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Purple whale

Porphyrios, the purple whale

Porphyrios (Greek: Πορφύριος) was a legendary giant whale that harassed and sank ships in the waters near Constantinople in the sixth century. Active over a period of over fifty years, Porphyrios caused great concern for Byzantine seafarers. Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565) made it an important matter to capture it, though he could not come up with a way to do so. Porphyrios eventually met its end when it beached itself near the mouth of the Black Sea and was attacked and cut into pieces by a mob of locals. Many ships were sunk by Porphyrios, and its mere reputation terrified the crews of many more; ships often took detours to go around the waters where the whale most commonly swam.

Description[]

According to Procopius, Porphyrios measured 13.7 meters (45 ft) long and 4.6 meters (15 ft) wide. Porphyra meant a deep purple color in Greek and Porphyrios might have had dark-wine colored skin. This was further supported by John K. Papadopoulos and Deborah Ruscillo in 2002, who believed the name simply meant "purple". Daniel Ogden in 2008 also supported the idea that Porphyrios evoked the color of the whale, believing that the name was best interpreted as "purple boy". Kaldellis also supported this etymology in 2017.

Explanations[]

It is not possible to confidently identify which species Porphyrios belonged to. It might have been a sperm whale or perhaps an unusually large orca. Porphyrios being a sperm whale is supported by its size, lengthy lifespan and temperament. On the other hand, identification as an orca is supported by its geographical location, since true whales rarely venture into the waters which Porphyrios is known to have frequented. If the name is a reference to the skin color, it could support either identification since both the black of orcas and dark brownish gray of sperm whales could be misinterpreted as dark purple.

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