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A Crowned Merman, by Arthur Rackham
|Sub grouping||Water spirit|
|Similar creatures||Mermaid, Siren|
Mermen are mythical male equivalents and counterparts of mermaids – legendary creatures who have the form of a male human from the waist up and are fish-like from the waist down, having scaly fish tails in place of legs. A "merboy" is a young merman.
In Greek mythology, mermen were often illustrated to have green seaweed-like hair, a beard, and a trident. In Irish mythology, mermen (see merrow) are described as extremely ugly creatures with green hair, teeth and skin, narrow eyes and a red nose. In Medieval Europe, mermen were sometimes held responsible for causing violent storms and sinking ships.
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. Similarly vengeful water spirits occur in Breton and Gaelic lore which may relate to pre Christian gods such as Nechtan.
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.
Agnete og Havmanden is a Scandinavian ballad telling of a merman who woos a woman named Agnete to leave her children behind and come and live with him in the sea.
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.
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 Fiji mermaid was first put on display in 1842 by P.T. Barnum in the Barnum's American Museum, New York. A similar "merman" was supposedly found in Banff, Alberta, and is displayed at the Indian Trading Post. 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.
Literature and popular culture
Matthew Arnold wrote a poem called "The Forsaken Merman" about a merman whose human wife abandoned him and their children. 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, while in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, a race of merpeople live in a lake outside Hogwarts.
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. 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.
- List of piscine and amphibian humanoids
- List of hybrid creatures in mythology
- Fish-man of Cantabria, Spain
- Knudsen, Shannon (2009). Mermaids and Mermen. Lerner Publications. p. 7. ISBN 0822599813. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
Mermen, on the other hand, are often ugly.
- 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.
- 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.
- Traditional Cornish Stories and Rhymes, Lodenek Press, 1972
- Ármann Jakobsson, "Hættulegur hlátur," In Úr manna minnum: Greinar um íslenskar þjóðsögur. Ed. Baldur Hafstað & Haraldur Bessason (2002), 67–83.
- "The Fiji Mermaid: What Was the Abominable Creature and Why Was It So Popular?". Ancient Origin. 19 April 2016.
- Babin, Tom (2007-01-22). "Banff's oldest celebrity resident". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
- Imms, Adrian (24 Mar 2016). "Could this be the most gruesome creature in Brighton?". The Argus.
- "The Forsaken Merman". The Poetry Foundation.
- "The Forsaken Merman: Poem by Arnold". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- 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.
- Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (ed.). The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. p. 413.
- Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson. Dungeons & Dragons (3-Volume Set) (TSR, 1974)
- A.W. (May 1, 1954). "Movie Review – The Creature From the Black Lagoon". nytimes.com. The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-19.
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