Once upon a time, a mermaid wanted to be human so she traded her voice for legs and, with the help of her trusty sea creature friends, won her prince. That’s the Disney version of the story. The original story is far less romantic, and draws its roots from the story Odysseus and the sirens in Greek mythology.

                The original story of the little mermaid was recorded by Hans Christian Anderson about a mermaid who wanted to be human so badly that she does trade her voice for legs. But her prince, in the end marries another and the mermaid becomes sea foam. Some say that this means that the mermaid dies, others say that she simply becomes a sea spirit. Either way, certainly does not get her happily ever after.

                 According to Homer, Odysseus faced a long and perilous journey home from Troy. One of the perils that he faced were sirens. Not mermaids, but birds who were half women with voices that would drive men to jump into the sea and drown. Lucky for Odysseus’s’ crew, their captain was clever, and well aware of the dangers that the sirens posed. So he ordered that his sailors fill their ears with wax and tie him to the mast of the ship. This allowed Odysseus and his entire crew to survive the sirens’ song.

                While in Naples, I heard that a local legend states that the youngest and fairest of the sirens, dishonored because she was unable to seduce Odysseus, plunged to her death near modern day Italy. In Naples, that siren apparently became famous and later, she became known as half fish, rather than half bird. It may have been here that Hans Christian Anderson was inspired to write his story of the little mermaid. Meanwhile, Odysseus faced many more perils on his journey home.

Published by Irina Yakubin