My seven-year-old self’s heart flutters. As a largely water-dwelling child, there was nothing I wanted more than to be a mermaid. Disney did a fine job in 1989, but even at seven I knew it was a saccharine mess. I grew up on Hans Christian Anderson’s mermaid. I knew what really happened. And, apparently so do some Irish and Greek families.
Medieval mermaids were vain, villainous creatures. They craved an immortal soul which they would acquire by marrying a human. Other mythical sea creatures captured the hearts of men too. The Mavromichalis family of Greece trace their heritage to when Kondouriotis Mavromichalis found a nereid, sea nymph, sitting by the shore, captured her and took her for his wife. Claims of their decedents exist as late as 1900. Other families also boasted nereid-human family members around that time. Their relations were known for their great beauty and for their poor relationship skills–a family legacy. Nereids would inevitably leave their human families for the sea.
We share this earth with the miles of dark water churning all around us. It’s easy to imagine the worst. But it’s also easy to imagine the sublime and the fantastical. Here’s a nice round-up of mermaids and water nymphs throughout history and around the world from the Natural History Museum.