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woman, half fish.
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
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
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.
http://www.isidore-of-seville.com/mermaids/ an excellent site with
links to hundreds of images