Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring

A work in progress with no end in sight

WHY HERRINGS LIVE IN THE SEA

A curious origin myth for maritime as opposed to land-based rat-catching herrings, related in an Estonian folk song

WHY HERRINGS LIVE IN THE SEA

The German music journalist Henning Bolte has sent an account of a traditional Estonian folk song, known as The Herring Lived on Dry Land or sometimes just Herring.

The Story of the Herring that Lived on Dry Land

Once upon a time the herring had legs and lived on dry land. It was good at catching rats and was kept like a cat. One day a two-masted sailing ship was carrying a large cargo of salt. Salt was very expensive back then. There was some unit by which it was weighed called a saam and a saam cost at least a hundred somethings in gold.

There was a herring on board like a ship’s cat and it liked to eat salt. It began to tunnel its way through the sacks of salt and accidentally chewed its way through the wooden hull of the ship and the ship sank.

Neptune, god of the sea, was angry. Herring, he cried, because you chewed the hole that made this new ship sink, you will have to live in the sea. That is your punishment.

And the salt which was released into the sea made the sea salty, because before that it was freshwater.