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Other accounts of water maidens are of a wilder cast. The judy of Slavic folk tales lived in the lakes and rivers of the Rhodope Mountains and danced in meadows, and him whom they coaxed to dance with them they destroyed. When they saw a man in the water they entangled him in their long hair and drowned him. The pariks of Armenian story are erotic female demons of the river banks. In a Celtic tale Rath saw mermaids as “grown-up girls, the fairest of shape and make above the waters; but huger than one of the hills was the hairyclawed, bestial lower part which they had beneath.” They sang the hero to sleep and tore him to pieces. The ships of another Celtic adventurer, Ruad, were stopped, and when he went over the side he saw “three of the loveliest of the world's women" holding to the keels; the rest of the story is dalliance. Pacific coast Indians have legends of beautiful, long-haired women who lived in a round house under the ocean and made trouble for people above. An Arab traveler tells of joyous water maidens caught and caressed by sailors in the bright straits of Greece, and then returned to the sea.
The prose of the legend was reached when men began to capture what they conceived to be mermaids and mermen, and failed in most cases to find kindred beings. There is a considerable list of these creatures captured or sighted on the beaches of the Old and the New World. Only one of these talked, and Pontoppidan mentions the story but to discredit it. Two senators of Norway caught a merman, but let him go on his threatening them in Danish to sink the ship with all its crew. Of the so-called bishop-fish or sea bishop, said to have been netted for the King of Poland in the Baltic in 1453, a similar tale is told. It wore a dalmatic and mitre and carried a crosier. With gestures of entreaty it besought the intercession of its brother prelates of the court. When it was released into the sea the grateful creature made the sign of the cross and gave the epis. copal benediction with its fin before it submerged. In one other instance there were points of human contact. Milkmaids of Edam in West Friesland in 1430 found a mermaid which had been swept over the dykes by a storm. They brought it home, as the story goes, and dressed it in female attire; it learned how to spin, to eat with them, to adore the crucifix, but it never spoke.
Through many other accounts runs the belief that merfolk were weather-breeders. The Speculum Regale, an Icelandic work of the twelfth century, describes a mermaid with a “very horrible face” that haunts the deep near Greenland and before heavy storms is seen with fish in its hands. If it casts the fish toward the ship, it is an omen of death in the coming storm; if it casts the fish away from the ship it is a good omen. Hakluyt’s Voyages tell of a monster, from the middle upward proportioned like a man and with a tawny skin, which was discovered near Bermuda in the sixteenth century. The clerks of the expedition put the account in writing, to be certified to the English king. “Presently after this,” it is recited, “for the space of sixteen days we had wonderful foule weather.” Knud Leems 'in his account of Danish Lapland asserted that horrible tempests followed the appearance of a merman and merwoman in those seas. The male, or hav-manden, was like a robust man with brown skin and long hair and beard; the female, or havfruen, had the human shape and hair and a ghastly visage.
It appears that a merman, captured in the Baltic in 1531, lived for three days at the court of Sigismund, King of Poland, and there is a story that to determine ownership of another the King of Portugal and the Grand Master of the Order of St. James had a suit at law.
Merolla tells of a ship's crew in a South African port who saw at a distance "a sort of sea monsters like unto men” gathering herbs, with which they plunged into the sea. The sailors gathered herbs for them, and the grateful creatures “forthwith drew from the bottom of the sea a quantity of coral” and laid it in the place where the sailors had piled the herbs. Human perfidy ends a pretty story. The sailors spread a net to catch the mermen, who lifted it and fled.
The purely animal quality predominates in other of the circumstantial accounts repeated of the mer people. A merman was captured off the coast of Suffolk in 1187, but escaped. Hendryk Hudson reports that his crew saw a mermaid near Nova Zembla, and “from the navel upward her back and breasts were like a woman's," while the tail was like the tail of a porpoise. In 1560 fishermen netted seven mermen and mermaids
in the seas west of Ceylon; several Jesuit priests were witness thereto. Captain Weddell, the Antarctic explorer, records the sworn testimony of one of his crew that he had seen a creature with human form and the tail of a seal, and with red face and green hair. In the sea of Angola, says Pontoppidan, mermaids are heard to shriek and cry like women; negroes net and eat them, and their flesh is considered much like pork. Sigismundus ab Herbenstein had it from Muscovite sources that in the river Tachnin there was “a certain fish with head, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, feete and other members utterly of humane shape, and yet without any voyce, and pleasant to be eaten.” In Pinkerton's Voyages there is an account of the woman fish found "among the islands Boccias,” the flesh of which is “of excellent savour when eaten boiled like other meat, and which also serves to make highly savoury sausages.
The dugong, manatee, or sea cow has been called the Old Man of the Sea as well as the mermaid. It has figured in legends with a biblical background; the people about the Red Sea took these creatures for survivors or descendants of the army of Pharaoh that was drowned in pursuing the Israelitish host. The three mermaids that Columbus saw on his first voyage to the New World are supposed to have been of this species. When white men first came to America the manatees thronged the waters of Florida, but have since become nearly extinct there, although there is a protected herd in the Miami River.
Reports of actual captures present the rationalization and degradation of the mermaid legend. The divine daughters of the deep with their lovely bodies and flowing hair become strange animals of the seal or cetacean species with ugly faces and bodies that may be converted into pork—sea apes, as the credulous and yet cautious Pontoppidan calls them. They grow so common that the Aberdeen Almanac of 1688 predicts the periods when mermaids may be expected near the mouth of the Dee.
Sir Humphrey Davy argued that if God had created the mermaid, her deficient means of locomotion and of self-defense would have left her a prey to the fish. Yet the seas would have been poorer of romance if the logic and poetry of men had not led them to correct, in ages more naïve, what seemed to them an oversight of their Maker.
Chapter IX. The Peoples of Prodigy
In his True History Lucian relates what he is at pains to point out is a fictitious voyage to the moon and to various isles of the outer seas. Grotesque half-human beings people his narrative. There are grape vines, the upper parts of which have the shape of women, and these entwine themselves about his men. There are Hippogypi, or men carried upon vultures; Onoscileas, or ass-legged women, with long robes and a free manner of harlotry; Bucephali, or men with bulls' heads and horns and lowing voices; Schorodomachi, or garlic-fighters; Psyllotoxotæ, or flea-archers; Acroconopes, or gnat-riders; cloud-centaurs, nut-eaters, pirates riding dolphins that neigh like horses, and a variety of other fantastic creatures. The Samosatan wrote, he says, “about such things as neither are nor ever can be.”
Yet races of men very much like these were long supposed to live upon earth. Their descriptions are in the ancient histories, their habitats are defined in the classic geographies, their effigies are upon mediæval maps. As late as the century after Columbus, travelers were still coming upon them, and repeating the interrogatory of The Tempest, “What have we here, a man or a fish?” Perhaps twoscore of these imaginary tribes are better documented, and not so long ago were better known, than most of the tribes of real men and women upon the earth; the documents are on dusty shelves of the larger libraries.
Some of the singular folk entered literature by the double gates of mistaken etymology and literal acceptance of figurative language. In the lineaments of others one discerns races that are still upon earth, but divested of the masks of fable. In the rest one sees the creative fancy of man following its natural bent-cartooning humanity by exaggerating a limb or feature or by eliminating it; borrowing something from the brute; making men taller or shorter, or longer-lived or shorter-lived, than reality; fashioning the moon calves, the Calibans; setting up a realm in which paradox is law. Thus mankind gave itself new and interesting neighbors. Singular Speech
Men judge one another by the testimony of the ear as well as of the eye; and the speech of all these peoples, no less than their anatomy, proclaimed the law of paradox. Sometimes the surprise was in hearing Indian or Greek or Arab words from lips that seemed bestial rather than human. Often no words came at all, but only unintelligible animal sounds. This, in. deed, was to be expected from races whose bodies varied from the normal; but the list of prodigious folk is lengthened by the addition of other men who, while looking like ordinary mortals, were not quite human in their speech.
There were nations which used dumb-barter because they had no language. There were tribes in Ethiopia which, as Pliny says, “have to employ gesture by nodding the head and moving the limbs instead of speech.” On the Atlantic seaboard were troglodytes that have no articulate voice, but only utter a kind of squeaking noise." “Like the screeching of bats,” says Herodotus of the same people. Another tribe of troglodytes, according to John Lok, “have no speech, but rather a grinning and chattering.” The Arabians dwell in caves and have shrill, boyish voices, declares Jordanus. In the eastern mountains of Ind, says Tauron, are the Choromandæ, a forest folk with hairy bodies, canine teeth, and sea-green eyes who “screech in a frightful manner.” Kazwini speaks of hairy little men in Ramni with a speech like the chirping of birds. Carpini names among the peoples of Ind the dog-faced men who speak two words in human wise and bark for the third. There were people with a small hole in place of the mouth, whose conversation was a whistling. Among the isles of Maundeville is one "clept Traconda, where the Folk be as Beasts and unreasonable, and dwell in Caves; and they eat Flesh of Serpents, and they eat but little; and they speak Nought, but they hiss as Serpents do.” In a desert beyond paradise this authority says there are wild men “that be hideous to look on, for they be horned and they speak Nought, but they grunt as Pigs.” However, there was