Female mermaids and male mermen are imaginary beings with the upper bodies of humans and the lower bodies of fish. Often mentioned in European legends, they also occur occasionally in the folklore of seagoing peoples from other regions of the world. Although mermaids are usually portrayed as being lovely, they are also associated with danger. Their dual nature reflects humankind's relationship with the sea, which can be either a beautiful and bountiful place or a realm of fear and disaster.
deity god or goddess
The idea of a deity or creature in which human features are combined with the bodies of fish is very ancient. Babylonian* texts mentioned a god named Oannes, who was part man and part fish and lived among humans. The Near Eastern god Dagon may have been portrayed as a merman, and the Syrian goddess Atargatis had the form of a mermaid. Ancient Greek and Roman sea gods and their attendants often appeared as human torsos rising from the waves with curved fish tails below. The Greeks called these beings nereids if they were female and tritons if they were male. Japanese folklore features a mermaid called Ningyo, and Polynesian mythology includes a half-human and half-porpoise creator god called Vatea.
In European folklore, mermaids were associated with sirens, beautiful creatures whose singing lures sailors to their doom. Mermaids were commonly pictured as floating on top of the waves, singing or combing their long hair and gazing into mirrors. Seeing a mermaid was considered bad luck, as mermaids often appeared before storms or other disasters and were believed to carry drowned men away to their kingdom at the bottom of the sea. Although encounters with mermaids and mermen often ended badly for humans, in some legends, these sea creatures married human partners and took completely human form to live on land.
See also Sirens .