Here be dragons

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"Here be dragons" is a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in blank areas of maps.


The only known use of this phrase is in the Latin form "HC SVNT DRACONES" (i.e. hic sunt dracones) on the Lenox Globe[1] (ca. 1503-07). The term appeared on the east coast of Asia. Earlier maps contain a variety of references to mythical and real creatures, but the Lenox Globe is the only known surviving map to bear this phrase. The classical phrase utilized by ancient Roman and Medieval cartographers used to be HIC SVNT LEONES (literally, Here are lions) when denoting unknown territories on maps.

Dragons on maps

Dragons appear on a few other historical maps.

  • The T-O Psalter map (ca. 1250 AD) has dragons, as symbols of sin, in a lower "frame" below the world, balancing Jesus and angels on the top, but the dragons do not appear on the map proper.
  • The Borgia map (ca. 1430 AD), in the Vatican Library, states, over a dragon-like figure in Asia (in the upper left quadrant of the map), "Hic etiam homines magna cornua habentes longitudine quatuor pedum, et sunt etiam serpentes tante magnitudinis, ut unum bovem comedant integrum." ("Here, indeed, are men who have large horns of the length of four feet, and there are even serpents so large, that they could eat an ox whole.") The latter may refer to the dragons of the Chinese dragon dance.
  • A 19th-century Japanese map, the Jishin-no-ben, depicts a dragon associated with causing earthquakes.

Other creatures on maps

  • Ptolemy's atlas in Geographia (originally 2nd century, taken up again in the 15th century) warns of elephants, hippos and cannibals.
  • Tabula Peutingeriana (medieval copy of Roman map) has "in his locis elephanti nascuntur", "in his locis scorpiones nascuntur" and "hic cenocephali nascuntur" ("in these places elephants are born, in these places scorpions are born, here dog-headed beings are born").
  • Cotton MS. Tiberius B.V. fol. 58v (10th century), British Library Manuscript Collection, has "hic abundant leones" ("here lions abound"), along with a picture of a lion, near the east coast of Asia (at the top of the map towards the left); this map also has a text-only serpent reference in southernmost Africa (bottom left of the map): "Zugis regio ipsa est et Affrica. est enim fertilis. sed ulterior bestiis et serpentibus plena" ("This region of Zugis is in Africa, it is truly fertile, however it is full of beasts and serpents.")
  • The Ebstorf map (13th c.) has a dragon in the extreme south-eastern part of Africa, together with an asp and a basilisk.
  • Giovanni Leardo's map (1442) has, in southernmost Africa, "Dixerto dexabitado p. chaldo e p. serpent".
  • Martin Waldseemüller's Carta marina navigatoria (1516) has "an elephant-like creature in northernmost Norway, accompanied by a legend explaining that this 'morsus' with two long and quadrangular teeth congregated there", i.e. a walrus, which would have seemed monstrous at the time.
  • Waldseemüller's Carta marina navigatoria (1522), revised by Laurentius Fries, has the morsus moved to the Davis Strait.
  • Bishop Olaus Magnus's Carta Marina map of Scandinavia (1539) has many monsters in the northern sea, as well as a winged, bipedal, predatory land animal resembling a dragon in northern Lapland.

Cultural references

  • In the book The Name of the Rose, friar William of Baskerville says the phrase "hic sunt leones" to Adso while exploring the labyrinthic library.
  • "Here There Be Dragons" was used in a paper submitted to the planetary science journal Icarus by Michael James Gaffey of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in reference to the north polar region, labeled "Terra Incognita", of the asteroid Vesta.[2]
  • The title of a short science fiction story by Ray Bradbury, "Here There Be Tygers" is an allusion to this expression.
  • The title of an early collection of short stories by author Alfred Chester, who is known for "Jamie is My Heart's Desire" and, most famously "The Exquisite Corpse".
  • On the map of the MMORPG RuneScape, there are a few locations on the map with reference to the phrase, including "Here be penguins" and "Here be sand".
  • The title of the fifth studio album (1998) by Jupiter Coyote.
  • In an episode of his geek comic xkcd, Randall Munroe has a map called "Online communities" that has the line "here be anthropomorphic dragons" [3].
  • On the ABC television show Lost, a map found inside one bunker has the Latin notation "Hic sunt dracones" near the map location of another bunker. [4]
  • In the first movie of the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy, Captain Barbossa taunts Jack Sparrow with the phrase "You're off the edge of the map now, Jack! Here there be Monsters!", a reference to the phrase.
  • In the Silicon Knights game Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, the phrase is found on a globe in the wooden observatory of the Roivas Mansion.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, going to any corner of the map greets the player with the message 'Here be Dragons'.
  • The phrase is the mantra of the blog by Mark Shuttleworth, a leading contributor to the Ubuntu Linux Distribution.
  • In the Discworld books this is the unofficial description of the "Ankh Morpork Sunshine Sanctuary for Dragons".
  • The title of the James A. Owen book Here, There Be Dragons is a reference to the phrase shown at one end of all of the maps in the Imaginarium Geographica, an atlas of the fantasy realms.
  • On the map of the Warhammer world, the Southern Wastes has the description "Here be Daemons"
  • trivia articles sometimes contain the tag "Here be spoilers".
  • In some Firefox 3 versions the phrase appears as a warning when the user goes to modify the about:config settings.
  • The phrase "HC SVNT DRACONES" appears as part of the META warning in the HTML source code on Vimeo.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Where Silence Has Lease" (1988) captain Jean-Luc Picard muses "Beyond this place there be dragons" when confronted with an empty void in space.
  • The phrase was the title for the first book in a historical fiction trilogy about medieval Wales by Sharon Kay Penman.
  • The phrase is found at the bottom of some source code files of the Solaris operating system.
  • It appears on a map drawn by the GM in the 2002 cult film The Gamers.
  • In an X-Files episode, Mulder and Scully are aboard a boat during a dark and foggy night, in search of the Lochness monster and Scully tells Mulder, "Here be monsters".
  • In OpenStreetMap the term Here be dragons territory is used for unmapped areas.

See also


External links