Was there really a whale skeleton in Jaffa or at least a common myth about it?

I cannot find any historical reference to it but still believe, from the way he wrote Moby Dick, that Melville did not make up this fact:

for in the ancient Joppa, now Jaffa, on the Syrian coast, in one of the Pagan temples, there stood for many ages the vast skeleton of a whale, which the city's legends and all the inhabitants asserted to be the identical bones of the monster that Perseus slew. When the Romans took Joppa, the same skeleton was carried to Italy in triumph. What seems most singular and suggestively important in this story, is this: it was from Joppa that Jonah set sail.

Source: Moby Dick p. 360

  • 4
    Google provided powerMobyDick, which refers to a Roman importing "sea serpent bones" from Jaffa to Rome. This is the same source you cite above - perhaps I don't understand the question? Sicaurus leads me to Antiquitatem, which provides a source for the assertion and additional context
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


It had to have been Pliny.

Who else would record such a thing? I turned it up in Book IX concerning marine animals.

The linked text from part 11 is in Latin. Thru Google translate produces

Turranius betrayed a wild beast that had been expelled on the shores of Gadita, the length of which was sixteen cubits between the two fins of the last tail, the teeth of the same 120, the measure of the largest teeth, the smallest half a foot. The bones of the beast, to which Andromeda was said to have been exposed, were brought to Rome from the Judean town of Joppa, and among other miracles he showed in his aedilium M. Scaurus, whose length was 40 feet, the height of the ribs exceeding that of Indian elephants, and the thickness of the spine a half foot.

Jaffa is variously referred to as Joppe or Joppa.

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