Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mermaid Sighting 1250

The King’s Mirror is a medieval text, written sometime around 1250 in Old Norse by an anonymous author. It is written as a conversation between a son and his father.  The author tells us that through this conversation he will tell us about the four areas of work in the world.  Those he says he will discuss include being a merchant, the royal court, clergy and lastly the life of peasants.  Only the first two have survived. It is in this first section (chapter 16 The Marvels of the Waters about Greenland: Monsters, Seals, and Walruses, to be precise,) that we are treated to the marvels of the 'known world' including two mermaid/merman sightings in Greenland.

"This monster is tall and of great size and rises straight out of the water. It appears to have shoulders, neck and head, eyes and mouth, and nose and chin like those of a human being; but above the eyes and the eyebrows it looks more like a man with a peaked helmet on his head. It has shoulders like a man's but no hands. Its body apparently grows narrower from the shoulders down, so that the lower down it has been observed, the more slender it has seemed to be. But no one has ever seen how the lower end is shaped, whether it terminates in a fin like a fish or is pointed like a pole. The form of this prodigy has, therefore, looked much like an icicle. No one has ever observed it closely enough to determine whether its body has scales like a fish or skin like a man. Whenever the monster has shown itself, men have always been sure that a storm would follow. They have also noted how it has turned when about to plunge into the waves and in what direction it has fallen; if it has turned toward the ship and has plunged in that direction, the sailors have felt sure that lives would be lost on that ship; but whenever it has turned away from the vessel and has plunged in that direction, they have felt confident that their lives would be spared, even though they should encounter rough waters and severe storms. "

"Another prodigy called mermaid has also been seen there. This appears to have the form of a woman from the waist upward, for it has large nipples on its breast like a woman, long hands and heavy hair, and its neck and head are formed in every respect like those of a human being. The monster is said to have large hands and its fingers are not parted but bound together by a web like that which joins the toes of water fowls. Below the waist line it has the shape of a fish with scales and tail and fins. It is said to have this in common with the one mentioned before, that it rarely appears except before violent storms. Its behavior is often somewhat like this: it will plunge into the waves and will always reappear with fish in its hands; if it then turns toward the ship, playing with the fishes or throwing them at the ship, the men have fears that they will suffer great loss of life. The monster is described as having a large and terrifying face, a sloping forehead and wide brows, a large mouth and wrinkled cheeks. But if it eats the fishes or throws them into the sea away from the ship, the crews have good hopes that their lives will be spared, even though they should meet severe storms."
The text goes on to describe "sea hedges," the "kraken," walrus and whales. Rather than beautiful the mermaid sounds frightening! "a sloping forehead and wide brows," isn't that how all those criminals are portrayed in cartoons?

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