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Mermaid

Description  Half woman, half fish.

 

Features Mermaids of art and legend are often depicted holding a mirror and a comb.  Mermaids sometimes sit on the rocks and sing, luring sailors to their doom.  This is why they are sometimes confused with sirens.  There has long been an association between the two.

Everyone has seen pictures of mermaids- almost every seafaring culture reported them.  Sightings have been made by the early Greeks and Arabs, medieval sailors, Christopher Columbus, and up into the 1900's. 

 

Related to

Nereids

Sirens

Melusine

 

Reported by Pliny reported mermaids, and in 586 A.D. there was a widely-reported sighting in the Nile.  Christopher Columbus reported seeing three mermaids in the ocean off of Haiti in January of 1493.  He reported that they "came quite high out of the water", but were "not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men."  (Cherry, 1995.)

Speculum Regale (also called the King's Mirror, written in Norway around 1250): "Another prodigy called mermaid has also been seen there. This appears to have the form of a woman from the waist upward, for it has large nipples on its breast like a woman, long hands and heavy hair, and its neck and head are formed in every respect like those of a human being. The monster is said to have large hands and its fingers are not parted but bound together by a web like that which joins the toes of water fowls. Below the waist line it has the shape of a fish with scales and tail and fins. It is said to have this in common with the one mentioned before, that it rarely appears except before violent storms. Its behavior is often somewhat like this: it will plunge into the waves and will always reappear with fish in its hands; if it then turns toward the ship, playing with the fishes or throwing them at the ship, the men have fears that they will suffer great loss of life. The monster is described as having a large and terrifying face, a sloping forehead and wide brows, a large mouth and wrinkled cheeks. But if it eats the fishes or throws them into the sea away from the ship, the crews have good hopes that their lives will be spared, even though they should meet severe storms."

 

Might Actually be Aside from purely imaginary tales, most sightings by sailors were probably normal marine creatures, such as manatees, dugongs, or sea-cows (now extinct.)  The "mermaids" described by Columbus were almost certainly manatees.

Picture of a dugong (top) and manatee.

 

Links http://www.isidore-of-seville.com/mermaids/  an excellent site with links to hundreds of images

 

 

 

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