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Mermen, the male counterparts of the mythical mermaids, may be legendary creature which is a male human from the waist up and fish-like waist down, but may assume normal human shape. Sometimes described as hideous, and other times as handsome. A "merboy" is a young merman.

Merman
A Crowned Merman - Arthur Rackham.jpg
A Crowned Merman, by Arthur Rackham
GroupingMythological
Sub groupingWater spirit
Similar creaturesMermaid, Siren
MythologyWorld Mythology
CountryWorldwide
HabitatOcean, sea

Contents

OverviewEdit

The actions and behavior of mermen can vary wildly depending on the source and time period of the stories. They have been said to sink ships by summoning great storms, but also said to be wise teachers, according to earlier mythology. Mermen, just like mermaids, can lure and attract humans with their enchantingly beautiful, soft melodic and seductive siren-like singing voices and tones.[citation needed]

AntiquityEdit

Perhaps the first recorded merman was the early Babylonian sea-god Ea, whose Sumerian Enki, and was known to the Greeks as Oannes. Oannes had a fish head and man's head beneath, and both a fish tail and man like legs, according to Berossus.[a][1] The fish god Dagon of the Philistines, with a fish-tailed body, may derive its origins from these earlier Mesopotamian gods.[2]

In Greek mythology, mermen were often illustrated to have green seaweed-like hair, a beard, and a trident.

Medieval PeriodEdit

In Medieval Europe, mermen were sometimes held responsible for causing violent storms and sinking ships.[3]

A twin-tailed merman is depicted on the Bianco world map (1436).[4][5][b] A merman and a mermaid is shown on the Martin Behaim#Behaim globe (c. 1490–1493).[6]

Germanic folkoreEdit

Icelandic folklore speaks of mermen known as marbendlar (sing. marbendill).[7]

"Agnete og Havmanden" is a Scandinavian ballad of late composition (late 18th century) that tells of a merman who was mated to a human woman named Agnete, and unsuccessfully pleaded her to come back to him and their children in the sea.[8]

Outward appearanceEdit

Mermen of Germany, England, or Scandinavia may be a being that may be hideous and monstrous or quite human-like and handsome.

English folklorist Jacqueline Simpson surmises that as in Nordic (Scandinavian) countries, the original man-like water-dwellers of England probably lacked fish-like tails.[9] A "wildman" caught in a fishnet, described by Ralph of Coggeshall (c. 1210) was entirely man-like though he liked to eat raw fish and eventually returned to the sea.[9] Katharine Mary Briggs opined that the mermen are "often uglier and rougher in the British Isles".[10][c]

Mermen which seldom frequent American folklore are supposedly depicted as less beautiful than mermaids.[12]

Celtic folkoreEdit

The Irish narrative about a male merrow named Coomar, described as extremely ugly creatures with green hair, teeth and skin, narrow eyes and a red nose, turned out to be fakelore, the entire "Soul Cages" story being invented by Thomas Keightley by adapting one of Grimm's folklore pieces (Deutsche Sagen No. 25, "Der Wassermann und der Bauer" or "The Waterman and the Peasant").[11]

In Cornish folklore into early modern times, the Bucca, described as a lonely, mournful character with the skin of a conger eel and hair of seaweed, was still placated with votive offerings of fish left on the beach by fishermen.[13] Similarly vengeful water spirits occur in Breton and Gaelic lore which may relate to pre Christian gods such as Nechtan.

Folkore elsewhereEdit

In Finnish mythology, a vetehinen, a type of Neck, is sometimes portrayed as a magical, powerful, bearded man with the tail of a fish. He can cure illnesses, lift curses and brew potions, but he can also cause unintended harm by becoming too curious about human life.

The boto of the Amazon River regions is described according to local lore as taking the form of a human or merman, also known as encantado ("enchanted one" in Portuguese) and with the habit of seducing human women and impregnating them.

Chinese mermen were believed to only surface during storms or, in some cases, were believed to have the ability to cause storms.

In the folklore of the Dogon of Mali, ancestral spirits called Nommo had humanoid upper torsos, legs and feet, and a fish-like lower torso and tail.

Notable mermenEdit

 
Triton with a Nymph

The most well-known merman was probably Triton, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. Although Amphitrite gave birth to a merman, neither Poseidon nor Amphitrite were merfolk, although both were able to live under water as easily as on land. Triton was also known as the Trumpeter of the Sea for his usage of a conch shell.

Another notable merman from Greek mythology was Glaucus. He was born a human and lived his early life as a fisherman. One day, while fishing, he saw that the fish he caught would jump from the grass and into the sea. He ate some of the grass, believing it to have magical properties, and felt an overwhelming desire to be in the sea. He jumped in the ocean and refused to go back on land. The sea gods nearby heard his prayers and transformed him into a sea god. Ovid describes the transformation of Glaucus in the Metamorphoses, describing him as a blue-green man with a fishy member where his legs had been.

The East Slavic epic Sadko contains a Sea Tsar who is a merman.

Hoaxes and sideshowsEdit

Banff "Merman" on display at the Indian Trading Post
A dried ray or skate, or Jenny Haniver

The Fiji mermaid was first put on display in 1842 by P.T. Barnum in the Barnum's American Museum, New York.[14] A similar "merman" was supposedly found in Banff, Alberta, and is displayed at the Indian Trading Post.[15] Other such "mermen", which may be composites of wood carvings, parts of monkeys and fish, are found in museums around the world, for example, at the Booth Museum in Brighton.[16]

Such fake mermaids handcrafted from half monkey and half fish were being made in China and the Malay archipelago and being imported by the Dutch since the mid-16th century.[17] Several natural history books published around this time (ca. 1550s) carried entries on the mermaid-like monk-fish (sea monk) and the bishopfish (sea bishop), and E. W. Gudger suspected these were misinformation based on the aforementioned hoax mermaids from the East.[d][18]

Gudger also noted that the mermaid-like bishopfish could well be simulated by a dried specimen of a ray. A dried ray bears a vaguely anthropomorphic shape, and can be further manipulated to enhance its desired monstrous look. Such figures made of sharks and rays eventually came to be known as Jenny Hanivers in Britain.[19]

Literature and popular cultureEdit

Matthew Arnold wrote a poem called "The Forsaken Merman" about a merman whose human wife abandoned him and their children.[20][21] Mermen may feature in science fiction and fantasy literature, for example, science fiction writer Joe Haldeman wrote two books on Attar the Merman in which genetically enhanced mermen can communicate telepathically with dolphins. Samuel R. Delany wrote the short story Driftglass in which mermen are deliberately created surgically as amphibious human beings with gills,[22] while in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, a race of merpeople live in a lake outside Hogwarts.[23]

Mermen sometimes appear in modern comics, games, television shows and films. Although they were once depicted largely as being unattractive in some traditions as described in previous sections, in some modern works, mermen are portrayed as handsome, strong and brave. In the 1977–1978 television series Man from Atlantis, the merman as played by Patrick Duffy is described as a survivor from Atlantis.[22] In the DC Comics mythology, mermen are a common fixture of the Aquaman mythos, often showing a parochialistic rivalry with humanoid water-breathers. The mermen or merfolk also appear in the Dungeons & Dragons game.[24]

The monster Gill-man from Creature from the Black Lagoon could be seen as a modern adaptation of the Merman myth.[25]

See alsoEdit

Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ Berrosus, as preserved by Alexander Polyhistor.
  2. ^ This is replicated in the Vincenzio Formaleoni map of 1783 "Planisferio antico di Andrea Bianco Che si conserva in Venezia nella Biblioteca di S. Marc", LUNA, JCB Map Collection. The figure occurs at the far right.
  3. ^ However, it should be remembered that a polling of the folklore of the "British Isles" would include Irish folklore, and the story of the male merrow Coomara was Thomas Keightley's invention.[11]
  4. ^ Gudger notes as corroborating circumstantial evidence the fact that Guillaume Rondelet's source received description of the bishopfish from some informant in Amsterdam (and the Dutch were the importers of the mermaid mummies).

ReferencesEdit

Citations
  1. ^ Waugh (1960), pp. 73–74.
  2. ^ Waugh (1960), p. 74.
  3. ^ Rose, Carol (2001). Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 224. ISBN 0393322114. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  4. ^ Watts, Linda (2006). The World Map, 1300-1492: The Persistence of Tradition and Transformation. JHU Press. p. 266. ISBN 0-801-88589-2.
  5. ^ Siebold, Jim (2015). "#241 Andrea Bianco World Map". myoldmaps.com.; pdf text gives close-up of siren.
  6. ^ Terkla, David P. (2013), Friedman, John Block Friedman; Figg, Kristen Mossler (eds.), "Behaim, Martin (c. 1459–1507)", Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia, Routledge, pp. 55–56, ISBN 1-135-59094-X
  7. ^ Ármann Jakobsson (2002) "Hættulegur hlátur". In Baldur Hafstað; Haraldur Bessason edd. Úr manna minnum: Greinar um íslenskar þjóðsögur, pp. 67–83.
  8. ^ Kramer, Nathaniel (2014). Nun, Katalin; Stewart, Jon (eds.). Agnes and the Merman: Abraham as Monster. Kierkegaard's Literary Figures and Motifs Tome I: Agamemnon to Guadalquivir. Ashgate. pp. 16–17. ISBN 1-472-44136-2.
  9. ^ a b Simpson, Jacqueline; Roud, Stephen (2000), "mermaid, merman", A Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford University Press, pp. 639–640, ISBN 0-192-10019-X
  10. ^ Briggs, Katharine Mary (1978). The vanishing people: a study of traditional fairy beliefs. Batsford. p. 266. ISBN 0-801-88589-2.
  11. ^ a b Markey, Anne (2006). "The Discovery of Irish Folklore". New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua. 10 (4): 27–28. JSTOR 20558106
  12. ^ Watts, Linda (2006). Encyclopedia of American Folklore. Infobase Publishing. p. 266. ISBN 1438129793. Retrieved 25 July 2015. Mermen do appear within folklore, but are relatively uncommon in American lore. They are also said to be much less visually appealing than mermaids.
  13. ^ Traditional Cornish Stories and Rhymes, Lodenek Press, 1972
  14. ^ "The Fiji Mermaid: What Was the Abominable Creature and Why Was It So Popular?". Ancient Origin. 19 April 2016.
  15. ^ Babin, Tom (2007-01-22). "Banff's oldest celebrity resident". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2007-08-08. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  16. ^ Imms, Adrian (24 Mar 2016). "Could this be the most gruesome creature in Brighton?". The Argus.
  17. ^ Gudger, E. W. (1934). "Jenny Hanivers, Dragons and Basilisks in the Old Natural History Books and in Modern Times". The Scientific Monthly. 38 (6): 512. JSTOR 15490
  18. ^ Gudger (1934), pp. 512–515.
  19. ^ Gudger (1934), pp. 514–515.
  20. ^ "The Forsaken Merman". The Poetry Foundation.
  21. ^ "The Forsaken Merman: Poem by Arnold". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  22. ^ a b S. T. Joshi (ed.). Icons of Horror and the Supernatural: An Encyclopedia of Our Worst Nightmares, Volume 2. Greenwood Press. pp. 452–455. ISBN 978-0313337826.
  23. ^ Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (ed.). The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. p. 413.
  24. ^ Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson. Dungeons & Dragons (3-Volume Set) (TSR, 1974)
  25. ^ A.W. (May 1, 1954). "Movie Review – The Creature From the Black Lagoon". nytimes.com. The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-19.
Bibliography