Mermaid stories exist in many different cultures and legends all over the world. But where do these stories come from. This archaeologist breaks down some of the confusion about these mythical fish-women, explaining how the murderous Homerian “sirens” of ancient Greek legends turned into the red-haired female fish creature of a Disney cartoon.
In the video, an archaeologist attempts to explain how the modern view of mermaids (which bear names like “sirena” etc. in other languages, attesting to their siren origins) derived from Greek monsters with very different aspects.
In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, the sirens were monstrous creatures possessed of beautiful voices. They were described as having aspects of both woman and bird, and they lived on rocks near the sea, luring in passing sailors with their bewitching song.
According to some scholars, she claims, the changeover from half-bird, half-woman to half fish, half-woman occurred due to translation error (fins vs feathers) as the poem was translated to Latin by the Romans.
However, this does not adequately explain away the many other half-fish creatures that existed both in classical Mediterranean mythology and in many other cultures. For instance, Triton, a sea god who was the son of Poseidon, was depicted as having a fishlike lower half. Wouldn’t it be just as easy to say that the sirens of Homer merged with the Tritonesque merman depictions in later legends?
Additionally, mermaid-like creatures existed in the folklore of the Norse and Celts, as well as several cultures in Western Africa and throughout Asia.
One thing the little mermaid does share in common with her siren forebears, however, is a bewitching singing voice.