The Difference Between The Kraken And Leviathan

“Let no joyful voice be heard! Let no man look to the sky with hope in his eyes! And let this day be forever cursed by we who ready to wake . . . the Kraken!” —Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

In A Nutshell

The kraken and Leviathan are often considered vaguely interchangeable sea monsters, but they’re actually very different creatures with many misconceptions built up around them both, largely because of the influence of pop culture. (Sorry, Liam Neeson, but the kraken wasn’t even actually Greek.) The kraken was a squid-like monster from Norse mythology said to be so large it would attack ships and most likely born from real sightings of giant squid. Leviathan was a whale-like monster from Hebrew folklore.

The Whole Bushel

Leviathan and the kraken are two sea monsters from folklore, and as such, they’re often used somewhat interchangeably. Wrongly so, as they’re completely different creatures with completely different origins. And one is even definitely rooted in truth.

Leviathan was originally a part of Hebrew folklore. He was first described in the book of Job as a whale-like creature with an armored back that was impervious to weapons. He was also the legendary creature that swallowed Jonah. It was God that forced him to vomit Jonah back up onto the land, but according to Rabbinical literature, it was God that created him, too—and there were originally two. Leviathan was created on the fifth day, and originally, there was a male and a female. God realized that the potential for offspring as massive and as dangerous as they were could mean the end of the world, so the female was killed. (Her meat was said to have been preserved for a feast that would be held to celebrate the advent of the Messiah.)

The massive whale could breathe fire, and it was said in the original texts about him that in order to satisfy his hunger he would breathe fire to boil the seas and kill all the marine life he needed to satisfy his appetite.

In later texts, it was said that when Gabriel returned to Earth, it was this surviving Leviathan that would be killed in order to provide food for the feast. Leviathan was also the monster in the original version of the legend that sailors would be lured into landing on what they thought was an island in the middle of the ocean, but was actually the giant whale’s back; once they were on him, he would disappear beneath the waves and take them with him.

The kraken was born in Scandinavian mythology, and is one of the few mythological monsters that have been proven to be based on at least partial fact. Original stories of the kraken tell of a tentacled monstrosity more along the lines of an octopus than of a whale; in fact, it’s been surmised that the original stories were based on sighting of giant squid.

There’s a story featuring the kraken that’s very similar to the story of Leviathan tricking sailors into landing on his back. In the kraken version, however, the sailors believe that they have come across a series of small islands, which then turn out to be the kraken’s body and tentacles that surface completely when the ships get within reach, grabbing them and pulling them beneath the waves.

The kraken made the jump from mythology to zoology as early as 1752, when a Scandinavian bishop penned the Natural History of Norway and included the kraken. Later, giant squid washing up on beaches provided more concrete evidence that there indeed were giant, kraken-like monsters in the ocean.

Signs of even larger, earlier giant squid have been found, but concrete evidence is tricky. Unlike the whales of the Leviathan legends, the kraken would have been, by description, a soft-bodied cephalopod that wouldn’t have survived centuries in any form, not leaving behind fossil evidence that can be so telling.

Show Me The Proof

The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology, by Rosemary Guiley
LiveScience: Lair of Ancient ‘Kraken’ Sea Monster Possibly Discovered
LiveScience: What Is a Kraken?
Jewish Encyclopedia: Leviathan and Behemoth

  • Lisa 39

    The kraken and leviathan are awesome, i already knew they were different but i didn’t know the history of the leviathan. Good article.

  • UN

    when did the kraken sailed into greek mythology and pop culture because now there is no hades without kraken

  • UN

    Liam Neeson (Zeus) to Ralph Fiennes (Hades): “release the kraken”

    • I try to say Release The Kraken at least once a day. Keeps me sane.

      • UN

        They are wise words to live by…..

      • lbatfish

        It’s also what the LV mods shout as they click the button to flush the Ransom-Note Spam-of-the-Day.

      • 1DireWolf

        I always say that right before sex, or rather my wife does.

        • lbatfish

          That’s too good for just a mere upvote! 🙂

        • Michael Cunningham

          Here comes the Kraken*

  • Kamaralazman

    if you like the Leviathan check out Ziz and Behemot. According to Talmud (I think) the three were suppose to guard different realms, like Leviathan the sea, Ziz the sky and Behemot the land.

    ps. does anyone else suffer from the urge to pronounce the word Kraken with an old english accent where the “r” is very sharp?

    • Lisa 39

      Yes i do 🙂

    • lbatfish

      Mostly when I’ve had too much to drink.

    • Andy West

      I liked Leviathan, but then again I’ve always had a soft spot for straight-to-video crap from the late eighties.

  • ethan

    what does neeson have to do with this…?

    • Dalton

      Release the kraken clash of the titans

  • megan

    Leviathan was NOT the whale that swallowed Jonah. Leviathan is not even mentioned in Jonah. When you read the description of Leviathan in Job it is more the description of a fire breathing dragon. I don’t know why people keep dumbing it down to a whale. No whale has ever breathed fire.

    • Smoke on the water Megan …

      • Andy West

        Looks like a drowning dragon.

      • Check

        The flames should be a deep purple, shouldn’t it?

        • lbatfish

          Totally awesome! I never realized that whales light their own farts, too!

    • Happyspanners

      No snake has ever talked either.

      • Modular Cat.#7

        Guess you never heard of Don King

      • inconspicuous detective

        tell that to salazar slytherin. he’ll laugh your goddamn ass right out of the garden of eden. with an apple pie in hand.

      • Raphael Revels

        The bible says the serpent not snake referring to satan not an actual animal. “The serpent which was more crafty than any creature of the garden” do you really think a snake is more crafty than humans taught by God?

    • Raphael Revels

      The bible specifically says it was a fish that swallows Jonah not a whale.

  • Justin Matthew Jones

    The remake of Clash of the Titans, it and the original included the Kraken, and the line, “release the kraken”

  • 1DireWolf

    One giant squid + one bottle of rum + months at sea = one Kraken.

    • inconspicuous detective

      no. it requires the summoning of davy jones. do you know nothing?

      • lbatfish

        Well, I’m just relieved to hear that he found a new job after the band split up.

  • Andy West

    And here’s me thinking it was a matter of meters.

  • JRHatt

    This is a Kraken
    http://kraken.ytmnd.com/

  • asda

    ive never heard of the names being misused interchangeably or anything.
    is this site made by kids trying to be mad because you were proven wrong on something so acted like a bitch and made this site?

  • YI

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