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exhibition Info
Mermaid

Type: Image (jpg)

Submitter: [anonymous]

Category: Fantasy

Exhibition Date: 2018-05-22 08:29:14 MST

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Exhibition

Submitter's Comment
Mermaids - those half-human, half-fish sirens of the sea — are legendary sea creatures chronicled in maritime cultures since time immemorial. The ancient Greek epic poet Homer wrote of them in The Odyssey. In the ancient Far East, mermaids were the wives of powerful sea-dragons, and served as trusted messengers between their spouses and the emperors on land. The aboriginal people of Australia call mermaids yawkyawks – a name that may refer to their mesmerizing songs.

The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species. Magical female figures first appear in cave paintings in the late Paleolithic (Stone Age) period some 30,000 years ago, when modern humans gained dominion over the land and, presumably, began to sail the seas. Half-human creatures, called chimeras, also abound in mythology — in addition to mermaids, there were wise centaurs, wild satyrs, and frightful minotaurs, to name but a few.

A temple in Fukuoka, Japan, is said to house the remains of a mermaid that washed ashore in 1222. Its bones were preserved at the behest of a priest who believed the creature had come from the legendary palace of a dragon god at the bottom of the ocean. For nearly 800 years the bones have been displayed, and water used to soak the bones was said to prevent diseases. Only a few of the bones remain, and since they have not been scientifically tested, their true nature remains unknown.

The reality of mermaids was assumed during medieval times, when they were depicted matter-of-factly alongside known aquatic animals such as whales. Hundreds of years ago sailors and residents in coastal towns around the world told of encountering the sea maidens. One story dating back to the 1600s claimed that a mermaid had entered Holland through a dike, and was injured in the process. She was taken to a nearby lake and soon nursed back to health. She eventually became a productive citizen, learning to speak Dutch, perform household chores, and eventually converted to Catholicism.

Another mermaid encounter once offered as a true story is described in Edward Snow's "Incredible Mysteries and Legends of the Sea." A sea captain off the coast of Newfoundland described his 1614 encounter: "Captain John Smith [of Jamestown fame] saw a mermaid 'swimming about with all possible grace.' He pictured her as having large eyes, a finely shaped nose that was 'somewhat short, and well-formed ears' that were rather too long. Smith goes on to say that 'her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive.'" In fact Smith was so taken with this lovely woman that he began "to experience the first effects of love" as he gazed at her before his sudden (and surely profoundly disappointing) realization that she was a fish from the waist down.

Keywords: legendary sea creatures mermaids half fish odyssey chimeras

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