Sketchbook Page 49: M is for Mermaid II (The Siren)

September 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Mermaid II (The Siren)

Mermaid II (The Siren)

Bones from a Bestiary part 13: M is for Mermaid

This is the thirteenth in a series of chimerical creatures; the aim is to create an alphabet of fabulous beasts over the coming months.

With recent advances in genetic engineering it should be possible to manufacture such creatures in the laboratory; although the results will not always be practical (or, indeed, humane) …

I am indebted to Bruce L Manzano from the University of Kentucky for the following comment:

Although the fish side to mermaids is frequently shown by the scales in drawings – which makes one use fish-like bones for the tail and finds, I believe you would be more accurate by showing the skeletal elements below the waist if they were aligned with something closer to seals.  This would fit an evolutionary format for the upper portions of Mermaids as well as some of the folklore from the northern areas (Ireland & Scotland?) where mermaids and seals are tied in oral traditions.

On the basis of this advice I have made a second sketch (see above) representing a mermaid burial (see also Sketchbook Page 49: M is for Mermaid); this drawing is perhaps slightly less fanciful in that I have made it from a fusion of human and seal skeletal parts …

The word mermaid is a compound of the Old English mere (sea), and maid (a girl or young woman). The equivalent term in Old English was merewif. They are conventionally depicted as beautiful with long flowing hair. They are sometimes equated with the sirens of Greek mythology (especially the Odyssey), half-bird femme fatales whose enchanting voices would lure soon-to-be-shipwrecked sailors to nearby rocks, sandbars or shoals.

Sirenia is an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit rivers, estuaries, coastal marine waters, swamps and marine wetlands. Sirenians, including manatees and dugongs, possess major aquatic adaptations: arms used for steering, a paddle used for propulsion, and remnants of hind limbs (legs) in the form of two small bones floating deep in the muscle. They look ponderous and clumsy but are actually fusiform, hydrodynamic and highly muscular, and mariners before the mid-nineteenth century referred to them as mermaids.

Please note that, following Bruce’s advice, the lower half of the body in the burial above is based on seal (i.e. pinniped) rather than sirenian remains.

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