Sirenas, Songstresses of the Philippine Seas

Sirenas, Songstresses of the Philippine Seas

In 1493, Christopher Columbus claimed to have spotted a few mermaids and left decidedly unimpressed, writing that they: “were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men”. Despite their failure to impress Columbus, mermaids have been both worshipped and despised for centuries all over the globe and in different cultures.

Engraving of an Assyrian Cylinder, with Dagon, or the Fish-god (Public Domain)

Ancient cultures around the world regarded the sea as a dangerous place populated with beings who preyed upon people - men in particular. Even centuries before Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder famously wrote that the nereids are sea nymphs, recognizable as half-human and half-fish, there already existed the Mesopotamian Dagon and the Babylonian Oannes - both deities with human heads and fish bodies. Atargatis, the chief goddess of northern Syria, was human above the waist and fish below it. Accordingly associated with water, Atargatis watched over the fertility of her people as well as their general well-being. The Syrians venerated Atargatis with the biggest temple they could build complete with a pond for sacred fish.


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