Here's a neat news story: the first video footage of a giant squid in its natural habitat. Since I don't get the Discovery Channel, I'll have to be satisfied with looking at bootleg snippets on Youtube until the documentary finally makes it to Netflix.
However, one line in the news story caught my attention: that the giant squid was the origin of the legend of the Kraken and other tales of giant squiddy things in the sea. I found myself wondering if that's really true.
It seems commonsensical: there are stories about giant squids, now we've found a giant squid, obviously the squid inspired the stories. But is that necessarily true? After all, it took deep-diving submersibles, high-tech lures, and special cameras to actually get this footage. The giant squid lives deep down and is shy and cunning. Though Aristotle and Pliny mentioned giant squid, there's no evidence either actually saw a specimen. The first genuine scientific description of the species didn't come until the 19th century.
More to the point, I think assuming ancient stories of giant squids had to be inspired by real specimens seriously underestimates the creativity and imagination of people who lived long ago. They could make up stuff as well as we can (maybe better). It doesn't take seeing a giant squid to inspire stories of the Kraken -- all it takes is seeing a regular squid and a good imagination.
We understand this about our contemporaries; nobody would claim that the makers of the cinematic landmark Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus were inspired by seeing actual sharks attacking airplanes. They made it up. And I'm willing to bet that some Greek fisherman sitting on the quay at Piraeus in Homer's time could make up a squid big enough to drag a ship beneath the waves, especially after a couple of bowls of wine.
So I strongly suspect that scientists haven't found the creature which inspired the stories. They've found a real creature which happens to match something someone imagined.