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Information About Mermaids

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Information About Mermaids

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They were also said to have lost their wings when bested in a musical contest by the Muses who then plucked their feathers Lempriere , Graves In all these stories a recurrent gendered element is that the sirens, as the ancient, pre-Olympian untamed destructive feminine, are punished or vanquished by the male order in art Orpheus, the Olympian-identified Muses or are unable to prevent violent male assault Proserpine.

Medieval allegory reinforced the mermaid's destructive charge, especially with her entrance into Christian texts through a mistranslation of a passage of Isaiah in Jerome's Vulgate, from forms of "wild dogs" in Hebrew into "sirens" in Latin de Donder The influence of Honorius of Autun in was decisive in having the mermaid signify the temptations of the world, a sea of travails on which sinners float and to which they succumb de Donder In medieval iconography wings, claws, and a fish tail vied and sometimes combined, but the fish tail became the dominant segment, especially unequivocally sexualized as female as a double and forked tail hinged at the front of the body by a sort of apron over the womb and vagina.

This "apron" has been interpreted also as being linked to the building and prosperity function of mermaids, allowing the transport of stones Bulteau Such images proliferated in architectural programs as well as in objects of daily use and manuscript illustration.

The mermaid's comb and mirror, also gendered as feminine, were linked both to Christian moral and didactic messages vanity as a mortal sin , a dangerous temptation for the soul and to a broader mythical content the mirror as soul-gazing instrument, the connection to death through looking behind.

In Western European folklore the comb evoked the treatment of plant fibers to produce textiles and the Sebastean cult of Saint Blasius, one of the major thaumaturgical saints of the Middle Ages Gaignebet and Lajoux In medieval France the mermaid also merged with the symbolism of motherhood, foundation myths, aristocratic genealogies, sexual transgression, and sexual prohibition in the fictional story of the fairy Melusina, whose demonic tail appears when she takes her secret bath, presumably to cleanse herself during menstruation Gaignebet and Lajoux and is claimed as an ancestress by the powerful Lusignan family Spiegel In Victorian times the seductive mermaid evolved into a debased, grotesque form with the exhibition of monsters and morphological oddities in side shows, tavern backrooms, and curiosity museums that made the anthropomorphic mermaid into a hybrid with a zoomorphic misshapen and mismatched body exhibited in skeletal form, often wired together from parts of orangutans and salmons Bondeson , Ritvo In the modern United States the mermaid's origins are less classical, derived primarily from the highly personal world of Hans Christian Andersen 's "The Little Mermaid" and migrating into Disneyan normative codes with a full-length cartoon animation feature.

Feminist theory has addressed gender roles and models for girls implicit in Disney's work Ross For Laura Sells the Little Mermaid is a parable of bourgeois feminism destabilized by its own messages.

She sees an opposition between "reformist demands for access" that leave existing gender identities intact and radical revisions that refigure gender as the symbolic change that is necessary for and preliminary to social change.

Others have pointed to the highly sexualized and erotic charge of the mermaid's body since its earliest representations, posing an irresolvable task for the prudish gender conformist Disney and leading to cartoon interpretations of the figure, its garb, and lack thereof, all of which are, according to Elizabeth Bell , a form of burlesque.

Laurie Essig, in a study of the annual Coney Island , New York , Mermaid Parade, has suggested that the mermaid constitutes a riddle, centered around the existence and accessibility of the vagina "at the edge of the heterosexual imaginary as potential lover and potential monster" Essig , pp.

Analyst Joyce McDougall interpreted the original myths of the siren in Freudian and Lacanian modes, as a siren-mother figure that threatens to envelop or "devour" the child, who is protected through verbal communication.

The mother's voice "rekindles fantasies of fusion, with the consequent loss of both subjective—and sexual—identity" McDougall , p.

Thus, the original voice is at once attraction and danger, the siren's song that draws the child back into nonindividuation.

The intervention of the father the law , as the Lacanian voix du pere , becomes necessary to prevent reabsorption into the "voice" of the mother Greenberg , p.

Bell, Elizabeth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Bondeson, Jan. Essig, Laurie. Chrys Ingraham. New York : Routledge.

Gaignebet, Claude, and Jean Dominique Lajoux. Art profane et religion populaire au Moyen Age. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Greenberg, Mitchell. Lempriere, J. Lempriere's Classical Dictionary. Proper Names Cited by the Ancient Authors. London: Bracken Books.

McDougall, Joyce. New York: Norton. Ritvo, Harriet. Ross, Deborah. Sells, Laura. Spiegel, Gabrielle M. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

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Her characteristic appearance is as a nubile young girl, with long hair and a fish tail, carrying a comb and a mirror. Unlike the other part-human, part-animal creatures of myth and folklore, mermaids have been the object of many sightings up to the present day; it is as if there is a desire to prove the reality of mermaids, which makes them closer to creatures such as the Loch Ness monster and the Yeti than to centaurs and sirens.

Another expression of this desire to believe can be found in the many fake mermaids, usually made of the upper torso of a monkey and the tail of a salmon, which have been exhibited in fairs and circuses.

In the age of trade and exploration, seeing a mermaid was an almost essential part of travelling to new worlds; Christopher Columbus saw three off Haiti , Sir Richard Whitburne sighted one when discovering Newfoundland in , and Henry Hudson's crew saw a mermaid off Nova Zembla in In each case, the surviving accounts consciously compare what has been seen with the dominant images in art — Columbus finding his mermaids less pretty and more masculine than he expected.

She refused to eat, and made plaintive sounds like those of a mouse. The account given of these events in suggested that dead mermaids were never found because their flesh rots particularly rapidly.

Where do the myths of mermaids come from? The shift to fish-women as the danger facing mariners may be related to an increasing ability to travel to the open sea, where mermaids live, out of sight of the coastal rocks where sirens had been thought to perch.

Both sirens and mermaids have musical talents; bird-sirens sing and play the pipes and the lyre, whereas mermaids rely on their voices to entice sailors to their death.

Mermaids can raise and calm storms at will and, like the Sphinx, they can trap men with questions and riddles.

Mermaids combine the beauty of a young girl with a repulsive, fishy lower body. Physically, the problem this poses is how the men whom they target are supposed to have sexual intercourse with them.

Some medieval representations get around this problem by showing the mermaid with a forked tail, but perhaps the whole point about the mermaid is that she is sexually unattainable except through death.

An unusual solution to the problem of the sexual availability of mermaids is found in Magritte's Collective Invention , which shows a beached mermaid with the upper half of a fish and the lower half of a woman.

A related problem is how mermaids themselves reproduce; male mer-people, or tritons, are shown in art, particularly in the Renaissance , but again they may miss the point.

Matthew Arnold 's poem The Forsaken Merman is a rare example of the treatment of mermen in literature; it reverses the common pattern of a mortal man loving a mermaid but being deserted by her, to imagine a mortal woman being called back from the mer-world by the distant sound of church bells.

Modern literary representations of the mermaid are dominated by the influential Little Mermaid of Hans Christian Anderson.

Here the mer-world is a systematic inversion of our own, in which not birds, but fish, fly in through open windows. Rather than causing shipwrecks, the little mermaid saves the life of a shipwrecked prince, then makes a bargain with the sea-witch, exchanging her tongue for a pair of human legs.

Every step she takes causes her terrible pain, and her feet bleed. Unable to win the love of the prince without her voice, she rejects the chance to kill him and thus return to her life as a mermaid, but instead dies when he marries someone else.

Feminist interpretations of this story suggest that the little mermaid's surrender of the power to speak in order to enter the prince's world is an image of women giving up their own voices if they are to be accepted within patriarchy.

Anderson's own message was that, by her love for the prince, the mermaid gained the chance of winning the immortal soul she most craved.

Helen King. Mermaids and mermen are imaginary beings with the upper bodies of humans and the lower bodies of fish. Often mentioned in European legends, they also occur in the folklore of seagoing peoples from other regions of the world.

The idea of a deity god or creature in which human features are combined with the body of a fish is very ancient.

Babylonian pronounced bab-uh-LOH-nee-uhn texts mentioned a god named Oannes, who was part man and part fish and lived among humans.

Ancient Greek and Roman sea gods and their attendants often appeared as human torsos rising from the waves with curved fish tails below.

Japanese folklore features a mermaid called Ningyo pronounced NEEN-gyoh , and Polynesian mythology includes a half-human and half-porpoise creator god called Vatea.

In European folklore, mermaids were associated with sirens, beautiful creatures whose singing lures sailors to their doom. Mermaids were commonly pictured as floating on top of the waves, singing, or combing their long hair while gazing into mirrors.

Seeing a mermaid was considered bad luck, as mermaids often appeared before storms or other disasters and were believed to carry drowned men away to their kingdom at the bottom of the sea.

Although encounters with mermaids and mermen often ended badly for humans, in some legends these sea creatures married human partners and took completely human form to live on land.

Many sailors over the centuries believed mermaids to be real and have reported spotting mermaids while at sea.

Christopher Columbus even reported sighting three mermaids near the Dominican Republic in , though he was disappointed that they were not as pretty as popular depictions suggested.

In truth, what Columbus and other sailors most likely saw were sea mammals known as manatees and dugongs. That these creatures were generally viewed as female is likely due to their pale skin, soft curves, and the fact that most sailors were men who did not have contact with women for weeks or months at a time.

Although mermaids are usually portrayed as being lovely, they are also associated with danger. In European folklore , mermaids sometimes called sirens and mermen were natural beings who, like fairies, had magical and prophetic powers.

They loved music and often sang. Though very long-lived, they were mortal and had no souls. Many folktales record marriages between mermaids who might assume human form and men.

While the objects are hidden she lives with him; if she finds them she returns at once to the sea. In some variants the marriage lasts while certain agreed-upon conditions are fulfilled, and it ends when the conditions are broken.

Though sometimes kindly, mermaids and mermen were usually dangerous to man. Their gifts brought misfortune, and, if offended, the beings caused floods or other disasters.

To see one on a voyage was an omen of shipwreck. They sometimes lured mortals to death by drowning, as did the Lorelei of the Rhine, or enticed young people to live with them underwater, as did the mermaid whose image is carved on a bench in the church of Zennor, Cornwall , England.

Aquatic mammals, such as the dugong and manatee , that suckle their young in human fashion above water are considered by some to underlie these legends.

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