Today, we see mermaids everywhere, just not in the ocean.
They are on our coffee cups thanks to Starbucks’ usage of them in its logo and perhaps the most famous mermaid in the world, Disney’s Ariel, is all over the toy aisle and in children’s imaginations all over the globe.
But, mermaids used to be much more than just imaginary creatures. Many many hundreds of years ago, people used to actually believe they existed. To them, mermaids were as real as the ground beneath their feet.
Here, we take just a quick look at these fantastic mythical creatures and their history throughout folklore as compiled by Matt Simon for Wired.
Ea – About 4,000 years ago, Ea was the Babylonian god of the sea, he had the upper body of a human and the lower body of a fish. He was the inspiration for the Greek god Poseidon and the Roman god Neptune.
Atargatis – This ancient Syrian goddess was the first mermaid-like figure with the upper body of a woman and the lower body of a fish.
Nereids – The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote about these nymphs who were half human, half fish. However, he noted that the human part of them were still covered in fish-like scales. Pliny also wrote about sea-men who would climb up the sides of ships at night. The side of the ship with the sea-man on it would sink down in the water.
Sirens – From Greek mythology, these mermaids were evil. They could sing beautifully and their beautiful singing would captivate sailors so much that the sailors would stop their duties on the ship to listen to them. This would cause the ships to crash into rocks.
1430 – In the Netherlands, some girls rowing around in a boat are said to have found a mermaid and took her home with them and gave her clothes. She could not be taught to speak, though, and remained a mute.
1493 – During the voyage of Christopher Columbus, he himself spotted what he believed to be mermaids near what is known today as the Dominican Republic.
16th Century – Olaus Magnus wrote that fisherman around Scandinavia said that if you catch a mermaid or merman, a harsh storm would develop instantly.
1614 – John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) claimed to have spotted a mermaid near what is now known as Newfoundland in Canada.
17th Century – French naturalist Guillaume Rondelet claimed to have gotten ahold of two sea creatures that resembled members of the clergy. The “sea monk” and the “sea bishop” were described in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana of 1817 as having some human features.
18th Century to Present – Sightings of mermaids became less and less common as people started embracing science more and mythology less. Today, they are reserved for coffee cups and cartoons … and educational building block toys.
What ancient people believed to be mermaids were likely just sea mammals like manatees and dugongs … or maybe mermaids actually are real!
If you want a real mermaid, all you need to do is grab your Click-A-Brick Rainbowland set. You can make a mermaid and so much more!
We hope you had fun learning about the history of these fascinating mythical creatures.