This quiz will take you on a voyage through some intriguing, sea-related facts.
#1. What influential, 19th-century Japanese artist produced stunning, sea-themed woodblock prints such as the iconic "The Great Wave off Kanagawa"?
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), known simply as Hokusai, is the best-known Japanese artist in the “ukiyo-e” (“floating world”) genre. His most celebrated work is the woodblock print series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji”, depicting the iconic mountain from different locations, and in different seasons and weather conditions. “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” (“Kanagawa-oki Nami Ura”, literally “Under the Wave off Kanagawa”), probably produced in the early 1830s, depicts a huge, crested wave threatening three flimsy-looking boats, with the unmistakable, snow-capped silhouette of Mount Fuji in the background. One of the symbols of Japanese art, and one of the world’s most frequently reproduced artworks, the print is often referred to as “Tsunami”, though it is more likely to depict a rogue wave. In its making, Hokusai made use of the newly introduced Prussian blue pigment.
Much of Hokusai’s work is focused on nature: the sea and other bodies of water are prominently featured in the “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” series, and in other collections (such as the ten fishing-themed prints known as “Oceans of Wisdom”).
Akira Kurosawa was a famous Japanese film director, and Isoroku Yamamoto the commander-in-chief of the Japanese fleet during WWII. Naruhito, on the other hand, is the current Emperor of Japan.
#2. Which of these bodies of water is really a sea, rather than a lake like the other three?
Named after a nearby Russian town on the River Don, the Sea of Azov is an internal sea, located north of the Black Sea – to which it is connected by the Strait of Kerch. The sea is bounded by Ukraine to the northwest, and by Russia to the southeast. The Crimean Bridge, opened in 2018, spans the Strait of Kerch, connecting the Kerch Peninsula (at the eastern end of Crimea) with the Taman Peninsula in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai. Many rivers – including the Don, Europe’s fifth-longest river – flow into the Sea of Azov, which is the shallowest sea in the world, with an average depth of 7 m (23 ft). The shores of the sea are home to plentiful flora and fauna, while many species of fish (such as the sturgeon) thrive in its plankton-rich waters.
The Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Tiberias, located in Israel) is the only freshwater lake of the three listed as wrong answers. The Caspian Sea, the world’s largest lake, lies between Europe and Asia, east of the Black Sea, while the largely dried-up Aral Sea lies in Central Asia, between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
#3. In which play by William Shakespeare - set mostly on an island - would you find the lines "Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea-change/Into something rich and strange"?
Probably written in 1610-1611, “The Tempest” is believed to be one of William Shakespeare’s last plays; it was inspired by a number of different sources, including accounts of shipwrecks. Most of the story is set on a remote island, inhabited by the sorcerer Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and his servants, the monstrous Caliban and the spirit Ariel. In the play’s opening scene, a ship is wrecked by a violent storm caused by Prospero’s magic; the survivors are stranded on the island in separate groups, each of them unaware of the others’ fate. The quote in the question comes from the second stanza of Ariel’s song (Act I, Scene ii), in which the spirit addresses Ferdinand, the son of Antonio, Prospero’s brother and usurper of his Dukedom of Milan, leading him to believe that his father has drowned in the shipwreck. The expression “sea change” in modern English usage – denoting a major transformation, such as the one undergone by a body lying at the bottom of the sea – comes from this particular episode of the play.
The painting in the photo, by Late Victorian painter John William Waterhouse, depicts Miranda on the island, with the shipwreck in the background.
#4. All of these marine animals have common names that include the word "sea". Which of them is a vertebrate?
Sea dragons (also spelled as one word) are marine fish of the family Syngnathidae, and thus related to seahorses and pipefish. There are three known species of sea dragon: the weedy, or common, sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, shown in the photo), the leafy sea dragon (Phycodurus eques), and the ruby sea dragon (Phyllopteryx dewysea), discovered in the 2010s. All three species are endemic to the waters off the coasts of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales; the leafy sea dragon is also found in Tasmania. These fish live in parts of the ocean with abundant seaweed growth, and the leaf-like appendages on their body (quite large in the case of the leafy sea dragon) provide camouflage in that kind of environment. Though classified by IUCN as Least Concern (2016), sea dragons are threatened by pollution and habitat loss. The leafy sea dragon is the marine emblem of South Australia, and the common sea dragon of Victoria.
Sea wasp is another common name of the deadly box jellyfish; sea urchins and sea cucumbers are both marine animals belonging to the phylum Echinodermata.
#5. In which beautiful city and former maritime power would you be able to attend a centuries-old ceremony called the "Marriage of the Sea"?
The ceremony of the Marriage of the Sea (“Sposalizio del Mare” in Italian), was established in the early years of the 11th century by Doge Pietro II Orseolo to commemorate Venice’s conquest of Dalmatia. Symbolizing Venice’s dominion over the Adriatic Sea, the ceremony – which took place on Ascension Day – consisted of a procession of boats led by the Doge’s own barge (the Bucentaur) that would reach the port of Lido. Once there, the doge and his followers were aspersed with holy water, and a prayer was offered to plead for calm waters. In 1177, Pope Alexander III initiated the tradition of the “marriage” proper, when he gave a consecrated ring to the Doge as a reward for Venice’s help in the war against Emperor Frederick I, and bade him to cast it into the Adriatic. The ceremony was performed every year: the Doge accompanied his gesture with words that affirmed Venice’s everlasting union with the sea.
When the Republic of Venice fell to Napoleon’s army in 1797, the Bucentaur was destroyed, and the ceremony was discontinued. However, the tradition was revived in 1965, and every year the Mayor of Venice performs the marriage ceremony, casting a ring blessed by the Patriarch of the city into the sea from a ceremonial barge called the “Bissona”.
#6. In which of the world's religions is the consumption of seafood without fins or scales expressly forbidden?
Followers of Judaism would be unable to partake of the scrumptious-looking seafood platter in the photo, as neither crustaceans (shrimp and lobster) nor mollusks (oysters) possess fins and scales. According to the dietary laws known as Kashrut, based on Leviticus 11:9-12 and Deuteronomy 14:9-10, shellfish are off-limits for practicing Jews. Even some kinds of fish are considered unclean: this is the case of sharks (whose scales are too small to be visible to a human eye), sturgeon (whose bony plaques need to be cut out of the fish’s body), and swordfish (which lose their scales in adulthood). Eels and lamprey are also considered unclean because of their snake-like shape. All other marine animals lacking an endoskeleton (such as octopus, squid, jellyfish, and sea cucumbers) are also included in the prohibition.
In Islam, the majority of scholars consider fish and seafood “halal” (permitted): indeed, the Koran (5:96) states that eating the “game of the sea” is lawful. The sole exception is the Hanafi school of thought, which considers crustaceans and mollusks “haram” (forbidden). However, this prohibition is a matter of interpretation, rather than being explicitly stated in the scriptures as in the case of Jewish dietary laws.
#7. The constellation Cetus is named after a sea monster of Greek myth that was offered what beautiful maiden as a sacrifice?
Cetus (“Ketos Aithiopios” in Greek, meaning “Ethiopian sea monster”) was a monster sent by the sea god Poseidon to ravage the land of Ethiopia as punishment against Queen Cassiopeia, who had boasted that her daughter, Andromeda, was more beautiful than the Nereids, a group of 50 sea nymphs. An oracle told the queen and her husband, King Cepheus, that the only way to assuage the wrath of the deities of the sea was to sacrifice Andromeda to the monster. The princess was then chained to a rock on the sea shore, and left to be devoured – as shown in this famous Renaissance painting by Florentine artist Piero di Cosimo. The hero Perseus, son of Zeus, killed the monster as it was emerging from the sea, and rescued the princess, who became his wife. All the main characters in this myth – Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Andromeda, and Cetus – were eventually placed in the sky as constellations.
Keto is also the name of a primordial sea goddess, who mated with her brother Phorcys, and bore him a host of monstrous children (possibly including the Ethiopian monster). The word “cetacean”, denoting whales, dolphins and porpoises, comes from “ketos”, and the constellation Cetus is sometimes called “the whale”. In Ancient Greek art, Cetus is often depicted with the body of a cetacean, and the head of a dog, or with a long, serpentine tail as in Piero di Cosimo’s painting.
#8. The 2015 film "In the Heart of the Sea" was based on the true story of the sinking of the ship "Essex", the inspiration for what great 19th-century nautical novel?
Directed by Ron Howard, and starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, and Tom Holland, “In the Heart of the Sea” is an adaptation of the maritime history book of the same name by Nathaniel Philbrick (2000). At the beginning of the movie, thirty years after the tragedy, Thomas Nickerson (on whose account Philbrick’s book is mostly based), the last survivor of the sinking of the whaling ship “Essex”, is visited by Herman Melville, author of “Moby-Dick” (1851), who offers him money in return for his story.
In August 1819, like the “Pequod” in Melville’s novel, the “Essex” sailed from Nantucket, headed for the whaling grounds of the Pacific coast of South America. After over one year at sea, the ship – which had been damaged by a squall only two days after departure, and had lost two of its five whaleboats – was attacked and sunk by a huge sperm whale bull in an area of the Pacific Ocean roughly 3,700 km (2,000 nautical miles) west of the coast of South America. Of the crew of 20 sailors that set out from the wreck in three small whaleboats, with inadequate food and water supplies, only eight survived – some of them by resorting to cannibalism. Melville used the account of first mate Owen Chase, one of the survivors, as one of the sources of inspiration for “Moby-Dick”.
#9. The name of which herb, known for its piney fragrance and delicate flowers, comes from the Latin for "dew of the sea"?
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) is an aromatic, evergreen shrub of the mint family (Lamiaceae) native to the Mediterranean region. Its name comes from the Latin “ros marinus”, meaning “dew of the sea”, as this hardy, drought-resistant plant thrives in coastal areas. Rosemary has woody stems, needle-like leaves, and lovely flowers that can be white, blue, purple, or pink. It has been known for thousands of years, and mention of it has been found in artifacts from Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Because of its low water requirements, rosemary is often used in xeriscape gardening, and is easily grown in pots; the plants can live up to 30 years. Besides its well-known culinary uses, rosemary is used as a medicinal herb, as well as in the making of toiletries and perfumes; it is also a traditional symbol of remembrance for the dead.
Lavender and marjoram, like sage, mint, oregano and other culinary herbs, are also members of the mint family, while tarragon belongs to the sunflower family (Asteraceae).
#10. Which great turn-of-the-20th-century French composer, often associated with Impressionism, wrote the orchestral composition titled "La mer" (The Sea)?
Composed between 1903 and 1905, “La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre” (“The Sea, Three Symphonic Sketches for Orchestra”) by Claude Debussy was inspired by the artwork featured in Q. 1, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”; a reproduction of Hokusai’s print graces the cover of the original edition of the score. As its title implies, the piece – premiered in Paris in October 1905 – is divided in three sections, representing the three main aspects of the composer’s aesthetic: Impressionism in the first part (“From Dawn to Noon on the Sea”), Symbolism in the second (“Play of the Waves”), and Japonism (i.e. the influence of Japanese art) in the third (“Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea”). Debussy completed his work during a stay at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, on the English Channel.
Impressionism was named after the painting in the photo, Claude Monet’s “Impressions, soleil levant” (“Impressions, Sunrise”, 1872), depicting the sea at Le Havre, the artist’s hometown in Normandy.