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Mermaids and Other Mythical Creatures

For those of us who like to “ trip the light fantastic” and are interested in mermaids and other mythical creatures, there are currently two fascinating exhibits in Atlanta, GA: one at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, and the other at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. You can discover how living and prehistoric animals inspired mythical creatures--dragons, unicorns, mermaids, griffins, chimeras, cyclops, and others--some familiar--some you may not have met. You can learn how cultures throughout time have created mythical creatures to explain their natural world, create religious symbols, and share beliefs. You can find authentic artifacts and fossils and explore the stories, traditions, and dances that celebrate mythical creatures around the world. 

The Fernbank has a statue of a topless, creamy-skinned, greenish-scaled mermaid—very alluring.  However, many of the mythical creatures, including the mermaid, have symbolized opposing values across time.   For example, the mermaid has been portrayed as a vixen and a beguiler with legends dating back to the Greeks in 400 BC and later with European sailors. Yet, for many, she has been an adult beauty, a savior, and sometimes child-like.  Christopher Columbus rendered yet another depiction.  He apparently reported seeing three mermaids off of Haiti in 1493, but expressed "they were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men." So the mermaid’s meaning and image have run the gamut—from sultry and dangerous to light and loveliness.  

I am curious to know if Christopher Columbus’ report of seeing a mermaid was the first in this part of the world.  Certainly there have been legendary sightings dating back to BC throughout Greece and Europe and later in Africa, but what do the legends of the Americas tell us about the mermaid’s history? Was 1493 the first sighting?

Anyone interested in visiting these exhibits, Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids, and Monsters, Demons, and Winged-Beasts: Composite Creatures in the Ancient World, can visit the following website for more information:  http://clatl.com/atlanta/creature-features-at-fernbank-and-the-michael-c-carlos-museum/Content?oid=2802256. These can surely ignite the imagination and add some magic dust to life. 

And, again, if anyone has any insight into the earliest mermaid sightings in the Americas, I’d love to hear from you.

March 1, 2011
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