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Differences Of Mermaid Myths From Cultural Beliefs English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2478 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Myth is traditional ancient stories which have actually occurred in a previous age, explaining cosmological and supernatural traditional of a people, their gods, heroes, cultural traits and religions beliefs (Leach 1975 778). This essay will compare relationship between mermaid myths from different cultural beliefs and its symbols which represent the inner meaning of each myth.

It is certainly true to say that the idea of mermaids when first arrived into people’s mind is a mythology aquatic creature with female human torso; instead of legs, mermaids have tail of a fish. They have beautiful crystal clear voice, which seduced men to fall into the hallucination when they are singing. In other word, it could be understood that “Mermaid” themselves portrait the beautiful seduction of the female sex. Nobody could possibly stand the pleasing voice if any of them get close to the mermaid. This significant also has been taken as a theme, connotation, slogan or the meaning of some certain tales and advertising products. Though, there are some questions about the mermaid myth that have been wondered by mythological researcher. (Doty 2004 11)

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They have a broad presentation in different myths and folklores depending on those cultural beliefs. The appearance of mermaids can be differentiated up to the imagination and the message they want to send. As long as they maintain the female figure with dramatically long hair, it is a copy right of mermaid’s characteristics. Significance and meaning are broadly different as well according to a particular cultural mythology. Initially, the word “Mermaid” means sea woman. “Mere” is an old English means “sea” and “maid” from “maiden”, means woman. Male’s equivalent is “Merman”, where it could be recognized clearly the use of direct word “man” after “mere”, Mythological research. (Doty 2004 11) Unfortunately, the ideology of this aquatic myth is focused on the representation of woman’s enchantment and seduction due to the emphasis of appearance. Merman obviously does not play a big role in those issues. Besides, there is another dark story of mermaid’s attitude, where they would portray foxy planners. They are depicted to be squeezing life out of mostly sailor, while attempting to escape from sea storms. In some myths, mermaids also carry humans down to their underwater kingdom. These two ideas are more terrified than the first mermaid tale, but still emphasize on seduction. It is normal in term of classical myth to depict women as negative or passive models, said Marta Weigle in Myth and Mythmaking in Fantastic Literature by Women. (Shinn 1986 19) If women in mythology described as negative example, then “Why is a mermaid not portraying as a creature with more masculinity?” Since a holy spirit of aqua is a Goddess in Thai “Pra-mae-kong-ka” or water’s spirit in Greek mythology not including the famous Poseidon. Anything associated with water should be translated to the meaning of softness. Women do not have masculine body constructed as men. They would not be able to intensively fight as the way male heroes did. Therefore, they have to use the ability of enchanting nearby men who lured by their stunning bodies and music.

Greek mythology explains the characteristics of mermaid in similarity. Greek addressed the name of “Sirens”. Three dangerous bird-women lived in mysterious rocky coast, where they lure nearby sailors to enchanting by their fine music. Sirens portray as “seductresses” as same as the description of women in mythology. “Women were sources of sin” (Shinn 1986 110). Sirens sometimes portrayed in later folklore as fully aquatic and mermaid-like. They still sustain the figure of female who is the best in seducing human in every myth.


there is another mermaid myth in Japanese beliefs. According to old Japanese tale, Mermaid’s organs could give the miracle affection to people who desired in particular supernatural power. “Anyone who ate flesh of a mermaid would achieve the immortality” and vice versa “A mermaid’s heart would turn back to mortal human”. This mermaid myth is rather extra-ordinary to the ideology of Western mermaid. The ability of gaining immortality would persuade the dark side of human to hunt mermaid selfishly, as human is afraid of aged and death. However, there is a drawback to remind a sin of going against the nature. A person, who became an immortal, would live in the world alone for eternity. He or she could only watch their beloved people died as time passed by while he or she was the only one who survived for decades. That is the agonic pain human could feel without physical wound. (Doty 2004 15)

Such myths that are embedded into the different cultures are the result of the fears of water. Regarding to Geoffrey Galt Harpham, the author of On The Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature, “The grotesque is the concept without form: the world nearly always modifies such indeterminate noun as monster, objects or things” (Harpham 1982 3). A byproduct of fear as a mermaid may be makes the figure of the mermaid a monstrous, an abject; a grotesque. Feared and unbearable, human invent a figure that represent their different suppressed fear; fear of oceans, fear of travelling or perhaps fear of women. Human in the presence of the fearful figure get what is called the ‘temptation’. “Temptations are not grotesque not because they are hideous – dragons and gorgons terrible beasts are not necessarily grotesque – but because in the midst of an overwhelming impression of monstrousness there is much we can recognize, mush corrupted and shuffled similarities,” (Harpham 1982 5). Due to these temptations, the abject, the grotesque human fear and cannot bear is in fact rather something familiar. The idea results in a cross over between human and non-human. To mermaids, they’re fish crossing over with human; the familiar with the abject. Even though Mermaid’s myth is broadly presented according to culture and belief, there are basic understandings of mermaid maintained. Mermaid could not be a mermaid if there is no seductive characteristic in any sense. The tale of different world becomes very well known narrative by media and the adaptation such as “The Little Mermaid” of Waltz Disney Picture. In the adaptation, the mermaid figure Ariel plays the protagonist who longs to explore the land above and eventually falls in love with the human prince Phillips while recuing him from a shipwreck. Difference leads to the struggling situation, and audiences love to consume the conflict within a plot. As the crossing over gets narrowed down into something forbidden, the mermaid figure in the narrative seeks to become human. She is then seen as a human being the protagonist and has humanly feelings. From the frightening image of a sea monster grotesque, the mermaid myth gets varied by the new identity as a protagonist who is portrayed as a young curious and delightful girl who can fall in love with the most forbidden condition; racial difference. Therefore, the forbidden love issue between human and mermaid appears to be the most famous genre.

Within the Thai culture, according to Jit Phumisak, there are fewer stories about mermaids comparing to the western; although, mermaids have appeared in some Thai literatures. Most people might imagine that mermaid has half and half body between human and fish but in the very first Thai literature mermaid appeared as a snake” in “Li-lit-ong-karn-chang-nam” (ลิลิตโองการแช่งน้ำ)

à¸-้าà¸à¹€à¸ªà¸”็จเหนือà¸à¸±à¸à¹€à¸œà¸·à¸­à¸ เอาเงือกเกี้ยà¸à¸‚้าง อ้างà¸-ัดจันà¸-รเป็นปิ่น

(He, Pra-insuan rode on the white cow and use mermaid as a weapon)

à¸-รงอินà¸-รชฎา สามตาพระแพร่ง แกà¸à¹ˆà¸‡à¹€à¸žà¸Šà¸£à¸à¸¥à¹‰à¸² ฆ่าภิฆนจัญไรฯ    

(With a power of mermaid he could destroy anything)

Pra-insuan uses the holy white cow as his transportation and use a snake as his weapon but in this poem the writer didn’t use the word “snake” but he used “mermaid” or “nguak” Which means that snake and mermaid referring to the same thing. This mermaid’s appearances are nearly like mermaid’s archetypes in general; although differentiate to fit the Thai literature world.

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The myth of mermaids is also used through a symbol by using its appearance and its characteristics. The symbolism of a mermaid that is widely known is the Starbucks Coffee logo having a twin-tailed siren in the middle surrounded by the green circle labeled the company name. Siren is a name calling for a creature having a half-fish, half-woman body in Greek mythology. According to the myth, sirens actually take forms of a bird or a fish but soon after, the myth stated as the siren was a fish-woman. The origin of the twin tails is a combination of a fish tail and a woman’s legs. Usually Sirens are hunting around rocks or cliffs. Additionally, they are believed to be daughters of the river Achelous and the nymph Calliope and usually they live in mountains. Basically, a symbolic figure of siren can have diverse meanings such as an inferior of women, a impure imagination attracted towards the beginning or the end of life, or a suffering of a yearning leading to death meaning though they have a beautiful face and breast, they could not satisfy the craving occurred by their music and charm because of their atypical bodies. But essentially they give a meaning of ‘temptations’ or ‘seduction’ meaning the use of the charm to death. According to Juan Eduardo Cirlot, the author of “The Dictionary of Symbols”, “The spell thus cast is attributed to the siren whose songs so captivates the listeners that he falls into the ocean’ (of the lower water and of nascent forms) ‘teeming with multitudinous life.” (Cirlot 2002 298) What significance of sirens is that they were given such a beautiful rhapsody which really the music has reductive and deadly sense hidden that anyone who hear the song may step into sirens’ places without knowing that he will be a prey of them. So this feature is what Starbucks’ company got the idea of the logo from the myth of sirens. The Starbucks logo was inspired from the invention of the name of the company. At first, the company name “Starbucks” was taken from the character who is the first crew on the ship, Pequod, from a literature named Moby Dick. According to Sara Gilbert, the author of “The Story of Starbucks”, “The striking green, black and white logo that adorns all the Starbucks products is a salute to the company’s earliest incarnation.”(Gilbert 2008 13) The name, Starbucks, is an intention of the company that every costumer reminds of a fascinating scent of a deep ocean. And that intention comes to a research on the symbol to represent of it, and so they come up with a twin-tailed mermaid or so called siren which was copied from a Nordic woodcut of the sixteen century. The first usage of the twin-tailed siren was the original symbol from the woodcut which the siren was having a Rubenesque body, showing its breasts and navel and wearing a crown. Also, apart from her breasts and navel, her tail symbolizes as a more sexual connotation openly. According to Howard Schultz, Dori Jones Yang, the author of “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time”, “That early siren, bare- breasted and Rubenesque, was supposed to be as seductive as the coffee itself .”(Schultz and Yang 1997 33) The company gives the significance of the siren as a creature who devour men to death, when compared to the smell of the coffee that the smell was like such a sweet song a siren singing which is, due to the mythology, having a seductive music and it seduces people who hear of it to come to its place or people who smell of their coffee would come to the shop. According to Bryant Simon, the author of “Everything but the coffee: learning about America from Starbucks”, “With Schultz’s approval, they drew her as a less seductive, less dangerous icon, more a sweet, mild-mannered mermaid than a sexually dangerous mermaid.”(Simon 2009 42) Later on, the company changed the appearance of the siren logo by covering up its breasts and belly button to have less sexual connotation and it was redrawn by focusing on the siren’s face into a sweetly smiley siren than a dangerously seductive previous one. Importantly, the new siren logo gives a new brighter good feeling of a siren rather than a woodcut siren. Also they changed color of the surrounding circle from brown to green which is more nature conservative and it gives a feeling of more friendly along with the new siren than the preceding version and it is the one used in every branch until today.

In conclusion, the mermaid myth has long been bounded to the civilizations of mankind. Each culture around the world may have its own interpretation of the mythical sea creature, but it is notable that all share similar features of half fish half human. The figure is often seen as the representation of the female’s dark side, for example the seductresses of the sea that lure sailors to their end in the deep water of the oceans by their beautiful deceiving voices. Or the scary mythical creature that holds the secret to eternal life and youthful that people are after with little knowledge of the consequence of their greed. The figure of a mermaid can be called a grotesque; the non-thing that stands for anything opposing human, all that is feared and disgusted by human. However, from another point of view, the mermaid grotesque can be seen as rather familiar to human as a mermaid features half of a woman body, and in some narrative come in contact with such personal side of the human life; love. Furthermore, the figure of mermaid can not only represent aspects of darkness of the femininity but also the human’s mind in general, for example, seduction, sexual desire, fears, greed, religion or even forbidden sexual perversity. Different tales were told in many different narratives about the mermaid through space, time and media means.


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