"Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid
Who are the mermaids?
are supernatural women of the sea who have been depicted to have the head
and body of a woman to the waist and a tapering fish body and tail instead
of legs. They live in an undersea world of splendor and riches, but have
been known to assume human form and come ashore to markets and fairs. Legend
and literature have told us that the mermaids are particularly dangerous
to men, often tempting weary sailors off their ships with their hypnotic
song. These unsuspecting men often make the sea their grave.
Many cultures have stories for the origin of the mermaid. The Irish say that they are old pagan women transformed to mermaid shape and banished off the earth by Saint Patrick. A Livonian folktale says that they are Pharaoh's children drowned in the Red Sea. And still others insist that the mermaids' origin, at least in concept, began as the sea deities of ancient religions, such as the Chaldean Oannes, who appeared on earth every day and plunged into the sea every night.
Babylon there was (in these times) a great resort of people of various
nations, who inhabited Chaldaea, and lived in a lawless manner like the
beasts of the field. In the first year there appeared, from that part of
the Erythraean sea which borders upon Babylonia, an animal destitute of
reason [sic], by name Oannes, whose whole body (according to the account
of Apollodorus) was that of a fish, that under the fish's head he had another
head, with feet also below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the
fish's tail. His voice too, and language, was articulated and human, and
a representation of him is preserved even to this day.
"This Being was accustomed to pass the day among men; but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences, and arts of every kind. He taught them to construct cities, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect the fruits; in short, he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanize their lives. From that time, nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions. And when the sun had set, this Being Oannes, retired again into the sea, and passed the night in the deep; for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes."
- Berossus, from Ancient Fragments (Isaac Preston Cory)
very difficult to substantiate a mermaid sighting. Mermaid sightings are
always explained away as visions of some portly manatee or dugong, but
still some choose to believe in the mermaids' existence. There is a Netherlands
story, reported by Baring Gould (Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, 1884)
that in 1430 when the dikes near Edam broke in a storm, some young girls
in a boat found a mermaid floundering in shallow muddy water. They took
her home and dressed her in women's clothes... legend says that the mermaid
could spin and weave extraordinarily, but she never learned to speak. In
addition, old Henry Hudson is said to have seen a mermaid near Nova Zembla
while on his arctic explorations, and in 1560, west of Ceylon, it was reported
that some fishermen caught several mermaids in a net. Do mermaids truly
exist? What do you believe?
is substantiated every day is the popularity mermaids hold in our culture.
Today there are mermaid toys and dolls, mermaid films and even mermaid
cartoons. Hans Christian Anderson immortalized the mermaid in his children's
story The Little Mermaid, a tale of a young mermaid who falls in love with
a human prince but is changed into a being of light when the prince marries
another. Disney took this story, slapped on a happy ending and created
Ariel, certainly the most popular mermaid image in America today.