A Bronze Statue of a Mermaid at Copenhagen
Flaxen hair and fair skin, she sings a melody that enchants the soul, listen too closely and she’ll ensnare your mind, dragging you to the depths of the ocean.
She is a mermaid and her legend runs back well beyond written history. The legend of the mermaid is always thought of with the most beautiful women imaginable, the kind of beauty that comes from taking krill oil everyday or the kind of beauty that only cosmetic surgery can make.
The first known account of a mermaid comes out of Assyria (an ancient kingdom centered on the Upper Tigris River in northern Mesopotamia) circa 1000BC. The goddess Atargatis, mother of Assyrian queen Semiramis, loved a mortal shepherd and unintentionally killed him. Ashamed, she jumped into a lake to take the form of a fish, but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. Thereafter, she took the form of a mermaid—human above the waist, fish below.
But the Assyrians do not hold a franchise over the mermaid. Mermaids may be the most common cross-cultural legend around, with stories of their treacherous song and awesome beauty found in the traditions of old world places all around the globe – from Britain and Scotland, to Russia, Africa, Japan and China, and even both the east and west coasts of Canada and the US.
Of course, the most familiar depiction of a mermaid is through Hans Christian Anderson’s unforgettable fairytale The Little Mermaid, as has been made popular by Disney in their 1989 interpretation. Probably largely due to that mainstream familiarity with cartoon characters and sing-a-long lyrics, the mermaid has moved out of favour in cryptozoology circles, taking a back seat to more believable candidates, though there are still a few believers out there.
Scientifically there’s nothing to talk about, most, if not all so-called mermaid encounters are written off as a case of mistaken identity, laying the blame squarely at the feet, or flippers as the case may be, of salt water dugongs and manatees. These lumbering giants are known to be misleadingly comely at a distance, though up close they’re definitely nothing to write home about. Even so, the prevailing story in maritime tradition is that mermaids are real creatures who use their song to lure men into the depths of the sea, whether by coaxing deck hands overboard or by making captains run aground.
Of course, anyone who’s ever trolled through YouTube annals for weird and wonderful videos has surely come across an odd picture or two, depicting what appears to be either the worlds ugliest fish (which is saying something) or a genuine merman (the male version of a mermaid). Though as I’ve warned in the past, be careful what you believe, as your eyes have been fooled. Dating back at least as early as the Renaissance, people have been hoaxing mermaid remains and skeletons and passing them off as the real thing. In the late 19thcentury P.T. Barnam had on display a half-human half-fish monstrosity in his museum called The Fiji Mermaid. Unfortunately for those he conned, this mermaid was just a clever trick of creative taxidermy, and such are the modern hoaxes as well.
Any way you slice it, the mermaid legend has its charm, and despite the glaring lack of evidence for its existence, there are many fishermen the world over who believe without a doubt, that the sirens are singing their song to them.