Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sailors, Curses, and Mermaids. Oh My!

I meant to do this yesterday with the release of Captain Jack Sparrow's new adventure in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but unfortunately that didn't happen. I'll try to do better next week with blogging, but don't worry. I won't stay off for months. Anyway, on with the blog.

Ever since the release of the first film in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean has captured the imagination of the entire planet. Fans have gone to see the heroics of Will Turner, the courage of Elizabeth Swan, and the cunning of Captain Jack Sparrow. The series newest title, On Stranger Tides, does not feature Will or Elizabeth, but Captain Jack has a great new adventure ahead of him. The pirate now searches for the legendary Fountain of Youth while confronting the woman from his past Angelica, and hot on their trail are the English Navy, zombies, mermaids, and Blackbeard himself.

While Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the smartest (or craziest) men to sail the oceans, he is not the first seafaring hero in the world, and he isn't the first person to encounter creatures like mermaids. Across the world people have had told stories of men who brave the vast oceans and encountered many dangers. I'll discuss some of the heroes in this blog, and what makes them so famous.
Perhaps one of the best known sailors in the realm of fiction is Sinbad the Sailor. First appearing in the collection of stories known as A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, what makes Sinbad so cool is that he didn't go on one, but seven voyages! Some of the adventures he's had involved a roc (a giant bird from Persian mythology that was supposed to carry off and eat elephants) that dropped rocks on his ship after he and his men ate the eggs of the roc. Another of his adventures find him on an island that turns out to be a giant sea animal. Some version say it is a turtle, but some recent adaptations had it as a fish. For some reason, no matter what happens, Sinbad always ends up setting sail again.
Another well-known tale of a seafarer is The Odyssey, which follows the adventures of Odysseus after the Trojan War is won by the Greeks. On his way home Odysseus and his men land on the Island of the Cyclopes, and end up having to blind Polyphemus to escape. Polyphemus calls on his father Poseidon to curse Odysseus, which seems to work considering the trouble that follows. Odysseus and his men encounter Sirens (bird women who lure sailors to their deaths with their voices), the sorceress Circe, and pass through Scylla and Charybdis before offending Apollo by eating some of his cattle. The result is that Odysseus loses his men and he takes twenty years total to get back home to Ithaca.

I think everyone's pretty familiar with what a mermaid is. Mermaids are the mythical sea creatures that are half-fish and half-woman, with the male counterpart being called a merman. Tales of mermaids extend all the way to the time of the Assyrians, over 3000 years ago (give or take). At first the tales of half-fish people were attributed to be the forms of the local mythology's sea god or goddess. Most of the ancient tales of mermaids are diversified, with some of them singing to lure sailors to their deaths to just being an underwater civilization that comes into contact with men. In our day and age the mermaid keeps the look of the original myths (although sometimes they're given seashell bikinis while the original mermaids were completely nude) while being portrayed as music lovers who live in the ocean like we live on the surface. Scientists believe that the stories of mermaids came up when sailors saw manatees swimming about, but that can't be so because tales of these beings have been told by the Arabians, the Greeks, and the Norse alike, long before America was discovered by the rest of the world. Some people even claim to see mermaids to this day. The legends are probably not true, but still it's fun to tell tales of these people and the sailors who encounter them.

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