Jascony - cosmogony and true love story
A monster appears in the Legend of Saint Brendan, where it was called Jasconius. Because of its size, Brendan and his fellow voyagers mistake it for an island and land to make camp. They celebrate Easter on the sleeping giant's back, but awaken it when they light their campfire. They race to their ship, and Brendan explains that the moving island is really Jasconius, who labors unsuccessfully to put his tail in its mouth. The same tale of a sea monster that is mistaken for an island is told in the first voyage of Sinbad the Sailor in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. The name Jasconius is also used for the whale in the children's book The Adventures of Louey and Frank by Carolyn White. She attributes the name to having grown up with the legend of Brendan.
music and animation: Martyn Tverdun
made for "KinoLev" film festival, 2011
According to the tradition of the Physiologus and medieval bestiaries, the aspidochelone is a fabled sea creature, variously described as a large whale or vast sea turtle, and a giant sea monster with huge spines on the ridge of its back. No matter what form it is, it is always described as being huge, often it is mistaken for an island and appears to be rocky, with crevices and valleys with trees and greenery and having sand dunes all over it. It rises to the surface from the depths of the sea, and entices unwitting sailors with its island appearance to make landfall on its huge shell and then the whale is able to pull them under the ocean, ship and all the people, drowning them. It also emits a sweet smell that lures fish into its trap where it then devours them. In the moralistic allegory of the Physiologus and bestiary tradition, the aspidochelone represents Satan, who deceives those whom he seeks to devour.
From "The Book of Imaginary Beings" by Jorge Luis Borges:
There is one story that has ranged the whole of geography and all epochs -- the tale of mariners who land on an unknown island which then sinks into the sea and drowns them because it is a living creature.
This invention is found in the first voyage of Sindbad and in Canto VI, Stanza 37, of Orlando Furioso (Ch'ella sia una isoletta ci credemo--"we believed it [the whale] to be a small island.");
in the Irish legend of St. Brendan and in the Greek bestiary of Alexandria;
in the Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (Rome, 1555) by the Swedish ecclesiastic Olaus Nagnus and in this passage from the opening of Paradise Lost, in which Satan, "stretched out huge in length," is compared to a whale : "Him haply slumbering on the Norway foam, the pilot of some small night-foundered skiff; deeming some island, oft, as seamen tell, with fixed anchor in his scaly rind, moors by his side under the lee, while night invests the sea...."
Paradoxically, one of the earliest versions of the legend gives it in order to refute it. This is recorded in the Book Of Animals by al-Jahiz, the ninth-century Moslem zoologist. We translate its words from the Spanish version by Miguel Asin Palacios: "As for the zaratan, I never met anyone who actually saw it with his own eyes. There are sailors who assert that they have drawn alongside certain sea islands, seeing wooded valleys and crevices in the rock, and landed to light a big fire; and when the heat of the flames reaches the zaratan's spine, the beast began to slip under the waters with them on top of him, and with all the plants growing on him, until only those able to swim away were saved. This outdoes even the boldest, most imaginative piece of fiction"
Let us now consider a thirteenth-century text by al-Qazwini, the Persian cosmographer who wrote in Arabic. It comes from a work of his entitled Wonders Of Creation, and runs this way: "As for the sea turtle, it is of such huge size that people on shipboard take it for an island. One merchant has reported: 'Rising out of the sea we discovered an island with green plants, and we went ashore and dug pits for a cooking fire, and the island began to move and the sailors said, ' 'Back to the ship! It's a turtle! The heat of the fires has wakened him and we'll be lost!' ' "
In the Anglo-Saxon bestiary of the Exeter Book, the dangerous island is a whale, "skilled in treachery," that deliberately tricks seafarers. They camp on its back seeking rest from their labors at sea; suddenly the Ocean's Guest sinks down and the men drown. In the Greek bestiary, the whale stands for the whore of the Proverbs ("her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell:);
in the Anglo-Saxon bestiary it stands for the Devil and Evil. These same symbolic values will be found in MobyDick, written ten centuries later.