Mer Creatures

Mer: Everything With Fins

What is it about the ocean that fascinates us so? Is it the mystery; knowing that out there below that vast moving glassy surface there is a seemingly boundless world of strange and what often seem to us magical creatures, many of which we know very little indeed. Perhaps it is because the ocean represents a frontier that is still in many ways unknown to us and yet it is feasibly within reach. When we consider the legen of Atlantis, there is the possibility of finding it because we are able to trawl the ocean floor, either directly or by way of sonar imaging and so the promise of discovery maintains our curiosity.

We also dream of finding something that reflects our image back to us – perhaps a strange evolutionary anomaly that we have not accounted for. One of these possibilities is the idea of the mermaid or merman: half human half fish, living out some sort of alternate history in an undersea society. Sotries of mermaids are found in every culture. The earliest known story dates back to 1000 B.C. to Atargatis the mother of the queen of Assyria, Semiramis, who leapt into a lake and took on the form of a fish after she became ashamed for falling in love with a mortal whom she subsequently killed.

Because of her divinity, only her lower half assumed this piscine form and she transformed into a beautiful mermaid, with the torso of a woman and the tail of a fish. We also see the mermaid appear in the legends of Alexander the Great, the The Arabian Nights, British folklore and even on the crest of the Polish capital of Warsaw since the 14th century. Often mermaids are seen to accompany doomed ships and sailors lost at sea. Is it possible that the intelligent and friendly dolphin, a fish scientists conjecture may have evolved from the land-based wolf, has been mistaken for the mystical mer-creatures of legend?

The mermaid’s popularity in our collective mythology has not waned: the Disney film The Little Mermaid captured the hearts and minds of a generation and continues to fuel the imaginations of young girls around the world. In her book The Mermaid and the Minotaur, Dorothy Dinnerstein conjectures that the symbolism of such mystical hybrid creatures embodies the emergent understanding of the ancient scholars that humans are both a part of the animal kingdom and also alien to it and that this marriage gave us a sense of belonging in this strange and inexplicable life on Earth.

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