“I wanna be where the people are
I wanna see…
Wanna see ’em dancin’
Walkin’ around on those…
Whad’ya call them? Oh-Feet.
Flippin’ your fins you don’t get too far
Legs are required for jumpin’, dancin’
Strolling along down a..
What’s that word again? Street..”
Lyrics from Part of Your World as sung by Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
Ah mermaids. One of the most sought after mythological creatures ever. Also one of the
oldest and most often talked about mythological creatures. Tales of mermaids have been
going back for as long as humans have been exploring the sea. Some people say that
mermaids are exotically beautiful creatures. Others say that from afar they’re gorgeous…the
closer you get to them..the uglier they become. Some stories talk of mermaids being
benevolent creatures, creatures willing to help humans who are in trouble or ships during
storms. Other stories portray mermaids in a vastly different light. A rather chilling and eerie
light. These stories…paint mermaids as malevolent creatures. Creatures who have no love
towards humans and would routinely use their beauty to drag men down to the depths of
the ocean just to drown them. This bit has been spun by the ages of time as mermaids
not consciously wanting to drown the men they bring into the sea…but rather they forget
that human males cannot breathe underwater. All of that aside…where did the idea of
mermaids come from? Was it the Greeks? Romans? English? Surprisingly…for once
it was none of these cultures. The mermaid myth started off in Syria around 1000 B.C . give
or take a few years. According to the mythology there was a very beautiful Syrian Goddess
named Atargatis. Legend has it that she was in love with a mortal shepard and somehow she
accidentally and unintentionally caused his death. Ashamed by what she had done, she
decided to jump into a lake and take on the form of a fish. This is where the story splits..
one version says that the powers that be…the powers higher up than even the Gods and
Goddesses could not allow and would not allow Atargatis to give up her divine beauty so
only her bottom half was turned fish like while her top half remained human. The other
version of this story says that the waters wouldn’t conceal her beauty so she was forced
to take on the half fish, half human form herself to conceal herself. From there the myth has
spun out into other cultures. For the Greeks..and later the Romans, Aphrodite also known
by her Roman name Venus, came to be portrayed from time to time as mermaid…most likely
because she’s a Goddess of beauty. Ironically though…the Greeks identified Atargatis as
Dereko in their own mythology. As the stories mixed and changed and were passed down
generations Atargatis/Dereko came to be considered the Syrian Goddess counterpart to
Aphrodite/Venus. Mermaids became mixed up with sirens when Homer’s epic “The Odyessy”
was written. Supposedly the Sirens had beautiful, beautiful voices and were even more
beautiful to look upon..from afar at least. They would enchant sailors with their voices,
trying to lure them closer to their islands. Sometimes the sailors would go overboard,
spellbound by the voices and die trying to swim out to the island. Other times they’d make
it out to the island only to discover the owner of the sweet voice was in fact a monster and
would end up drowned, eaten or horribly doomed. Homer’s “The Odyessy” is what kicked
off the majority of mermaid mythology. Everything from tales in the British Isles to One
Thousand and One Nights (Known in English as Arabian Nights) to Hans Christian Anderson’s
The Little Mermaid has styled mermaids as beautiful creatures with beautiful voices.
Arabian Nights and Hans Christian Anders…and Disney since they made Hans Christian
Ander’s The Little Mermaid story into a movie..have romanticized mermaids and made them
into the sweet, innocent, helpful benevolent creatures we believe them to be today.
For further information and stories on mermaids, check out the links below!