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For other uses, see Merman (disambiguation).
A Crowned Merman - Arthur Rackham.jpg
A Crowned Merman, by Arthur Rackham
Grouping Mythological
Sub grouping Water spirit
Similar creatures Mermaid
Mythology World Mythology
Country Worldwide
Habitat Ocean, sea

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 contrast to mermaids, mermen were traditionally depicted as unattractive.[1][2] However, some modern depictions show them as handsome.


Mermaid and merman, 1866. Unknown Russian folk artist

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

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.

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.

Notable mermen[edit]

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.

Other noteworthy mermen were the Babylonian Oannes and Ea, and the Sumerian Enki.

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.

Norse mythology, in particular Icelandic folklore, has mermen known as Marbendlar.[4]

In Dogon mythology (not to be confused with the semitic fish god Dagon), ancestral spirits called Nommo had humanoid upper torsos, legs and feet, and a fish-like lower torso and tail.

The Russian medieval epic Sadko contains a Sea Tsar who is a merman.


Banff "Merman" on display at the Indian Trading Post

A "merman" (actually a Fiji mermaid) was supposedly found in Banff, Alberta. It has a display at the Indian Trading Post.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Knudsen, Shannon (2009). Mermaids and Mermen. Lerner Publications. p. 7. ISBN 0822599813. Retrieved 25 July 2015. Mermen, on the other hand, are often ugly. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ a b 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. ^ Ármann Jakobsson, "Hættulegur hlátur," In Úr manna minnum: Greinar um íslenskar þjóðsögur. Ed. Baldur Hafstað & Haraldur Bessason (2002), 67–83.
  5. ^ Babin, Tom (2007-01-22). "Banff's oldest celebrity resident". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 2007-08-08.