The Origins Of Mermaids: Greek Mythology, Ghosts, And Christopher Columbus

By | January 9, 2020

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Actress Glynis Johns as the title-role in the film Miranda, 1948. (Photo by Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Mermaids have been dazzling seasick sailors and little girls alike since seemingly the beginning of time, but when you think about it, it's pretty odd to be so enamored with the idea of a woman who's half-fish. Where did mermaids come from? Why do we continue to find them so alluring?

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Weeki Wachee is a mermaid-themed tourist attraction. (

The First Mermaid May Have Been A Merman

Some of the oldest surviving references to human-fish hybrids seem to indicate that the first mermaid was actually a merman. The ancient Babylonian sea god, Ea, was depicted with a human torso, arms, and head but the tail of a fish. Much later, the Romans and Greeks adopted many of Ea's traits and applied them to their sea gods, Poseidon and Neptune. The earliest known mermaid legend involves the Assyrian fertility goddess Atargatis, who threw herself into a lake after accidentally killing her mortal lover and took the form of a fish, but only from the waist down, as "the waters [could] not conceal her divine beauty."