The mermaid was (and sometimes still is) popularly believed to
be a woman with the tall of a fish. When she, or the merman, left the
water mortals were warned of their presence by the damp edges of their
apron or coat.
Mermaids were able to lure into the water sailors or young men dwelling
near the sea by their siren song, quite often drowning them. There are
also sea shanties and local folk tales that tell of such encounters
resulting in happy marriages where the man adapted to living under the
Although she is ubiquitous throughout European folklore, such as the
Lorelei of the Rhine who appear in Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other
water sprites, sirens appear in some other ancient mythologies as gods
or goddesses with human features.
The Babylonians believed that Oannes, the half fish, half human, deity
brought civilisation to the world in the distant past.