Mermen, the male counterparts of the mythical female mermaids, are legendary creatures, which are male human from the waist up and fish-like from the waist down, but may assume normal human shape. Sometimes they are described as hideous and other times as handsome.
Perhaps the first recorded merman was the Assyrian-Babylonian sea-god Ea (called Enki by the Sumerians), linked to the figure known to the Greeks as Oannes. However, while some popular writers have equated Oannes of the Greek period to the god Ea (and to Dagon), Oannes was rather one of the apkallu servants to Ea.
The apkallu have been described as "fish-men" in cuneiform texts, and if Berossus is to be believed, Oannes was indeed a being possessed of a fish head and man's head beneath, and both a fish tail and manlike legs.[a], But Berossus was writing much later during the era of Greek rule, engaging in the "construction" of the past. Thus even though figurines have been unearth to corroborate this fish-man iconography, these can be regarded as representing "human figures clad in fish cloaks", rather than a being with a fish head growing above the human head. And the god Ea is also seen as depicted wearing a fish cloak by modern scholars.
Triton of Greek mythology was depicted as a half-man, half-fish merman in ancient Greek art. Triton was the son of the sea-god Poseidon and sea-goddess Amphitrite. Neither Poseidon nor Amphitrite were merfolk, although both were able to live underwater as easily as on land.
Tritons were also associated with using a conch shell in the later Hellenistic period. In the 16th century, Triton was referred to as the "trumpeter of Neptune (Neptuni tubicen)" in Marius Nizolius's Thesaurus (1551),[b] and this phrase has been used in modern commentary. The Elizabethan period poet Edmund Spenser referred to Triton's "trompet" as well.
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.
A merman is called marmennill in Old Norse An early settler in Iceland (c. 11th century)[c] allegedly caught a merman while fishing, and the creature prophesied one thing: the man's son will gain possession of the piece of land where the mare Skálm chooses to "lie down under her load". In a subsequent fishing trip the man was drowned, survived by the boy who stayed behind.[d]
The hafstrambr is a merman, described as a counterpart to the hideous mermaid margýgr in the Konungs skuggsjá ("King's mirror" c. 1250). He is said to generally match her anthropomorphic appearance on the top half, though his lower half is said to have been never been seen. In actuality, it may have been just a sea-mammal (hooded seal, Cystophora cristata), or the phenomenon of some sea creature appearing magnified in size, caused by mid-range mirage.
Medieval Norsemen may have regarded the hafstrambr as the largest sorts of mermen, which would explain why the word for marmennill ('little mer-man') would be given in the diminutive.
Konrad Gesner in his chapter on Triton in Historia animalium IV (1558) gave the name of "sea-Pan" or "sea-satyr" (Latin: Pan- vel satyrus marinus) to an artist's image he obtained, which he said was that of an "ichthyocentaur" or "sea-devil".[f]
Gesner's sea-devil (German: Meerteufel) has been described by a modern commentator as having "the lower body of a fish and the upper body of a man, the head an horns of a buck-goat or the devil, and the breasts of a woman", and lacks the horse-legs of a typical centaur. Gesner made reference to a passage where Aelian writes of satyrs that inhabit Taprobana's seas, counted among the fishes and cete (Ancient Greek: κήτη, romanized: kḗtē, "sea monsters").
This illustration was apparently ultimately based on a skeletal specimen and mummies.[g] Gesner explained that such a creature was placed on exhibit in Rome on 3 November 1523. Elsewhere in Gesner's book it is stated the "sea monster (monstrum marinum)" viewed on this same date was the size of a 5-year-old child.[h] It has been remarked in connection to this that mermen created by joining the monkey's upper body with a fish's lower extremity have been manufactured in China for centuries, and such merchandise may have been imported into Europe by the likes of the Dutch East India Company by this time. (Cf. §Hoaxes and sideshows).
Jón lærði Guðmundsson ('the Learned', d. 1658)'s writings concerning elves[i] includes the merman or marbendill as a "water-elf". This merman is describes as seal-like from the waist down. Jón the Learned also wrote down a short tale or folktale concerning it, which has been translated under the titles "The Merman" and "Of Marbendill".
An alleged marmennill prophesying to an early Icelandic settler has already been noted (cf. §Medieval period). In the story "The Merman", a captured marbendill laughs thrice, and when pressed, reveals to the peasant his insight (buried gold, wife's infidelity, dog's fidelity) on promise of release. The peasant finds wonderful gray milk-cows next to his property, which he presumes were the merman's gift; the unruly cows were made obedient by bursting the strange bladder or sac on their muzzle (with the stick he carried).
According to Norwegian folklore, the dark-hued and bearded havmand takes the mermaid (havfrue) as wife, and the children they produce are called marmæler (sing. Norwegian: marmæle, literally 'sea-talker').[j][k]
In Sweden the superstition of the merman (Swedish: havmann) abducting a human girl to become his wife has been documented (Hälsingland, early 19th century); the merman's consort is said to be occasionally spotted sitting on a holme (small island), laundering her linen or combing her hair.
"Agnete og Havmanden" is another Scandinavian ballad work with this theme, but it is of late composition (late 18th century). It tells of a merman who had been mated to a human woman named Agnete; the merman unsuccessfully pleaded with her to come back to him and their children in the sea.
English folklorist Jacqueline Simpson surmises that as in Nordic (Scandinavian) countries, the original man-like water-dwellers of England probably lacked fish-like tails. 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. Katharine Mary Briggs opined that the mermen are "often uglier and rougher in the British Isles".[l]
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").
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.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (June 2020)
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 (river dolphins) of the Amazon River regions of northern Brazil, 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.
Mermen or "tritons" see uncommon use in British heraldry, where they appear with the torso, head and arms of a man upon the tail of a fish. They are typically used as supporters, and are rarely used as charges.
Hoaxes and sideshows
A stuffed specimen of the merfolk was exhibited in London in 1822 was later billed "Fiji mermaid" by P.T. Barnum and put on display in the Barnum's American Museum, New York, in 1842. Although billed as a "mermaid", this has also been bluntly referred to as a "Barnum's merman" in one piece of journalism. This specimen was an example of fake mermaids posed in "The Scream" style, named after Edvard Munch's painting; mermaids in this pose were commonly made in the late 18th and early 19th century in Japan.
A similar fake "mermaid" at the Horniman Museum has also been relabeled by another curator as a "merman", where "mermen" or "feejee mermaids" are used as generic terms for such concocted mummies. DNA testing was inconclusive as to species (and nothing on gender was disclosed), but despite being catalogued as a "Japanese Monkey-fish", it was determined to contain no monkey parts, but only the teeth, scales, etc. of fish.
Another "merman" specimen supposedly found in Banff, Alberta, 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.
Such fake mermaids handcrafted from half-monkey and half-fish were being made in China and the Malay archipelago, and imported by the Dutch since the mid-16th century. Several natural history books published around this time (c. 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.[m]
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 Great Britain.
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.
The Australian TV series Mako: Island of Secrets (2013–2016), a spin-off of H2O: Just Add Water, includes a teenage boy named Zac (played by Chai Hansen) who turns into a merman. The 2006 CG-animated film Barbie: Mermaidia features a merman character named Prince Nalu.
- List of piscine and amphibian humanoids
- List of hybrid creatures in mythology
- Fish-man of Cantabria, Spain
- "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)"
- Berrosus, as preserved by Alexander Polyhistor.
- It also occurs in Gesner (1558).
- The settler was Grímr Ingjaldsson whose family hails from Haddingjadalr (Hallingdal), Norway.
- This boy is identifiable as Þórir (anglicized as Thore).
- 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.
- Translation of Gesner's Latin passage given in: Benito Cereno. "Burgeoning Lads of Science".
- Gesner's artist told him "he had received a drawing of a skeleton of such an animal in Antwerp. Also, another man brought back this monster dried from Norway to lower Germany, male and female".[f]
- An illustration similar to Gesner's monstrum marinum was later printed by Kaspar Schott in Physica-Curiosa and labeled as "Triton". Llewellyn Jewitt has also reproduced an illustration quite similar to Schott's, claiming it came from Rondelet.
- Halldor specifies Tíðfordríf and commentary on the Snorra Edda
- Thorpe (who uses Faye as source, p. 9. note 2), interpolates Old Norse marmennill for merman and margygr for mermaid. This is followed by Bassett.
- The modern word marmæle may derive from (be a corruption of ) the diminutive marmennill, or so it has been suggested.
- 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.
- 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).
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- Worthington, Martin (2019). "Chapter 8 The fish:puzur nūnī". Ea’s Duplicity in the Gilgamesh Flood Story. Routledge. ISBN 9780429754500.
The earliest example is probably an unpublished “tutelary figure of Ea” made of lead and wearing a fish cloak, excavated at Nineveh
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..der Meerteufel, Daemon marinus, der den Unterkörper eines Fisch und den Oberkörper eines Menschen hat, der Kopf und Hörner hat wie ein Bock oder wie der Teufel und die Brust ist wie bei einer Frau
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