River Monsters

Doctor Who’s version of the Loch Ness Monster, from Terror of the Zygons.

At the end of the 7th Century, an abbot of Iona Abbey on the Isle of Iona, named Adomnán, wrote Life of Columba, which contains the first ever mention of the Loch Ness Monster, albeit in the River Ness rather than the Loch.  Early copies of his manuscripts survive in the British Library, beautifully written in Latin.  As always, Latin tends to be translated in a terribly stilted manner, with priority given to providing an exact and accurate translation of every individual word, rather than providing something that is readable in modern English.  So I offer my own version of the translation – the sort of translation that lost me lots of marks in my Latin exams, but hopefully has resulted in something that you can read without nodding off.

When the saint was staying for some days in the province of the Picts he found it necessary to cross the river Ness.  When he came to the bank of the river, he saw some of the locals burying a poor unfortunate little fellow.  Those who were burying him said that a water monster had snatched at him as he was swimming, and bitten with a most savage bite. Some men who came in a boat to help, though too late, caught hold of his corpse by putting out hooks. The saint however, on hearing this, asked one of his companions to swim out and bring to him the boat that was on the other bank, sailing it across.

On hearing this direction of the holy and famous man, Lugne Mocumin, obeying without delay, stripped off all his clothes except his underwear, and cast himself into the water.

The monster, which was still hungry and was eager for prey, was lying hidden at the bottom of the river; noticing that the water above was disturbed by the man who was crossing, it suddenly emerged and, swimming to the man as he was crossing in the middle of the stream, rushed up with a great roar and open mouth.

Then the saint looked on, while all who were there, heathen and brethren, were stricken with great terror; and, with his holy hand raised on high, he formed the saving sign of the cross in the empty air, invoked the Name of God, and commanded the fierce monster, saying, “Do not think about going any further, and do not touch that man. Quick! Go back!”

Then the beast, hearing the voice of the saint, was terrified and fled backwards more rapidly than he came, as if dragged by ropes, although it had already come so near to Lugne as he swam, that there was not more than the length of one punt-pole between the man and the beast. Then the brethren, seeing that the beast had gone, and that their comrade Lugne was returned to them safe and sound in the boat, glorified God in the blessed man, greatly marvelling.

Loch Ness is far from being the only location of a monster myth.  In 1909, Carl Hagenbeck wrote Beasts and Men; the following quote concerns long-standing reports in the Congo river region of some kind of a dinosaur-like monster.

Some years ago I received reports from two quite distinct sources of the existence of an immense and wholly unknown animal, said to inhabit the interior of Rhodesia. Almost identical stories reached me, firstly, through one of my own travellers, and, secondly, through an English gentleman, who had been shooting big-game in Central Africa. The reports were thus quite independent of each other, and, as a matter of fact, the Englishman and my traveller had made their way into Rhodesia from opposite directions, the one from the north-east and the other from the south-west. The natives, it seemed, had told both my informants that in the depth of the great swamps there dwelt a huge monster, half elephant, half dragon. This, however, is not the only evidence for the existence of the animal. It is now several decades ago since Menges, who is of course perfectly reliable, heard a precisely similar story… and, still more remarkable, on the walls of certain caverns in Central Africa there are to be found actual drawings of this strange creature. From what I have heard of the animal, it seems to me that it can only be some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurus. As the stories come from so many different sources, and all tend to substantiate each other, I am almost convinced that some such reptile must be still in existence. At great expense, therefore, I sent out an expedition to find the monster, but unfortunately they were compelled to return home without having proved anything, either one way or the other. In the part of Africa where the animal is said to exist, there are enormous swamps, hundreds of square miles in extent, and my travellers were laid low with very severe attacks of fever. Moreover, that region is infested by bloodthirsty savages who repeatedly attacked the expedition and hindered its advance. Notwithstanding this failure, I have not relinquished the hope of being able to present science with indisputable evidence of the existence of the monster. And perhaps if I succeed in this enterprise naturalists all the world over will be roused to hunt vigorously for other unknown animals; for if this prodigious dinosaur, which is supposed to have been extinct for hundreds of thousands of years, be still in existence, what other wonders may not be brought to light?

This creature is known as Mokèlé-mbèmbé (“one who stops the flow of rivers”), and first came to the attention of the Western world when Abbé Lievain Bonaventure Proyart wrote about enormous footprints in his 1776 book History of Loango, Kakonga, and Other Kingdoms in Africa.  The Smithsonian Institution sent an expedition to investigate in 1919, but found nothing but unexplained tracks, and the expedition ended in disaster when a locomotive derailed in a flooded area, killing four team members and injuring several more.

The above content originally appeared on our sister site, Windows into History and has been fully revised and updated.  Content from that site is being moved and collated here.  In the meantime, there are many more interesting history articles to be found there.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
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1 Response to River Monsters

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I don’t recall exactly how much thought I gave to the legend of the Loch Ness Monster when I was a kid, apart from Terror Of The Zygons of course. With all that I could learn from movies at the time, as well as how shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek could science-fictionally adapt such myths into their adventures, I naturally had my fascinations. Today I’m mature enough to appreciate what the most realistic and updated documentaries have to educate us with. A connection to dinosaurs is an intriguing notion for the Loch Ness Monster as it was for dragons. Thank you, RP, for including this on the Junkyard. Because the revitalization of our mythologies, certainly for the Halloween season, can be a great way to boost our positive energies in these difficult times.

    Liked by 1 person

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