The First Urban Legend About a Toilet Monster Was Written in the 2nd Century
Toilets: They are the source of endless low-brow humor, but they can also be terrifying. From urban legends about alligators in the sewers to stories of snakes hiding under toilet seats, the crapper can be quite an ominous fixture. There’s a primal fear associated with, uh, relieving one’s self and, in horror movies, scenes involving toilets usually convey a sense of vulnerability. No likes being surprised with their pants down–literally!
It turns out that fear of toilets is almost as old as the devices themselves. In fact, the very first example of a horror story written about a toilet was written by the Greek historian Aelian in 175 AD. In his book, On the Characteristics of Animals, Aelian tells the tale of a rich merchant in the port city of Puteoli: Every night, this poor fellow’s house is ransacked by a giant octopus that emerges from, yup, his toilet!
“Indeed I hear of an octopus – in Dicaearchia (Puteoli) in Italy – whose body was swollen and which came to despise and to disdain the food from the sea and its pasture. Then it approached land and plundered food, also from dryland. Accordingly, through a certain hidden sewer that discharged the refuse of the aforementioned city into the sea, it swam up to a house lying by the sea, where Iberian merchants stored their cargo, pickled fish from that region in stout vessels; and so it threw its tentacles and gripped the earthenware so that the vessels were broken, and consumed the pickled fish.”
The story continues:
“As the merchants entered and saw the fragments of pottery, and understood that a large quantity of their cargo had disappeared, they were astounded and could not guess who had despoiled them, as the doors were free of tampering, the roof was undamaged, and the walls had not been dug through. They also saw the remains of the pickled fish that had been left behind by the uninvited guest. They decided that one of their servants, the most courageous, would be armed and lie in ambush in the house.
“During the night the octopus creeps up to its customary meal and clasps the vessels just as a prize fighter taking a stranglehold on his antagonist, by force and holding very firmly, and so the robber, so to say, the octopus, crushed the earthenware very easily. It was at the full-moon, and the house was illuminated, and all could be taken in at a glance. The servant did not attack on his own, as he was afraid of the beast (for it was too great for one man), but early in the morning he explains what has happened to the merchants. They do not believe their ears. Then some remembered the greatness of their losses and were for venturing the hazard and were eager to meet the enemy in battle; others, in their thirst for this novel and incredible sight, locked themselves [into the house] as voluntary allies together with the former.
“Then in the evening, the thief again comes to visit, and hastens to its customary dinner. Then some block up the conduit, others arm themselves against the enemy, and with choppers and sharpened razors cut through the tentacles, as vine-dressers and woodcutters lop off the young shoots of an oak. Having cut its strength they killed it after a long time with toil and not a little labour, and the strange thing was that merchants hunted the fish on land. Mischief and craft plainly seem to us to be characteristic of this animal.”
There you have it, horror fans: Perhaps the very first horror story about a toilet monster!
What do you think of Aelian’s terrifying toilet tale? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.