Man has been fascinated by mermaid tales or simply mermaids for thousands of years. Half-human, half-fish, these mythical creatures have been referenced in almost every culture of the world. While the mermaid tales have portrayed mermaids as beautiful and magical, they have been associated with hazardous events in many countries of Asia, Africa and Europe. It is said that events like shipwrecks, storms, drownings, floods etc. are all caused by mermaids.
Mermaids have made it to popular culture through some of the most popular literary works in history. One such work is Odyssey by Homer in which mermaids have been referred to as sirens who were responsible for luring sailors and dragging them to their watery graves. Sculptures in Etruria have depicted mermaids. Not just that, mermaids have been depicted on Roman graves in bass-relief. Several Greek epics have also mentioned mermaids. The mermaid craze went to such an extent that Christopher Columbus in 1493 ended up claiming that he saw a mermaid during a voyage.
Origin of Mermaids
The origins of mermaids can be traced back to the Assyrian culture of the ancient times. The ancient Assyrians had the legend of Atargatis – a goddess. Though Atargatis was Assyrian god, the Romans and the Greeks picked up the worshiping of Atargatis. It is said that Atargatis accidentally killed her lover who was a human. Because of the unbearable shame, the goddess then decided to turn herself into half-fish and half-human. In many other accounts of Assyrian, Greek and Roman mythology, it is said that Atargatis is a fertility goddess and is often associated with Ascalon – a goddess with a fish body. Over time people merged the worship of the two goddesses – Atargatis and Ascalon. That’s when a clubbed description of a mermaid goddess emerged.
Sirenomelia or Mermaid Syndrome
Today we all know that mermaids are nothing but mythological or fairy tales because no hands-on proof of a mermaid has been found so far. However the question is, how on earth did this idea of a human with a fish tail evolve in the first place? The answer may be – Sirenomelia or Mermaid Syndrome. This is a medical condition – a very real medical condition in which a baby is born with both lower limbs attached together. The fused limbs give the appearance of a fish tail. This means that the baby will have a normal human body above the waist and two lower limbs fused together, giving a fish-tail like appearance to the portion of the body below the waist.
The name Sirenomelia is derived from Greek sirens and it is very much possible that all the legendary mermaid tales of the past came from this rare medical oddity. Sirenomelia is a congenital disease and can turn out to be fatal.