Hi again. Sorry for no update last week, but I was a little busy. The reason why I'm revisiting the topic of mermaids is because I don't feel like I covered enough about them last time. Like dragons, there are so many myths and legends surrounding them that I had to do another blog post discussing what the ancient civilizations thought of these ancient creatures. First on the list is Greek culture.
In Greek legends, Triton, son of Poseidon was held to be the father of the mermaids and mermen. Instead of mermaids, however, they were simply known as Tritons and were often seen around the gods of the sea. Their appearance was also described as being more shark-like than what we have today. Some people may think that Poseidon had the basic appearance of a merman, but that is false. That was how his son Triton looked. Another myth of a sea god (though not as well known) is the tale of Glaucus. Glaucus was a fisherman who, after seeing his catch acting strangely, tasted some magic grass and was filled with a love for the sea. Poseidon called together many river gods and they made Glaucus a god of the sea, sealing the deal by giving him the tail of a fish. Therefore, we can conclude that the mermaids and mermen of Greek mythology were basically either gods or servants of the sea gods.
The mermaids of the Norse culture were called selkies, and were basically seals who took human form when they took off their seal skin. Legends vary at how often this would occur. Some say that it could only happen once a year, others say it only happens on Midsummer's eve. These legends say that humans could marry selkies, but very differently. Women had to shed seven tears into the sea to attract the love of a male selkie, while men had to simply capture the skin of a female selkie. This prevented them from returning to the sea and effectively made her his wife. It would appear that selkies were a type of wild person who could become tame if captured.
The Arabs also had their own tales of mermaids. Most of the time they were gods or goddesses of the sea (like Atargatis, who could not conceal her beauty no matter what). However, there were civilizations of merfolk who lived just like people do on the surface (and breeding between the two species did occur, with the result being children with the ability to breathe underwater). One tale from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights tells of how a sailor was brought to a mermaid city, where they lived in a society without money or clothing. Still, for the most part, the Arabs talked about how the societies of mermaids lived, something the rest of the ancient world didn't think of.
The British Isles had many tales of mermaids, most of the time taking a page from the Greek myths of the sirens and making them out to be a bad omen. They thought that if something bad happened, it was the work of a mermaid (whether they were trying to prevent it or not). They were also capable of swimming up rivers and living in freshwater lakes. One nobleman sought to rescue a woman he thought was drowning, but was saved by his servant who saw the maiden as a mermaid. The mermen were often wilder than their female counterparts, but basically had no part in the affairs of humans. Guess they enjoyed what they had under the sea.
Well, that's basically it for the ancient tales of mermaids. There tales of them in China, the Caribbean, and Africa, but unfortunately there wasn't enough to cover in this blog. I think that for the most part we like the modern tales of mermaids as half-fish people who love music and have civilizations under the ocean. I'm pretty sure that has long as we keep telling tales of mystical lands, we will tell tales of the mermaids and mermen.