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The Prevalence of Mermaids


Avram Davidson

For many years now, Avram Davidson has been one of the most eloquent and individual voices in science fiction and fantasy, and there are few writers in any literary field who can hope to match his wit, his erudition, or the stylish elegance of his prose. His recent series of stories about the bizarre exploits of Doctor Engelbert Eszterhazy (collected in his World Fantasy Award-winning The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy) and the strange adventures of Jack Limekiller (as yet uncollected, alas), for instance, are Davidson at the very height of his considerable powers, and rank among the best work of the seventies. Davidson has won the Hugo, the Edgar, and the World Fantasy Award. His books include the renowned The Phoenix and the Mirror, Masters of the Maze, Rogue Dragon, Peregrine: Primus, Rork!, Clash of Star Kings, and the collections The Best of Avram Davidson, Or All the Seas With Oysters, and The Redward Edward Papers. His most recent books are Peregrine: Secundus, a novel, Collected Fantasies, a collection, and, as editor, the anthology Magic For Sale.

Here, in an essay published for the first time in this anthology—one of a series of "Adventures in Unhistory" that Davidson has been writing for the past few years, examining curious and little-known areas of history and folklore—Davidson follows the watery trail of the most beautiful and seductive of all supernatural creatures: the mermaid.

My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light

And he slept with a mermaid one fine night;

The offspring of this strange union were three:

A porpoise, and a porgy, and the third was me.

—Old Sea Shanty

Norman Douglas called them "provocative citizens of the deep . . ." And indeed they are provocative. We all know about the mermaid, "the most pleasing myth of all," as she has been called. Today we perhaps know a little less about her than our ancestors did. To us she is merely the woman who sits on a rock or bobs up in the waves; she carries a mirror in one hand and a comb in another, both for use when she arranges her long green hair; her long green hair is all the cover she has; and she is a woman to the hips and below that she is a nonspecific breed of fish, and she has scales on the fishy part of her. And that is about that.

Formerly there was more. Much more.

Most of which, it seems, is gone.

Mermaids, some of you will be faintly surprised to hear, did not belong exclusively to tales one's grandfather told ("See, my boy? That is a mermaid! And I want you to remember it, because there's no such thing!"), but also belonged to a school of mystical literature; surely you know De la Motte Fouque's Undine . . . You don't? Oh well . . .

Even before the Age of Reason, we had come to feel a need to anchor the items of the imagination firmly between the rocks of reality, a natural explanation has been sought for every element of legend. Sought for . . . and, sometimes, found. The dragon has been traced to the crocodile, the werewolf to the rabid dog or to a human bitten by one, the mandrake to an alkaloid, the vampire to a psychosis . . . and so on. The mermaid, we might as well say, has been traced to the manatee, or sea cow . . . but, somehow, she doesn't stay traced. I think that the mermaid's tail, or trail, lies elsewhere. It is true that I, in collaboration with Randall Garrett, once wrote and published a story based on the possibility that, while the manatee may not look much like a mermaid, the mermaid might look much like a manatee. We had her speaking English with a strong Australian accent, and she wound up as the first cook in a seafood restaurant somewhere on the coast of California.

It was lots of fun writing it, and, besides the fact that we had mixed up the manatee, or Atlantic Ocean sea cow, with the dugong, or Indian Ocean sea cow, it really was no answer.

Here are some few other items from the grab bag. Gary and Warmington, in their book The Ancient Explorers, say that Neurchus, the pilot-scout of Alexander the Great, heard that "the enchanted Mermaiden's Island of . . . Astola," "sacred to the Sun" in the Indian Ocean, "was once inhabited by one of the Nereids who made love to all who landed, turned them into fish, and threw them into the sea. But the Sun in pity and anger made them men once more." And a Nereid is defined as "any one of the sea-nymphs held to be the daughters of the sea-god Nereus." Nereus? What happened to Poseidon? Perhaps Nereus was senior in the position, for, we are told, Poseidon was originally a horse-god; and when the ancestors of the ancient Greeks came riding down from the sealess interior they were so impressed by the resemblance the white-maned waves bore to their horses that, thinking the thunder of the waves was caused by horses beneath the sea, they considered the sea to be Poseidon's realm as well. In which case . . . were the mermaids originally horse-maids? Enough, sir, enough. Onward.

It does seem that the earliest mermaid we have record of was actually a merman, and his picture was even provided for us by the artists of ancient Babylon: he has a full beard, and his name was On—or Oannes. Yes. And he came out of the sea, splashing his fishytail, and he taught the proto-Babylonians the arts of agriculture, handicraft, metallurgy, writing and religion. By day. Day by day. For each night he returned beneath the sea. And if Mr. Von Daniken or his numerous imitators haven't explained to us that On or Oannes was really an ancient astronaut who happened to live in a yellow submarine, why not? Perhaps because the system of writing he taught, that of cuneiform, was probably the worst system of writing ever devised by any god or man. And yet there are those who say that On/Oannes was the origin of mermaids! The fools! Just because he had his picture taken in a bathing suit . . .

But let us hear what the Reverend Mr. S. Baring-Gould has to say—for he was one of those incredible Victorian clergymen who seemed to have what to say about everything. He says that the wise one, the giver of benefits, who came out of the sea each day and went back into it each night, was none other than the sun itself. "As On, the sun-god, rising and setting in the sea, was supplied with a corresponding moon-goddess, Atergatis . . . so the fiery Moloch, 'the great lord,' was supplied with his Mylitta, 'the birth-producer.' Moloch was the fierce flame-god, and Mylitta the goddess of moisture. Their worship was closely united. The priests of Moloch wore female attire, the priestesses of Mylitta were dressed like men." I think that's significant. I'm not sure why I think that's significant, but I do. Probably because it sounds significant. As a matter-of-fact, it sounds like Polk Street on Saturday night, is what it sounds like.

The Rev. Mr. Baring-Gould shows us that this worship had made its way, via, I suppose, Phoenicia, to Carthage and elsewhere in North Africa; doubtless, too, to ancient Greece. And thence? He says that "The prevalence of mermaids"—say, there's a good title! The Prevalence of Mermaids!—"The prevalence of memaids among Celtic populations indicates these water-nymphs as having been originally deities of these peoples; and I cannot but believe that the circular mirror they arc usually represented as holding is a moon-disk." Robert Graves goes him one better; the comb they are usually represented as holding, Graves cannot but believe, represents the plectrum, or pick, with which they used to play their lyre. Remember the sirens' song? It had instrumental accompaniment.

The name Mylitta, goddess of moisture, reminds one of the Greek word thalatta, the sea . . . which is, certainly, moist . . . but as the Greeks (who had a word for everything) had two words for the sea, the other being thalassa; one is reminded also of the Greek word Melissa, or bee.

However, as for the mermaids' mirror, listen: "In China magical mirrors were used to foretell the future . . ." One of the magical powers of mermaids was that of prophecy. So, unless someone can come up real quickly with a reference to the moon-disk's being used to foretell the future, maybe it's back to the mirror, after all . . . though . . . of course, in a way, they are both reflective . . .

How nice, "to meet a mermaid washing her silken sark by the stream" in the words of the learned L. C. Wimberly, author of Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads. He says this "evidently common experience; no special artifice was needed to get such a story believed." In which case no special credit would have been obtained by telling it. In which case no special reason was needed to make it up. How's that for remorseless logic? And has anyone ever spoken of remorseful logic? Don't answer that. Washing her silken sark by the stream: ever such a lovely alliteration; remember the bear-sarks? Who went berserk? Serk or sark, then, means skin . . . or garment . . . and, by extension, skirt: to which it is obviously related; and shirt, just a bit less obviously. A cutty sark, in small letters, is a short garment, and, by extension, either a loose woman or a cut-down sail. The Cutty Sark was a famous sailing vessel, and a brand of whiskey is named after it. I was once, like the wedding guest in The Rhime of the Ancient Mariner, seized hold of, in England, by a very old man who proceeded to tell me that one of his cousins had been the last second mate on the ship Cutty Sark and that another of his cousins had shot the last man killed in a duel in England. It would have been even more interesting and to the point had he himself been an ancient mariner, but he was actually an ancient dentist. From time to time, though, I have had a mental image of a sailor, clad in a cutty sark, having had a drink of Cutty Sark, sent aft (or would it be forward?) to trim the cutty sark of the Cutty Sark. Whilst so engaged he espies a woman a-washing her cutty sark; "A mermaid!" he cries. Says the second mate, "No, she is only a cutty sark." Ah well.

Here is old Jacob Grimm, in his Teutonic Mythology, telling us that "Morolt [Who he? Go thou and learn: Grimm: Tute. Myth. Page 434, genuk.] Morolt also has an aunt a merminne who . . . rules over dwarfs . . . they dwell on a mountain by the sea, in an ever-blooming land . . . a precisely corresponding male being, the taciturn prophetic . . . marmendill . . . coral is named [marmendill's smithery], he cunningly wrought it in the sea. [the mersay]  . . . and the Fair Melusina . . . precisely the fairy being that had previously been called merrimenni."

Listen, I don't want any complaints, Grimm will drive you crazy, no he never read The Chicago Style Manual; and oh God does he need an up-to-date editor! Shall we try to untangle this knotted mass of sea-wrack? There is an under-water creature called merminni and/or marmendill, also called a merfay, shall we say "sea-fairy"? Gad, we'd better.—— of which one is the Fair Melusina; one of the many such creatures who deceitfully marry humans and get away with the masquerade until one night he espies her fish-tail, and——But for now: enough. Also, says Jacob, called merrimenni. Merrimenni.

It seems a curious thing that the merimenni, when they crossed the English Channel, were transmogrified into merry-maidens. Evidently the etymological connection of mer with sea had been lost; the minne, menni were seen to be masculine and thus in need of feminization; and the mer became merry, as in jovial. However. One never knows, and a quick trip to my dictionary tells me that merry, as in jolly, relates to an old word, murg, meaning short. In other words, cutty. As in cutty sark. Odd.

But there is obviously a form missing between merimenni and merrymaidens, and we find it in the title of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Merry Men. If you have read it, you will follow; if you haven't read it, go and read it. What a shame he felt obliged to end it so hastily. It is a mere cutty sark of a book; good, though.

Well, well, the merrymen. The singular of men is man, which will lead me easily to the word manatee, with which there is of course no connection . . . grammatically, that is . . . but with this Adventure there is a connection. It is a commonplace to say, "The manatee, or sea cow, nursing its calf crooked in a fore-flipper above the surface gave rise to the legend of the mermaid." As it happens, alas, the manatee (we are told) nurses its calf below the surface: so, so much for that. It is also a commonplace to backtrack, and express wonder as to "How the manatee, or sea cow, with its huge almost shapeless head, and whiskers, could have given rise to the legend of the mermaid." And, with a few coarse digs in the ribs about the overheated imagination of sailors too long at sea, the matter is rather quickly dropped. Leaving it for me to pick it up and dust it off. Having dallied with the manatee, the practice is to go on and dally with the seal: the seal, it is pointed out to us, has a much more humanoid face, and so on. Well, heaven knows how often in hunting season human beings are shot by mistake for deer, and yet an upright biped does not look very much like a quadruped, does it? Before hunters used to wear dayglow jackets in orange and red they commonly wore khakies. There's a story that a countryman, accidentally shot by a city hunter who said that he "mistook him for a deer," went and had a hunting outfit made by the local awning maker: green and white stripes. And was shot by a city hunter: excuse? "I mistook him for a zebra." I can remember coming back with a flock of sheep in Galilee and being asked by a visiting girl from Chicago if I had left one of my sheep "back there"—looking "back there" I observed a perfectly normal-looking camel. So let us not be too hard if some people long ago thought that a seal was a human. It could have happened.

One wonders, though, how often it could have happened. How, for example, in such seal-rich regions as the coasts of Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall—regions rife with mermaid legends—could people not tell the difference between humans and seals? The answer is, they can tell the difference very well. And they say that sometimes the seals turn into people, and/or the people into seals. Often. And so that's one explanation. . . . An old Scotch word for seal is "silkie," and aficionados of folk-songs will at once recollect the haunting old song made popular by Joan Baez: I am a man upon the land. I am a silkie on the sea . . . Shades of Shapeshifters and Skinchangers, what, what? And so, without warning, I mention the name of sirens. And with that, the legend changes.

Faithful old Webster's Collegiate lists four meanings for the word, but it's chiefly the first which fits our needs here as follows: "One of a group of creatures in Greek mythology having the heads and sometimes the breasts and arms of women but otherwise the forms of birds that lured mariners to destruction by their singing." To which most of us would echo, Birds? Originally, that is. The evidence is there on more than one surviving Greek urn or pickle plate. Ulysses is tied to the mast, the sailors are rowing away and we know that their ears are plugged: and there, swooping overhead are the birdies, with sure enough the heads and faces of women. Only later on did the sirens get, somehow, changed in form so that they seemed more as we think of mermaids.

But if, as for example E. M. Forster and many others say, the sirens were simply seals, then "what song the sirens sang" was merely the ooping and yerping which most of us, probably, have heard either along a sea-coast or in a circus, aquarium, or zoo. Interesting. Hardly romantic, though. But why was their song so deadly? I search in vain the accounts of the legends for a rational explanation, and perhaps I am wrong to do so: in more recent times we read that merpeople are sometimes the souls of the dead, particularly the drowned-dead: there is a reason: as you are now, so once was I; as I am now, so you must be: come into Drownlandia and join me. . . . But what may the reason have been in the beginning? I have a theory. Hearken on. Look at detailed maps of whatsoever waters of whatsoever countries which have coasts, and sooner or later you will see for certain, next to very small dots, the immemorial words, Seal Rocks. Not once and again, but again and again.

And again and again and again.

In other words, if as you sailed along uncharted waters and uncharted shores in those days before charts and were close enough to hear the seals, well, sonny, you were too close. Much too close. And even as we accept that before the sirens were seals, or some sort of sea-creatures, they were bird-women, the principles of navigation remain the same: birds, seabirds, often frequent offshore rocks and inshore crags, rocky seacliffs; and if you are close enough to hear them "singing," say, you are too close: your vessel may strike those rocks. "And the angry rocks they gored her sides, like the horns of an angry bull." And then it will be a case of "Going down. My God. Going down!"

These are facts, and the rest is embroidery.

It is, of course, a fairly gorgeous embroidery.

This thought occurred to me: "Mermaid sightings were the UFO sightings of times past." However, I don't want to follow that thought to its logical confusion. However, I do want to give a partial listing of what I might term "major mermaid sightings" throughout a period of hundreds of years, because it might be useful. When I say "major mermaid sightings," really, I mean, those which were for one thing written down, and for another, were reported in the very good book Sea Enchantress: The Tale of the Mermaid and Her Kin, by Mr. Owen Benwell and Sir Arthur Waugh, and published by The Citadel Press, N.Y., in 1965. (The authors are described as "both prominent members of the British Folk-Lore Society—Sir Arthur has been its President-and have devoted several years to collecting mer-legends of all times and places." I don't know if Sir Arthur is any relation to Evelyn Waugh, whose father was also named Arthur, but who was not a knight and who died many years ago.) I have collected these sightings out of the book and and arranged them for this Adventure and sometimes abbreviated the language of the book. And, following these listings, I shall list others. Surely you will all see why.

Some time in the first half century of the Christian Era, Pliny the Elder cites as his "authors," i.e. authorities, "divers knights of Rome, right worshipfull persons and of good credite, who testifie that in the coast of the Spanish Ocean neere unto Gades [Cadiz], they have seene a Mereman, in every respect resembling a man in all parts of the bodie as might bee."—This last sounds ambiguous; but such is the report.

Here's one from an old Irish, that is, Gaelic, MS: "In the year 558 was taken the Mermaid, i.e. Liban, the daughter of Eochaidh, the son of Murieadh, on the strand of Ollarbha, in the net of Beoan, son of Inli, the fisherman of Comhgall of Beannchair."—The fact that the geneology of the mermaid is known so nicely, is here passed by without comment.

Another from the Irish. In the years 887 "a mermaid was cast ashore by the sea in the country of Alba . . . she was whiter than the swan all over."

The year 1018: "Another wonderful tale from Ireland: a mermaid was taken by the fisherman of the Weir of Lisarglinn in Ossory, and another at Port-Lairge."

Year 1147: Knights going to the Second Crusade were in the Bay of Biscay, " 'annoyed' by sirens, 'who made a horrible noise of wailing, laughing and jeering, like the clamour of insolent men in a camp.' . . . it is recorded that the Crusaders became penitent."

The 12th century, that is, the same as the previous two: "A monster was seen near Greenland . . . 'approximated' in all respects to a human being down to the waist, thereafter she resembled a fish. The hands seem . . . to be long, and the fingers . . . united like a web like that on the feet of water-birds . . . "—This in turn reminds us of the story that Charlemagne's grandmother had webbed feet, la reine pedauque; she was sometimes called Big-footed Bertha. Some say only that she had hairy feet. The consensus must be, she had funny feet. It is true that sometimes babies are born with some sort of webbing between two or more toes, this may be merely ontology recapitulating ichthyology, or whatever; it may be the origin of a fairly common tradition in many places that certain human families are descended from mermaids.

The year 1197: " . . . at Oreford in Suffolk . . . a fish was taken by fishers in their nets . . . resembling in shape a wild or savage man . . ." Nothing is said in the description, which is very detailed, of his having a fish-tail. He did eat fish both raw and cooked and he "would not or could not utter any speech." Eventually he escaped back to sea. A logical explanation might be simply that he was either a mute, or a nut who liked to swim a whole hell of a lot: but: he was caught in fishnets, therefore he was a fish. Figures . . . don't it . . . in a way? "All fish swim, Fred swims, therefore Fred is a fish."

The year 1403. The scene Holland. The event a great storm. Alas, no brave little Dutch boy was around to stick his finger into the leak in the dike, and the dikes broke and flooded "the vicinity of Edam," where the cheese comes from. "A mermaid floated in" but could not float out, and was taken up by kindly Dutch homemakers who fed her and clothed her and taught her to spin and to "kneel down . . . before the crucifix, she never spake, but lived dumbe and continued alive . . . fifteen years; then she died."—It may be that all strange mutes found near water were retroactively legendized into mer-folk. Eh? And worse things could have happened to them, considering.

1523: " 'the third day of November, there was seen at Rome this sea-monster, the bignesse of a child of five yeeres old, like to a man even to the navell, except the ears; in the other parts it resembled a fish.' "—the source here is a famous and respected Ambrose Pare, the Surgeon-General of France, and a pioneer in treating wounds and wounded.

1550. Orefund, Denmark: A creature taken from the sea was brought, either dying or already dead, to the king, and "its head 'resembled that of a human creature with cropped hair . . .' "—This differs from the usual traditional description of very long hair.

1560. "The report of the netting, in one draught, of seven mermen and mermaids off the coast of Mandar, Ceylon . . . must have carried conviction to those who heard it, supported as it was by the testimony of several Jesuits and by one Bosquez, physician to the Viceroy of Goa. Bosquez, his professional instincts thoroughly aroused, dissected the seven luckless sea-creatures. His report (which was taken seriously enough to be included in the Histoire de la Compagnie de Jesus, No. 276) stated that, both externally and internally, the mermen and mermaids were exactly similar to human beings."—Can it be that they were human beings? What, then, made them sea-creatures? Answer: They were found in the sea.

About the same date: " . . . a work by the French historian and traveller, Andre Thevet [mentions] . . .  sea-monsters in human shape . . . seen off the coast of Africa . . . 'that the floud had left on the shore, the which was heard to cry. In like case the female came with the next floud, crying aloud and sorrowing . . . By this may be knowen, that the Sea doeth nourishe and bring forth divers, and strange kind of monsters, as well as the land.' " To which one may only reply, indeed it doeth.

1565. "The 18th of November we came to Thora, which Citie is on the shoare of the Red Sea, of no lustre; the Haven small, in which ships laden with Spices out of Arabia, Abassia, and India resort. In this citie we saw a mermaids skin taken there . . . which in the lower part ends Fish-fashion: of the upper part, onely the Navill and Breasts remaine; the arms and head being lost." So no report about the hair.

We now enter the 17th century; date: 1608, chronicler Hendrik Hudson, on his second voyage: "The 15th of June all day and night cleere sunshine . . . latitude . . . 75 deg. 7 minutes . . . One of our companie . . . saw a Mermaid . . . From the Navill upward, her backe and breasts were like a woman's . . . her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long haire hanging down behinde, of colour blacke; in her going downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a Porposse, and speckled like a Macrell. Their names that saw her were Thomas Hilles and Robert Raynar." Benwell and Waugh quote the comments of Philip Gosse. "Seals and walruses must have been as familiar to these polar sailors as cows to a milkmaid. Unless the whole story was a concocted lie between the two men, reasonless and objectless, and the worthy old navigator doubtless knew the character of his men, they must have seen some form of being as yet unrecognized."

Same year: 1608. One Captain Whitboume relates, ". . .  of a morning early as I was standing by the waterside in the Harbour of St. Johns [Newfoundland]  . . . I espied verie swiftly . . . swimming towards me, looking cheerfully, as it had beene a woman, by the Face, Eyes, Nose, Mouth, Chine, Eares, Necke and Forehead: It seemed to be so beautiful and in those parts so well proportioned . . . the shoulders and backe downe to the middle, to be as square, white and smooth as the back of a man, and from the middle to the hinder part, pointing in proportion like a broad hooked Arrow . . . whether it were a Mermaide or no, I know not; I leave it to others to judge . . ."

1614. Captain John Smith, the same whose adventures with Pocahontas excited us in the first grade, seemed like the actions of a familiar friend in the second, and had begun to bore us by the third; Captain John Smith, a-sailing in the West Indies, saw something "swimming with all possible grace near the shore. The upper part of her body resembled that of a woman . . . she had large eyes, rather too round, a finely-shaped nose (a little too short), well-formed ears, rather too long,"—picky, picky Captain Smith!—". . .  and her green hair imparted to her an original character by no means unattractive . . . [but] from below the waist the woman gave way to the fish."

1619. A merman is captured off the coast of Norway by two senators, names Ulf Rosensparre and Christian Hollh, and then released. Perhaps he could vote.

1670. Here is the account of the Rev. Lucas Debes, Provost of the Lutheran churches in the Faroes Islands of Denmark. "There was seen . . . by many of the inhabitants . . . a Mer-maid close to the shore . . . She had long hair on her head, which hung down to the surface of the water all round about her. She held a fish . . . in her right hand."

Really, the reported sightings are too numerous to relate without fatigue, so from the 1700's I now mention only one. In 1739, as reported in the distinguished publication The Gentleman's Magazine, "some fisherman near the City of Exeter drawing their nets ashore, a Creature leap'd out, and run away very swiftly; not being able to overtake it, they knock'd it down by throwing sticks after it. At their coming up to it, it was dying, having groan'd like a human Creature: Its Feet were webb'd like a Duck's, it had Eyes, Nose and Mouth resembling those of a man, only the Nose somewhat depress'd; a Tail not unlike a Salmon's, turning up towards its Back, and is 4 Feet high. It was publickly shewn here."

And so we come to the 19th century.

Mr. William Munro, a Scotch schoolteacher (and a schoolteacher in Scotland was traditionally expected to be of superior qualifications and was held in great respect, until at least recently being called the dominie, from the Latin, lord), writes a letter to a Dr. Torrance in Glasgow; letter being published in The Times of London on Sept. 8, 1809.

"About 12 years ago . . . when I was Parochial Schoolmaster at Reay, in the course of my walking on the shore of Sandside Bay . . . my attention was arrested by the appearance of a figure resembling an unclothed human female, sitting upon a rock extending into the sea, and apparently in the action of combing its hair, which flowed around its shoulders, and of a light brown colour. The resemblance which the figure bore to its prototype in all its visible parts was so striking, that had not the rock on which it was sitting been dangerous for bathing, I would have been constrained to have regarded it as really an human form, and to an eye unaccustomed to the situation, it must have undoubtedly appeared as such . . . the forehead round, the face plump, the cheeks ruddy, the eyes blue, the mouth and lips of a natural form . . . the breasts and abdomen, the arms and fingers, from the action in which the hands were employed, did not appear to be webbed, but as to this I am not positive. It remained on the rock three of four minutes after I observed it . . . combing its hair . . . and then dropped into the sea . . . whence it did not reappear to me. I had a distinct view of its features, being at no great distance on an eminence above the rock where it was sitting, and the sun brightly shining.

"Immediately before its getting into its natural element it seemed to have observed me . . . It may be necessary to remark, that previous to the period I beheld this object, I had heard it frequently reported by several persons, and some of them persons whose veracity I never heard disputed, that they had seen such a phenomenon as I have described, though then, like many others, I was not disposed to credit their testimony . . . I can say of a truth, that it was only by seeing the phenomenon, I was perfectly convinced of its existence.

"If the above narrative can in any degree be subservient towards establishing the existence of a phenomenon hitherto almost incredible to naturalists, or to remove the skepticism of others, who are ready to dispute everything which they cannot fully comprehend, you are welcome to it, from,

"Dear Sir,

"Your most obliged and most humble servant,

"William Munro."

I have quoted from this at length, and I am not disposed to doubt that Mr. Munro saw exactly what he said he saw. I am disposed only to ask, What on earth persuaded him that he had seen a mermaid? He says he did not think her fingers were webbed; he says he was close enough to see that her eyes were blue; he certainly saw no tail or else he would certainly have said so: Why did he think he saw a mermaid? As he is not available to ask, I must answer for myself. As follows: (1) She was by the sea, or mer. (2) She was mother-naked. (3) She sat on a rock which was "dangerous for bathing." (4) She was combing her hair, an action traditional for mermaids. (5) She dived into the sea, and did not reappear to him. And that is all.

To me the matter in no way enters the realm of the unnatural, the supernatural, the supranatural, preternatural, or even the mysterious. A Scotch woman, in good health, and tired of all those long, long (and mostly woolen) clothes, decides to go skinny-dipping; there being no facilities for such at that time and in that place, other than the sea itself, into the sea she goes. Coming oot, there being also no bathing caps in them days, she sits herself doon upon a rock, and she cambs her hair and spreads it oot to dry. One would think she might have been private there, but no: alang comes some silly old dominie, and gapes at her: so into the sea she dives again . . . nae doot hiding under a shelving she knows of till the gowk has passed—

But to guid Mr. Munro, it was so much less likely that a woman in Scotland during the reign of George III would go barebottomed in the level daylight, and upon a rock he deemed too dangerous for bathing: it was infinitely likelier that she was a meremaid. He was, after all, a schoolteacher and a parochial one, and the parish was of the Kirk of Scotland.—But who knows how often this may have happened?

The next sighting is not long later, and in the same country: It does seem that either Scotland was partial to mermaids, or they to her.

1811. "In Campbelltown, 29th of October . . . In presence of Duncan Campbell, Esq., Sheriff-substitute of Kintyre, appeared John McIsaac, tenant [-farmer] . . . solemnly sworn and examined depones . . . That having taken a walk towards the seashore, he came to the edge of a precipice . . . from which he saw something white upon a black rock . . . the upper half of it was white, and of the shape of a human body, and the other half towards the tail of a brindled reddish-grey colour apparently covered with long hair; and as the wind blew . . . it sometimes raised the hair over the creature's head, and every time . . . the animal would lean towards one side, and taking up the opposite hand, would stroke the hair backwards, and then leaning upon the other side of its head in the same manner. That at the same time . . . it would also spread or extend its tail like a fan . . . and while so extended, the tail continued in tremulous motion . . . That the animal . . . was between four and five feet long, as near as he could judge. That it had a head, hair, arms and body, down to the middle like a human being, only that the arms were short in proportion to the body which appeared to be about the thickness of that of a young lad, and tapering gradually to the point of the tail . . . he cannot say if [the fingers] were webbed or not. [. . .] That after the sea had . . . [ebbed] . . .  the animal . . . then tumbled clumsily into the sea . . . he saw its face . . . which to him had all the appearance of the face of a human being, with very hollow eyes . . . the animal was constantly . . . stroking and washing its breast . . . he cannot say if the bosom was formed like a woman's or not . . . All which he declares to be truth as he shall answer to God . . .

"Duncan Campbell, Sheriff-substitute."

Appended to this affidavit is another and briefer one: "We the Rev. Doctor George Robinson and Mr. Norman MacLeod, minister of Campbelltown, and James Maxwell, Esq., Chamberlain [i.e. J.P.] of Mull, do hereby certify that we were present when . . . John McIsaac delivered his testimony . . . That we know of no reason why his veracity should be called in question; and that from the manner in which he delivered his evidence, we are satisfied that he was impressed with a perfect belief, that the appearance of the animal he has described was such as he has represented it to be."

This seems to knock my rationalizations into a cocked hat . . . or a Highland bonnet. And only a few days later, on Nov. 2nd, Sheriff Campbell is to take another deposition, this one from Katherine Loynachan, age not given, "who . . . was herding cattle for her father about three weeks ago [so, actually, before John McIsaac, on Sunday the 18th of Oct., saw his Animal] at the seaside . . . [when] she observed some creature sliding on its belly off one of the rocks . . . into the sea;  . . . this creature had a head covered with long hair of a darkish color, the shoulders and back white, with the rest of the body tapering like a fish and . . . of a darkish brown color . . . it disappeared under water, but . . . immediately . . . came above water again . . . and . . . laid one hand, which was like a boy's hand, upon another rock . . . That . . . the fact of it . . . had all the appearance of a child and as white, and at this time the animal was constantly rubbing or washing its breast with one hand, the fingers being close together . . . [Notice this inexplicable gesture . . . again.]

"Duncan Campbell, Sheriff-substitute."

Sheriff Campbell's conclusions, after these two incidents, would be very interesting indeed, but we don't have them. What we have next, though, is another sighting, also in Scotland, but about twenty years later, on the island of Benbecula, between the two larger islands (as Benwell and Waugh don't tell you, I shall) of North Uist and South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides: Gaelic in speech and Roman Catholic in religion. In that region where, about ninety years earlier Bonnie Prince Charley had made his romantic and ill-fated entrance into Scotland, some people had gone to cut seaweed. There was a splash, a cry, and those who ran to see what the cause, saw "a creature 'in the form of a woman in miniature,' some few feet away in the sea." The creature, whatever she was, was having fun in the water, tumbling about, evading attempts to catch her, when the inevitable rascal boy threw stones. "She was next heard of a few days later, but, alas, then she was dead; her body was washed ashore, about two miles from where she was first seen. A detailed examination followed . . . 'the upper part of the creature was about the size of a well-fed child of three or four years of age, with an abnormally developed breast. The hair was long, dark and glossy, while the skin was white, soft, and tender. The lower part of the body was like a salmon, but without scales.'

"The lifeless body . . . attracted crowds to the beach where she lay, and the . . . spectators were convinced that they had gazed upon a mermaid at last.

"But the story does not end there. Mr. Duncan Shaw, factor (land agent) for Cianranald [the Clan Clanranald's head], baron-baillie and sheriff of the district, after seeing the corpse, gave orders that a coffin and shroud be made for the mermaid, and in the presence of many people she was buried "—not in churchyard or graveyard, but—" a little distance above the shore where she was found. This action of the factor [say Benwell and Waugh] is more eloquent than any signed testimony. A man who held his office was unlikely to be credulous, and that he ordered a coffin and shroud for the strange little creature cast upon his shores suggested that he thought she was at least partly human."

Indeed it did. One might add that "a man who held his office" was not likely to be generous, either. Not without extremely good reason.

The next listings are somewhat different. For lack of space here, I will cut them to the bone and number them, and—I warn you—am leaving out, for the time being, a most important piece of information. Chronologically they pick up where the others left off. Thus:

1) "In the month of February, 1849, two soldiers saw a boy come out of the jungle and go down to the stream to drink. They caught him, and gave him to a poor cultivator's widow. She could never get him to speak." 2) c. 1850. "A trooper was passing along the bank of a river when he saw a little boy on all fours who went down to the stream and drank. The trooper secured the boy and tried to make him speak, but could get nothing from him. Captain Nicholetts made the boy over to the charge of his servants, who take great care of him, but can never get him to speak a word." 3) c. late 1840's. "A trooper on the left bank of the _________ River saw a boy drinking in the stream. He had a man with him on foot, and they managed to seize the boy. He could never be heard to utter more than one articulate sound . . . could not understand or utter a word . . ." 4) "In 1860 the police brought in a male child, who moved by hops something like a monkey. He gave vent to snarls and sounds, something between a bark and a grunt." 5) c. same date. ". . . could never be taught to speak . . ." 6) Date unknown. "He was to all appearance about twenty years of age, was mute, but able to show signs of pleasure or anger by sounds . . ." 7) 1867-1894. "He was eventually tamed, but always had a wild look about him. He lived to be between thirty and forty, but never spoke."

"Sightings" 5 and 6 are not precisely dated, but please keep clear that these seven reports refer to seven different beings! I could give more, but perhaps these will suffice. Perhaps, too, in reading these mid-19th century reports you will be reminded of the one dated 1197. "At Oreford, in Suffolk," something called "a fish," although "resembling in shape a wild or savage man," was taken in a fishnet, and "he would not or could not utter any speech . . ." And perhaps, too, you recalled at once the incident at Edam in 1403, when the dike broke. "A mermaid floated in . . . she never spake, but lived dumbe for fifteen years; then she died." I had suggested that perhaps these two, and perhaps others, were what are usually termed deaf-mutes (I believe that a term preferred today is, "deaf people who cannot speak"). They might also have been suffering from another form of speechlessness, not congenitally so; "mute by the visitation of God," but perhaps through shock (shipwreck, for example). Do I suggest the same for the seven I cite from the 19th century? It is time for me to reveal my source for these seven; it is the book called Wolf-Children and Feral Man; printed in 1942 by the University of Denver, and "Reprinted 1966 in an Unaltered and Unabridged Edition [by Archon Books] With Permission of Harper and Row, Inc." It is two books in one. The first part entitled The Diary of the Wolf-Children of Midnapore (India), by the Reverend J.A.L. Singh / Missionary S.P.G. [Society for the Propagation of the Gospel] Mission and the Rector/The Orphanage, Midnapore/Bengal, India/with a Preface by/The Right Reverend H. Pakenham-Walsh (Bishop)/Christa Ishya Ashram, Tadagam, P.O. Coimbatore, India/and/Appendix, Chronology of the Wolf-Children; the second part is called Feral Man and Cases of Extreme Isolation of Individuals, by Robert M. Zingg, Ph.D./University of Denver/Author of the Huichols: Primitive Artists/Forewords/Professor R. RugglesGates, Ph.D., D.Sc., LL. D., F.R.S./King's College, University of London, Chairman, Human Heredity Bureau, London/Professor Arnold Gesell, M.D., Director/Clinic of Child Development, The School of Medicine/Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut/Author of Wolf Child and Human Child/Professor Frances N. Maxfield, Ph.D./Director of Psychological Clinic/Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio/Professor Kingsley Davis, Ph.D./Associate Professor of Sociology/The Pennsylvania State College . . .

I have copied the entire subtitle page, unusually long for a modern book, on purpose in order to make it clear that whatever else it may or may not be, Wolf-Children and Feral Man is not a mere rip-off from some volume of forgotten lore, and neither are its authors and foreworders loonies or zanies. If a more respectable group sacred and secular can be found . . . well. . . .

Stories of human children raised by animals are as ancient as Romulus and Remus and more modern than Tarzan. All seven reports cited here from the 19th century are from India, and all refer to alleged "wolf-children." There are, as I say, more. Sources include two rajahs, and Gen. Sir William Sleeman, best known for his successful campaign to suppress thuggee. He and the rajahs were believers. Skeptics included Dr. John Whishaw of the Lucknow (India) Lunatic Asylum, who bluntly wrote in 1874, "The majority of wolf-boys are idiots, taken by their parents and left near some distant police station." Even this skeptical statement avoids absolute finality with the words, The majority. I take no sides. The matter is immense, and immensely complex. Read the book.

The Rev. Mr. Singh's part of the book refers to two girl-children he said he and jungle villagers rescued from a wolf's den in Bengal in 1920, and which he and his wife certainly raised and cared for; one died young, the other lived about nine years; and was (with infinite patience) taught to walk on two feet, to speak about 40 words, an otherwise to behave as a human being, albeit always a strange one. Prof. Zingg's part of the book covers the whole field of wild men, wild women, wild children, "feral man," and people raised in isolation from others; is there one word in the whole book regarding, specifically, mermaids?—not a single one, as far as I could see: why, then, am I writing of it in this connection?

Serendipity enters, yet again. Looking for data in connection with my hypothesis that at least some of the "mermaids" or "mermen" found and cared for might really have been human beings unable to speak and/or hear, I sought a few specific books on the treatment and education of the deaf and the mute. None of them were on the library shelves, but near to where they would have been was the book Wolf-Children and Feral Man. I took it down, I opened it, I read a few words, I took it out. . . .

I learned a lot.

We observe in five of these reports, from Europe and Asia, that the strange beings had this in common: they were found by water: and they could not speak. I acknowledge that in none of the four cases was mention made of a tail, fish-like or otherwise. I would hasten to point out that the Encyclopedia Britannica emphasizes that in a very large number of mermaid legends the merperson has no tail . . . but I do not exactly hasten, because in these legends he or she invariably does speak. And one of the things which, usually, she says is, in effect, "Very well, I will marry you, but on condition that you do not watch me" do this or that: in Chinese and Japanese werefox-witch stories the act forbidden to be watched is eating, in Western European mermaid stories it is bathing. A very old variation on this is the non-Scriptural story that the Queen of Sheba had (a) hairy feet, or (b) webbed feet (this latter pops up again with la reine pedauque as the ancestress of Charlemagne), or (c) hooved feet. As she never lifted her long skirts at all, King Solomon took her to a part of the palace where the floor was of polished blue marble: "Water!" cried the Sheban queen, hoisting her hems to avoid wetting them. Thus showing all. It is entirely possible that a person afflicted with an abnormality of the feet might not wish them to be seen even by a spouse; and the aspect of the legend wherein the "mortal" spouse eventually peeks and sees the fishy-tail, whereupon the mer-spouse dives into the moat and vanishes, may rest upon just such a circumstance. A fishy-tail, though more abnormal, is more dramatic than a clubfoot. (The fox-witch-woman, on the other hand, reveals her true self by dining on a single grain of rice: an economical but, under the circumstances, undesirable trait.)

Clear across the Old World, from England to Japan, rivers were worshiped . . . and feared. Sometimes they demanded human sacrifice; sometimes they got them. Suppose, then, a strange person, unable to speak and to "give an account of oneself," being found near a river . . . near any water, for that matter . . . why, he or she would almost of necessity be subsumed into that awe of the sacred and the terrible. I leave this to be considered, and I pass on.

Professor Zingg writes: "The term and concept of feral man (L. ferns, "wild") was first taken from the realm of myth and history into organized science by the great scientific systematizer Carl Linnaeus (b. 1707, d. 1778). He included Homo sapiens ferus in the tenth and subsequent editions of his early and great work, Systema Naturae, 1758. He considers Homo ferus (generally given elsewhere as Homo sapiens ferus) as a subdivision of Homo sapiens in the order of the primates, which includes man and the apes . . ."

The examples of Wild Wise Man listed by Linnaeus were nine, and ranged from Juv. ursinus Lithuanus [The Lithuanian bear-boy] 1661 to Johannes Leodicensis [Jean of Liege, "a poor case," says Zingg; no date give.] Perhaps the one most germane to us is that of the Puella Campanica [The Girl of Champagne] 1731—but all had in common that they had been found in woods and wildernesses in a state considered wild, brutish, and other than normally human: Did they represent another order of mankind, a sort of modern Neanderthal? No, of course they didn't; we know better than that, you dumb Squarehead! (We also know how to make lots more things which will kill us than Linnaeus did—and we go right on making them, too; don't we? Yes we do.) All these Wild Boys and Wild Girls, then, represented the then-equivalent of the Sasquatch, Yeti, and Bigfoot, with the addition of being found: quite an addition.

Puella Campanica. She came in from the woods to a village (Songi) in Champagne, in France, at dusk, one September day in 1701. Zingg writes, "As instances of the other pole of idiocy, dementia ex separatione, of those whose mental functions remain intact or able to develop despite the influence of long-continued isolation, Rauber cites the wild-girl of Songi." So will I.

. . . a girl of nine or ten years . . . Her feet were naked, her body was covered with rags and skins of animals, [. . . .] She carried a club . . . she saw a [raw] fowl . . . and began immediately to eat it. She strangled a little rabbit . . . and ate it . . . her thumbs were very large . . . the result of climbing trees . . . swinging from one tree to another . . . She was just as agile in diving and catching fish . . . swimming and diving . . . Even after two years after her capture she still had not lost the tendency to jump into water to catch fish. In this manner she once escaped from the Castle of Songi through an open door which led to a pond. She jumped into it completely dressed, swam through it and landed on a small island. . . .

Later, after she had been taught to speak French, she told the good people at the convent which housed her that "She . . . believed that she preserved a . . . memory of the sea or a river and a large water-animal."

I have no hesitation in saying that in an earlier age she would have been declared a mermaid, tail or no tail. There are one or two things about her which I find rather humanly endearing: "She liked macaroons, and gin, which she called 'burn-stomach.' " For reasons apparent if one reads her story carefully and in full, I believe that Puella Campanica was a bit of a faker, just a bit; but what the hell. An abandoned child, life handed her a lemon. And she made lemonade. I would a lot rather have macaroons and gin than raw frogs any day, Jean Jacques Rousseau, even if you wouldn't—"Burn-stomach!" Whoopee!

As for the once-famous Peter the Wild Boy of Hanover, Linnaeus' Juv. Hannoveranus 1724, who became and remained a favorite of Royalty for almost forty years, mostly in England—alas for all theories that he was a sort of junior grade Noble Savage, hatched from an acorn or something—the evidence subsequently discovered seems to prove rather plainly that Wild Peter was (a) severely tongue-tied, (b) severely retarded, and (c) driven from home by his peasant-father and stepmother, figures straight out of the fairy tales of their countryman, Grimm. Sailors had seen at different times a naked child on the banks of the river . . . But go read it. What kept poor speechless Peterkin alive was a pension from George II of England and Hanover: The only nice thing I have ever heard about that sullen, hard-bitten, red-faced little monarch (to his Queen, on her deathbed: "I won't marry again. I'll just have mistresses.") . . .Sehst, Peterchen, 's'is' geworen besser bei uns in England. . . .

Notice, though, once again, the two items, Noticed near the water, and Could not talk. Am I really the first person to have noticed all this?

Well. So. Notice some more. Here is Wild Peter, "when he particularly liked anything [given him to eat, as green beans, etc.], he indicated his satisfaction by striking repeatedly on his chest." And the official deposition made in Scotland on October 29, 1811, of the mermaid on the rock, which "was constantly stroking and washing its breast . . ."—how that is echoed by the other deposition made in Scotland, on November 2nd of the same year, about a "creature" which was "constantly rubbing or wishing its breast with one hand . . ." Notice this gesture. And let us go back to one of the Juvenes ursini Lithuani 1657 cited by Linnaeus. Writes a contemporary, ". . . in the woods of Lithuania a boy was found among bears and captured . . . With much care he was taught to go erect, but . . . the voice was lacking . . . He could not be taught to make the sign of the cross. He reached his hand to me that I should make the sign of the cross on his breast."

Had someone once tried to teach Wild Peter to "make the sign of the cross on his breast" before eating?—a gesture (particularly if ill-done) likely not to have been understood in Protestant England? Was that what the unidentified "creatures" in Scotland were doing? . . . or attempting? Was that what the Lithuanian bear-boy really wanted done? Have these four habits really anything in common? If so, what? What can it mean? Does it mean anything? I wish I knew. I wish I knew.

The so-called Wild Men or Wild Children may or may not have anything to do with mermaids; I think they may, but I leave the matter loose. That any of them may at any time have actually lived with animals I do not insist; the matter is still much disputed. That some of them were children in a state of severe mental retardation seems beyond dispute. What remains uncertain is this: of those who were so afflicted, were all so from their birth, or were not anyway some of them "retarded" as a result of what old Rauber termed dementia ex separatione . . . demented as a result of having been separated . . . separated, that is, from other human company? Rauber was a pioneer psychologist in the early 19th century: but everything learned since substantiates that children raised in isolation suffer severe mental damage . . . sometimes irreparable damage: regardless of whether they had been isolated from a human home and lived in the woods for long, or if they had been isolated at home. "The idiot kept in the closet" is, alas, alas, by no means a thing of the past. And, even worse, the child "in the closet" has not always been an idiot; sometimes the child has been illegitimate; sometimes the isolating parent or parents have been themselves mentally unstable.

To carry the matter further lies beyond my space and scope.

Now we come to, or come back to, that more-than-man-sized (and -woman-sized) mammal, the sea cow, so often said—along with, or instead of, the seal—to be the real origin of the mermaid myth. If the story of the mermaid had an origin in the manatee, how are we to account for these so-called sightings in places where there were no manatees; and if they were inspired by seals, how to account for the sightings in places where there were no seals? Or how to account for them where seals were too well-known? Some, no doubt—say, even, certainly—had their origins in the minds of alleged witnesses whose imaginations had been stirred by already-existent stories, of whatsoever origin. Others, it seemed to me, did not . . . at least, not entirely. I believe that in days gone by, any naked and shipwrecked person washed ashore in an insular or isolated region where his or her language was not known was likely to be assumed to be a mermaid, a merman, or a sea-monster of some sort and not alone in Europe. There is a record from the East Indies (now Indonesia) from the 1500's, of the finding of "a great white sea-ape." This creature was prudently chained to a wall in the local king's garden, and stayed chained there until it died. We are entitled to disbelieve that it was really "a great white sea-ape," not only because there are no such things, but because on the wall to which it was chained it left graffiti in several languages including Latin and Dutch. In other words, it was a human being, of a race strange to the natives, speaking languages equally strange—and, as it lived chained up there for 34 years, one must only hope that it was at least a very long chain.—This finding has not that I know of ever been applied to the mermaid legend. But I think it very worthy of such application.

Because, besides the legend of the mer- or mere, i.e., sea-, maid, there is the legend of the undine or ondine, a sort of river- or lake-dwelling equivalent, I have a theory that this may have preceded the mermaid one. Perhaps certain inland tribes (my theory goes) who not only could not swim but had never heard of people who could, coming upon, in their wanderings, a strange river, lake, or pool, and seeing a human form performing in the water after the manner of a water-creature—a fish—had no explanation for such a brief (we may assume) sighting other than that the creature in the water, though human-shaped, was at least part fish. To try and take it back further in history is beyond my task.

Returning, for a while, to the manatee, or sea-cow: far from this poor beast being "the origin of the mermaid legend," it was attached to it fairly late in the day, and I don't really see how it could have been involved in it much earlier. The Atlantic sea cow, the manatee, is in the Old World not found farther north than the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, far off of the way for early European or Asian travelers. Even if one or two voyages out of Carthage did cruise those waters briefly, not only is there nothing in their accounts to show that they encountered any manatees, but it was to be almost 2000 years before Europeans came that far. The earliest reference to them in this connection, found in Benwell and Waugh, dates from early in the 18th century: I mean, the earliest reference of anyone saying, "No, it was not a mermaid, it was a manatee." The manatee may not look much like a cow, "sea cow" named or not; it looks about as much like a woman as a cow looks like a woman: only bigger; though, like a woman and unlike a cow, its teats are pectoral, i.e., on the chest.

But what about the Indian Ocean sea cow, or dugong? There are reports from both sides of the Indian Ocean, Somalia on the west and Indonesia in the east. Beginning with expectedly coarse jests, the matter soon become serious: "We don't dare tell our wives," the sailors and fisherman say, "that we have even seen a dugong. They would neither talk with us nor sleep with us for weeks . . ." Their wives, it seems, incline to believe the worst. In some places the mention of the word dugong brings the frowing comment, "It is bad luck to talk of that." But talk of that we must.

The earliest mermaid or merman account, that of On or Oannes, as I have said, does come out of the greater Indian Ocean area, to wit the Persian Gulf. Old On, with his long beard and his funny hat and his fish-tail, does not seem very dugongish to me, but listen to a quotation from a naturalist, H.A.E. Gohar, at one time "the Director of the Marine Biological Station at A Ghardaqa at the entrance to the Gulf of Suez," which disembogues into the Red Sea, which disembogues into the Indian Ocean (which used to be called the Erythraean, or Red, Sea). The quotation is from In Search of Mermaids, by Dr. Colin Bertram, the zoologist; his book is mostly about manatees and Guyana, but—but enough. Listen:

"Gohar interestingly refers to the mermaid legend which he would firmly attribute, if at all, to the dugong and not the manatee. He may be quoted thus:

" 'In the dugong, the oval face of the relatively small head, of light colour and roughly the same size as a human face, also the fatty chin and the protruding nose-like alveolus of the upper jaw, lying over a small mouth, all these are characters that enhanced the resemblance to a human face. The flat ventral surface of the muzzle gives the impression of a woman hanging a veil over her face to below the eyes.

" 'It has also been claimed [italics in this quote are mine: AD] that the mother has been seen, in shallow water, holding her large-size young with one or both flippers and standing waist-high out of the water; while suckling the young at its well-developed pectoral breasts. At all events [italics in this quote are mine: AD], it is imperative that the mother should, during suckling, maintain her own as well as her infant's nostrils above the water for aerial respiration. The resemblance to a woman carrying her child has been accentuated by the great shyness of dugongs, which made it impossible to watch them except at a great distance, and often only in the darker nights. At the sight of an approaching object or person, they dived and the appearance of the tail beating the surface of the water aroused the curiosity and served to enliven and perpetuate the sea-man's faith in such mythical creatures.'

" 'The stories of mermaids were especially told by voyagers in the south-eastern seas, where only dugongs occurred. Furthermore, it is of special interest to remember, in this connection, the many stories told of marriages taking place between mermaids and men. Marriages which—the stories often went on to relate—resulted in an offspring that talked the languages of both the father and the mother, etc. Although such stories are extremely imaginative, yet they cannot be passed over without some meditation, as they must have some meaning which may lead us to the clue of the problem we are confronted with. At the same time, due consideration should be given to the following facts: 1) The great resemblance between the genitalia of dugongs and those of man; 2) That dugongs are warmblooded animals and, on account of their blubber, will retain the high temperature of their bodies for some hours after death, especially in the hot climate of the regions in which they occur; 3) That they are docile and inoffensive creatures; 4) That in old times voyages took very long and men were for months and even years away from their homes and families, at sea or in places or islands completely devoid of human inhabitants. Considering these facts together, it is not difficult to understand, under such abnormal conditions, how much femininity a thing like a female dugong may suggest and how much the seizure or even the sight of one may mean. It may be remembered, in this respect, man has not completely raised himself above the rank of animals.' "

Well. There is a great deal suggested in this quotation, most of it not at all nice, and we will not be at all disposed to linger.

Moving on, although perhaps not a million miles, we encounter—or rather, you encounter, I have already encountered—in my own notes for a series of novels based on the medieval Vergil Magus Legend—we encounter, I say, somewhat perhaps to our surprise, the names of Dante and of Dorothy L. Sayers. What is the connection? This. Miss Sayers, best known as the author of the Lord Peter Whimsey detective stories, was also the translator of and commentator on The Divine Comedy of Dante. And Dante's guide through the Inferno and Purgatory was Vergil. Here we go.

"Vergil (11,58-9) calls the Siren 'that ancient witch' because of whose beguilements the souls do penance . . . She is at first sight unattractive, she only acquires strength and beauty from Dante's own gaze. She is, therefore, the projection upon the outer world of something in the mind: the soul, falling in love with itself, perceives other people and things, not as they are, but as wish-fulfillments of its own, i.e., its love for them is not love for a 'true other' (cf. XVIII, 22-6 and note), but a devouring egotistical fantasy, by absorption in which the personality rots away into illusion. The Siren is, in fact, the 'ancient witch,' Lillith, the fabled first wife of Adam, who was not a real woman of flesh and blood, but a magical imago, begotten of Samael, the Evil One, to be a fantasm of Adam's own desires . . . In later legends, the magical fantasm of man's own desire is the demon lover called the succubus (or, in the case of the woman, the incubus), intercourse with which saps the strength and destroys the life."

Let me tell you something which may perhaps surprise you but which scarcely surprises me at all. I had never seen Dr. Bertram's book, In Search of Mermaids, before I began to prepare this Adventure. I had never heard of the Director of the Marine Biological Station on the Red Sea, H.A.F. Gohar, whose "meditation" on the mermaid legend and the dugong I quoted a page or so before. The quotations from Dorothy L. Sayers' notes on Dante have been in my notebooks for years and I gave them no thought in connection with this Adventure: but just after finishing my extract from Gohar I pulled out the card on Sirens from my Virgil Magus file, and the first reference on it was to that passage from Sayers' note on Dante which I have just quoted. You see how well, how almost perfectly, it fits in. Although I had certainly heard of the phenomena of "feral children," it never had occurred to me that there might be a conceivable connection with the mermaid legend: until I "accidently picked up" the Sing-Zingg book. I would be surprised . . . if this had not happened to me a thousand times.

I tell you, very sincerely, very simply, very humbly: these things are made by magic. The net which caught the siren mermaid does catch us all. It is Indra's net, a net of almost infinite dimensions, and where any two cords of it come together, there come together a line of time and a line of space, until every moment in time and every line in space are connected.

And each connection, it is said, shines and glitters, like a jewel.

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