Stories about fantastic creatures are nothing new to the legend-haunted world of the Mediterranean.
Since ancient times, wandering poets and ship-wrecked sailors have spun wondrous tales of demons and deities that challenged the likes of Hercules, Theseus, Jason and Sinbad.
Now comes word that a creature is terrorizing an island near Crete, the very heart of ancient Western civilization.
According to press reports from Greece, a giant, lizard-like monster inhabits a volcanic crater on the island of Kragon.
Sailors, tourists and others who claim to have seen the creature say it is more than 60 feet long and resembles a dinosaur.
Government officials have restricted visits to the island until a scientific expedition can investigate.
"We can't determine exactly what it is until we examine it in the flesh," said Costas Petrogiannis, a Greek paleontologist who plans to head up the team of researchers. "But no known reptile is that large."
Most of the 700 or so inhabitants of Kragon have known about the creature for years, Dr. Petrogiannis said. In fact, "some of the islanders belong to a pagan cult that apparently has worshiped the monster since 2100 B.C."
There are even unsubstantiated reports that young virgins are occasionally sacrificed to the beast - a charge hotly denied by Turkey, which has enjoyed political and economic control of Kragon since the end of World War II.
"There have been no human sacrifices on the island since we took control of it in 1946," said a member of the Turkish consul staff in Athens.
The Turks blamed Greece for fabricating the story in an attempt to sway the world opinion against Turkey's claim to ownership of the island.
The story was leaked to the press several months ago when two Greek agents went to the island and took photos of the alleged creature. The photos, which were analyzed and verified by Greek government experts, apparently depict some enormous creature emerging from the crater.
Officials who examined the photos stopped short of calling the beast a dinosaur, but described it as a "very large reptile."
"Apparently, the giant beast lives in the crater of the volcano, which is extinct (and is) in the middle of the island," Dr. Petrogiannis said.
Most scientist believe the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago after a comet struck the Earth and disrupted the ecosystem. But Dr. Petrogiannis and a few other experts believe some dinosaurs could have survived.
"Conceivably," the professor noted, "the sheltering walls of the crater could have preserved the species' natural habitat on Kragon Island. We won't know for sure until we can launch an expedition to the island and capture one of the creatures."
As for the rumors involving human sacrifice, the professor said, "Apparently the islanders believe a giant beast lives in the crater of an extinct volcano ... and the only way they can keep it from going on rampage is to feed it a fresh virgin once a year."
He added, "It's possible this practice inspired the myth of Perseus, the Greek hero who rescued Andromeda from sacrifice to a monster in ancient times."
E. Randall Floyd is a syndicated writer who lives in Augusta.
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