In ancient Greek, ketos denotes a large fish, a
whale, a shark, or a sea monster. The sea monsters slain by Perseus and
Heracles were each referred to as a cetus by ancient sources. The term
cetacean (for whale) originates from cetus. In Greek art, cetea were
depicted as serpentine fish. The name of the mythological figure Ceto is
derived from ketos. The name of the constellation Cetus also derives
from this word.When Queen Cassiopeia boasted that her daughter
Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids, this invoked the wrath of
Poseidon who sent the sea monster Cetus to attack Ethiopia. Upon
consulting a wise oracle, King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia were told to
sacrifice Andromeda to Cetus. They had Andromeda chained to a rock near
the ocean so that Cetus could devour her. Perseus found Andromeda
chained to the rock and learned of her plight. When Cetus emerged from
the ocean to devour Andromeda, Perseus managed to slay it. In one
version, Perseus drove his sword into Cetus' back. In another version,
Perseus used Medusa's head to turn Cetus to stone.
The Cetus is
commonly depicted as fish-like, serpentine, with a long muzzle.
Alternate depictions may include long ears, horns and legs instead of
flippers. It is often depicted fighting Perseus or as the mount of a
In the Bible, in Jonah 2:1 (1:17 in English translation),
the Hebrew text reads dag gadol, which literally means "great fish".
The Septuagint translates this phrase into Greek as mega ketos. The term
ketos alone means "huge fish", and in Greek mythology the term was
closely associated with sea monsters. Jerome later translated this
phrase as piscis grandis in his Latin Vulgate. However, he translated
the Greek word kētos as cetus in Gospel of Matthew 12:40: "For as Jonah
was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son
of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
is commonly used as a ship's name or figurehead denoting either a ship
unafraid of the sea or a ruthless pirate ship to be feared. Cetus (and
its translations) are also viewed as misfortune or bad omen by sailors.
Superstitious sailors believed in a cetus as the bringer of a great
storm or misfortune on the ship. They associated it with lost cargo, the
presence of pirates, or being swept off course, and avoided any talk of
it aboard ship.