Variations: Sarmatian Snail, Limaçon de la Mer Sarmatique, Philosmon (Greek, potentially), Aknib (Turkish, potentially), Albakr (Tartar, potentially), Lucrab (Arabic, potentially), Cochlea Sarmatica
Anyone wishing to make a book on monstrous fishes should head to the Sarmatian Sea, exhorts Thevet. There, in what is now known as the Baltic Sea, may be found enough nightmares to satisfy the most avid teratologist.
One of these is an enormous snail, the size of a barrel. It has antlers like those of a stag, equipped with gleaming, pearl-like tips. It has a rounded cat-like snout with whiskers, and glowing eyes that light its path like candles. Its mouth is deeply slit, and a hideous fleshy excrescence dangles below it. Its neck is thick, and its tail is long, multicolored, and mottled like a tiger’s. Unlike most other snails, it has four feet armed with hooked claws.
While amphibious, the giant snail is usually out in the open sea, and is rarely seen on the coast due to its wariness. During good weather it will crawl up onto the beach to graze. Its flesh is tasty and good to eat, and helps against liver and lung problems, much like the meat of large Madagascan turtles cures leprosy.
Thevet reports the Sarmatian Sea snail from Denmark, and mentions having seen similar creatures in the Black Sea, where they are known as Philosmon by the Greeks, Aknib by the Turks, Albakr by the Tartars, and Lucrab by the Arabs. These may well be the same animal.
Linnaeus cautiously included the Sarmatian Sea snail as Cochlea Sarmatica in a footnote, admitting that “fabulosa est“.
It is most likely that this giant snail was born of confusion between the shells of turtles and the shells of snails. Thevet was also working with a number of notes taken at different times, and it does not seem implausible that he muddled them together to create chimeras. Turtles were long seen as bizarre creatures, and the Ortus Sanitatis represents them as snails with legs, making them the basis for the giant snail. Further confusion with seals led to the whiskers and large eyes, and the antlers were provided by branching fungi. For all we know, none of these were from the Baltic Sea.
Linnaeus, C. (1759) Animalium Specierum. Theodor Haak, Leiden.
Paré, A. (1614) Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré. Nicolas Buon, Paris.
Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.
Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.
Vallot, M. (1834) Mémoire sur le Limacon de la Mer Sarmatique. Mémoires de L’Académie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-Lettres de Dijon, Partie des Sciences, Frantin, Dijon.