Monday, 30 January 2017

Mermaid Lore - Christian Schloe Art

Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including the Near East, Europe, Africa and Asia. The first stories appeared in ancient Assyria, in which the goddess Atargatis transformed herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. Mermaids are sometimes associated with perilous events such as floods, storms, shipwrecks and drownings. In other folk traditions (or sometimes within the same tradition), they can be benevolent or beneficent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans.
Atargatis was the chief goddess of northern Syria in Classical Antiquity. Ctesias also used the name Derceto for her, and the Romans called her Dea Syriae ("Syrian goddess"). Primarily she was a goddess of fertility, but, as the baalat ("mistress") of her city and people, she was also responsible for their protection and well-being. Her chief sanctuary was at Hierapolis, modern Manbij, northeast of Aleppo, Syria.
As Ataratheh, doves and fish were considered sacred to her: doves as an emblem of the Love-Goddess, and fish as symbolic of the fertility and life of the waters.
‘Atar‘atheh is seen as a continuation of Bronze Age goddesses. At Ugarit, cuneiform tablets attest the three great Canaanite goddesses 'Aṭirat (Asherah) — described as a fecund "Lady Goddess of the Sea" (rabbatu at̪iratu yammi) — ‘Anat (Anat, Anath), and ‘Ațtart (Astarte), who shared many traits with each other and may have been worshiped in conjunction or separately during 1500 years of cultural history.

From Syria her worship extended to Greece and to the furthest West. Lucian and Apuleius give descriptions of the beggar-priests who went round the great cities with an image of the goddess on an ass and collected money. The wide extension of the cult is attributable largely to Syrian merchants; thus we find traces of it in the great seaport towns; at Delos especially numerous inscriptions have been found bearing witness to her importance. The island of Delos near Mykonos, near the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece.

Delos had a position as a holy sanctuary for a millennium before Olympian Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. From its Sacred Harbour, the horizon shows the two conical mounds that have identified landscapes sacred to a goddess in other sites: one, retaining its Pre-Greek name Mount Kynthos, is crowned with a sanctuary of Zeus.
Leto, a daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, the sister of Asteria, searching for a birthing place for Artemis and Apollo, addressed the island:

Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple –; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly. But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savour of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich.

— Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo 51–60
The male equivalent of the mermaid is the merman, also a familiar figure in folklore and heraldry. Although traditions about and sightings of mermen are less common than those of mermaids, they are generally assumed to co-exist with their female counterparts.
Some of the attributes of mermaids may have been influenced by the Sirens of Greek mythology.
Sirens were said to be dangerous creatures, who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Roman poets placed them on some small islands called Sirenum scopuli. In some later, rationalised traditions, the literal geography of the "flowery" island of Anthemoessa, or Anthemusa, is fixed: sometimes on Cape Pelorum and at others in the islands known as the Sirenuse, near Paestum, or in Capreae. All such locations were surrounded by cliffs and rocks.
Although a Sophocles fragment makes Phorcys their father, when Sirens are named, they are usually as daughters of the river god Achelous, with Terpsichore, Melpomene, Sterope, or Chthon (the Earth). In Euripides' play, Helen (167), Helen in her anguish calls upon "Winged maidens, daughters of the Earth." Although they lured mariners, the Greeks portrayed the Sirens in their "meadow starred with flowers" and not as sea deities. Roman writers linked the Sirens more closely to the sea, as daughters of Phorcys. Sirens are found in many Greek stories, notably in Homer's Odyssey.
"It is strange and beautiful that Homer should make the Sirens appeal to the spirit, not to the flesh."
"They are mantic creatures like the Sphinx with whom they have much in common, knowing both the past and the future",  Jane Ellen Harrison observed. "Their song takes effect at midday, in a windless calm."
Sirens were believed to combine women and birds in various ways. In early Greek art, Sirens were represented as birds with large women's heads, bird feathers and scaly feet. Later, they were represented as female figures with the legs of birds, with or without wings, playing a variety of musical instruments, especially harps. The 10th-century Byzantine encyclopaedia Suda says that from their chests up Sirens had the form of sparrows, below they were women, or, alternatively, that they were little birds with women's faces. Birds were chosen because of their beautiful voices. Later Sirens were sometimes depicted as beautiful women, whose bodies, not only their voices, are seductive.
By the fourth century, when pagan beliefs were overtaken by Christianity, belief in literal sirens was discouraged.
The theme of perilous mythical female creatures seeking to seduce men with their beautiful singing is repeated in the Danish ballad known as "Elvehøj", in which the singers are Elves.
The ballad is in the first person. The narrator, an attractive young man, falls asleep beside an elf-mound (or elvehøj). Some women (usually elf-maidens) then attempt to woo the narrator, singing so beautifully that the natural world responds (the streams stop flowing, fish dance for joy, etc., depending on the variant). The narrator, however, resists their blandishments, grasping his sword (usually in silence). The man is most often rescued by the crowing of a cock waking him, though in the Danish A-version, from the mid-sixteenth-century Jens Billes visebog (known to Grundtvig as 'Sten Bille’s Haandskrift'), he is saved by the advice of his sister who, previously enchanted, is one of the elf-maidens. The ballad usually ends with moralising advice to the listeners.
Love and light,

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