England than she had been as the Queen of France. She refused to stay home and idle away her hours. She traveled extensively to protect the kingdom that was then being consolidated by Henry, giving the monarchy a presence across its newly united cultures. When her husband was away, she helped direct government and ecclesiastical affairs. And in contrast to her listless marriage to Louis VII—with whom she had two daughters—she secured her position by having eight children, including five sons and three daughters.

6. She had a historically bad break-up.

However, relations between Eleanor and Henry soured after years of his open adultery and frequent absences. They separated in 1167, and she moved to her lands in Poitiers. The distance didn’t change her opinion of Henry; when their sons revolted against him in 1173, she didn't waver in choosing sides, backing her children over her husband. When the revolt failed, it had catastrophic consequences for her freedom, with Henry making her his prisoner.

7. She spent over a decade under house arrest.

After supporting her sons in their revolt, Eleanor was captured while attempting to find safety in France. She spent between 15 and 16 years under house arrest in various English castles, and was almost entirely absent from the country's activity (although there were rumors that she had a hand in the death of Rosamund, King Henry's beloved mistress). On special occasions like Christmas, Henry would allow her to show her face, but otherwise she was kept invisible and powerless. Only in 1189, when Henry died, was she fully freed.

8. She was most powerful as a widow.

Her son Richard, who became king following Henry's death, was the one who freed his mother. After her years of house arrest, she did not come out ready for retirement. Instead, she threw herself into preparing for the coronation of her son, who would be known as Richard the Lionheart. Before he was crowned King of England, she journeyed all over his future kingdom to forge alliances and foster goodwill. When Richard set out on the Third Crusade, Eleanor took charge as regent, fending off her power-hungry son John. She even paid Richard's ransom when he was imprisoned by the duke of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor, traveling there herself to bring him home to England.

Richard then died in 1199, leaving John to become king. Eleanor, then in her seventies, kept at her commitment to the kingdom’s stability, including going to Spain to arrange a pivotal marriage for her granddaughter Blanche of Castile to the heir to the French throne. She also gave John crucial support against a rebellion led by her grandson Arthur.

9. A vase she owned still survives.

A vase that once belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine
A vase that once belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine
tnchanse ~ Tom Hansen, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (cropped)

Out of all the tokens of wealth and royalty that touched her life, only one artifact that once belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine survives. She received an elegant rock crystal vessel from her grandfather William IX Duke of Aquitaine, who had likely been given it by the ruler of Imad al-dawla of Saragossa. In 1137, she gave it as a wedding gift to her future husband, Louis VII. The king’s advisor Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis then convinced Louis VII to add it to his abbey’s treasury (thus keeping it in French royal possession after their brief marriage). Now visitors to the Louvre in Paris can view the rare object, where, despite its series of owners, it’s still known as the “Eleanor” vase.

10. She has an extensive legacy in pop culture.

Eleanor of Aquitaine has hardly faded from the public eye. Alternately depicted as a temptress, warrior, protective mother, and powerful queen, interpretations of Eleanor reflect how her history has been retold over time. In Shakespeare's 16th-century The Life and Death of King John, she is an aged but sharp and sometimes sultry force. She recurs in screen versions of Robin Hood (2010) and the Ivanhoe series. Katharine Hepburn bristled with fiery energy in the role of Eleanor in the 1968 film The Lion in Winter, based on the play by James Goldman. She even has a seat at a major work of feminist art—there's a place set for her in Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, now at the Brooklyn Museum.

11. Her bones are gone, but her tomb survives.

Tombs of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England in the church at Fontevraud Abbey
Tombs of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England in the church at Fontevraud Abbey
Martin Cooper, Flickr // CC BY-2.0 (cropped)

Having outlived all of her husbands and most of her children, Eleanor ended her days at Fontevraud Abbey in France. She died there in 1204 in her eighties. Remarkably, her 13th-century effigy tomb survives, depicting Eleanor reclining on a bed, a crown upon her head and a devotional book in her hands. She seems to be studiously ignoring the effigies of her husband Henry II and son Richard the Lionheart on either side of her.

Her bones were once interred in the abbey's crypt. But like many of the country’s churches during the French Revolution, the abbey was deconsecrated. The crypt's bones were exhumed, dispersed, and never recovered.

11 Gifts for the Hygge Enthusiast

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iStock

Hygge is still having a moment. In October 2017, the Danish term—which is used to convey a kind of warm coziness, and has no English equivalent—was one of Dictionary.com’s top 10 most searched words. But it’s a lifestyle that’s best understood when experienced firsthand. To help that special peace-seeking someone in your life find the ultimate level of relaxation, might we suggest one of these goodies?

1. The Little Book Of Hygge: Danish Secrets T0 Happy Living

The first rule of hygge is to learn everything you can about hygge—like how it’s pronounced for starters (it’s hoo-ga). That’s just one of the gems serenity-seekers will find in The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, which offers a history of the philosophy and tons of tips for how to easily integrate the concept into your life. Plus, it’s written by Meik Wiking, CEO of Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute, so a brighter mood is practically guaranteed.

Find It at Amazon for $14 and also at these other retailers:

2. Electric Fireplace

wall-mounted fireplace
Amazon

Whether reading a book or chatting with friends, there are few snugger places to do so in the wintertime than in front of a flickering fireplace. But if your giftee isn't lucky enough to have a home with a fireplace, there’s a simple workaround: They can mount an electric one to the wall, just as they would a plasma TV. They’re sleek, smokeless, and add instant ambiance.

Find It at Amazon for $250.

3. French Vanilla Yankee Candle

A fireplace isn’t the only thing that flickers in a hygge-happy home: Candles are a simple way to dazzle the eyes and indulge olfactory senses. While a handful of tea lights are a quick and inexpensive way to create the effect, a richly scented candle—in a natural flavor like vanilla or cinnamon stick—can take anyone's cozy quarters to the next level.

Find It at these retailers:

4. EDDIE BAUER QUEST FLEECE THROW; $55

With or without a fire to keep them warm, your loved one is also going to want a blanket—and a soft and cozy one at that. Eddie Bauer’s fleece blanket is lightweight, so easy to carry from room to room or on the go. And its bold buffalo check style screams comfort.

Find It at Amazon for $36.

5. Faux Fur Blanket

If your giftee is partial to more natural design schemes and materials, a faux fur blanket is the perfect way to bring a bit of the outdoors inside—and keep extra warm all at once. West Elm carries a full line of different styles and colors to satisfy even the pickiest faux fur-lover.

Find It at West Elm for $50 and up.

6. Acorn Slipper Sock

Slippers or socks? The ACORN Slipper Sock offers the best of both worlds. It’s essentially a big, warm, woolly sock with serious traction. Perfect for both lounging on the couch and padding into the kitchen to get a refill on that hot chocolate.

Find It at Amazon for $30 and up and also at these other retailers:

7. Glerups Open Heel Slippers

If your favorite hygge enthusiast's quiet contemplation tends to attract a few interruptions—like taking the dog for a walk—these rubber-soled Glerups slippers are tough enough to handle the outside elements, while keeping feet warm.

Find It at Amazon for $130 and up.

8. WISSOTZKY Tea Magic Tea Chest

A hot cup of something is an essential part of any hygge environment. While coffee and cocoa are all well and good (and delicious), a cup of tea can offer additional healing properties. To find out just what kind of tea fits your giftee's personality best, why not allow them to sample as many as they can with this giant box of black, green, fruit, and herbal teas.

Find It at Amazon for $35.

9. Mountain Hardwear PackDown Vest

When your loved one does have to head outdoors, there’s no reason they can’t keep that cozy vibe going—especially when wrapped up in a down vest.

Find It at Amazon for $105 and up and also at these other retailers:

10. Wool Irish Springweight Aran Sweater

Whether they’re taking a walk in the snow or hunkered down with a book, nothing says cold-weather comfort like a soon-to-be-favorite sweater. This Irish knit sweater, made by West End Knitwear, comes in a variety of sizes and colors and is unisex, so perfect for sharing.

Find It at Amazon for $60 and up.

11. WEMO Insight Smart Plug

Though smart technology might seem to fly in the face of everything that hygge stands for, the environment that one surrounds oneself with—from the temperature to the lighting—is all a key part of creating the perfect setting. This smart plug from Wemo, which works with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, allows the user to control those things right from a smartphone—no climbing out from under the blanket required.

Find It at Amazon for $33 and also at these other retailers:

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