Since once I sat upon a promontory
And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin’s back,
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song,
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea-maid’s music.
– William Shakespeare,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mermaid is a female aquatic creature with a human head and upper body, and fishtail instead of legs. The male species is called merman. The first description found is of Babylonian God Oannes (a merman) long before the descriptions of a mermaid. However, most of the legends revolve around mermaids instead of mermen.
Mermaids are very popular in folk lore of the coastal regions. Sometimes, they are associated with calamities like ship-wreck and drowning. They have great beauty and charm, and are considered to lure sailor men to their deaths. Other times, they bestow boons, and are considered beneficent.
Sirens which belong to the Greek mythology are similar to mermaids. (Some of the sirens have legs of birds, but others which have fish tail resemble mermaids.) Sirens have a beautiful voice which they use to enchant sailors, and drown them.
As a kid, I used to think mermaids are sea fairies, who sing lullabies to little fishes and put them to sleep at night.
Origin of the myth:
There are two theories which try to trace the origin of the myth:
- Most of the sightings are reported by sailors on a long voyage. They were isolated from civilization and were probably on the look out for human-like species. There is a chance they stumbled upon some sea creatures like manatees and mistook them for mermaids.
- Mermaid sightings were of female divers. Many of the Japanese or Korean female divers wear skimpy dresses for ease of diving. People who weren’t familiar with female divers confused them with mermaids.
Whatever, be the cause of mermaid myth, mermaids have become a part of popular fantasies and novels. The myth has become an integral part of the many hidden mysteries of the sea.
Sharing with: Water World Wednesday