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CHIEF among the legends which originated about the sea. is that of the glamourous maidens of the briny deep and their male counterparts, the Mermaids and Mermen. These creatures are prominently featured in prose and poetry and in the folklore of many lands. The crews of the old sailing ships firmly believed in their existence.

One of the first experiences a man is supposed to have had with one of these lovely women of the seas is told by Alexander ab Alexandro. While his friend Gaza was travelling in the Morea, a live mermaid was cast on the shore. She looked very much like her sisters on dry land, possessed a beautiful face and a well-proportioned body-as far as it went. Towards the waist the scales began and instead of legs she had a fish's tail. A great crowd gathered around her, so frightening her that she burst into tears. Gaza, who was a considerate man, remonstrated with the spectators and requested them to stand to one side. As soon as an opening was made. the mermaid scrambled back to the sea using her fins and tail for locomotion. Plunging in head first, she disappeared from sight and was never seen again.

From the folklore of seafaring peoples such as the Danes and the Norwegians there are tales of Mermen, sea-cows, sea-horses, sea-dogs, and an entire civilization in the hidden depths of the ocean.

In one of the early dictionaries, Jablonsky's Universal Dictionary, the Merman is discussed to great length. He is regarded as a real being. "Merman is a sea-man, a fish found in the seas and in some rivers in the southern parts of Africa and India, in the Philippine Islands, Moluccas, Brazil, North America, and Europe. The length is eight spans; the head oval, and the face resembling that of a man. It has a high forehead, little eyes, a flat nose and a large mouth, but no ears or chin. It has two arms which are short, without joints or elbows, but with hands or paws, to each of which there are four long fingers connected with each other by a membrane, like the foot of a goose. The females have breasts, at which they suckle their young; so that the upper part of their body resembles that of a human species, and the lower part that of a fish. They make a lamentable cry when drawn out of the water."

In the 18th century several people claimed to have set eyes on these elusive creatures of the sea. In 1723 four Danes testified before a court of law that they had seen a Merman. To them he appeared to be an old man.

In June of 1762 a French newspaper told of the experiences of two girls on the island of Noirmoutier, off the coast of La Vendée. They had been spending the afternoon searching for shells in the crevices of rocks when they discovered in n kind of natural grotto an animal of human form leaning on its hands. One of the girls had a long knife. Within a moment she had thrust the blade into the animal which uttered a groan like a human person. The two girls cut off its hands which had fingers and nails as well as webs between the fingers. The surgeon of the island who went to see it, says it was as big as a full-grown man, and that its skin resembled that of a drowned person. The chin was adorned with a kind of beard formed of fine shells. and over the whole body there were tufts of similar shells. It had the tail of a fish—and at the end of the tail a projection which resembled feet.

In 1775 a Mermaid was exhibited in London causing much excitement. Edmund Burke, the famous philosopher was among those who went to see it, and he believed in it. Nevertheless, it was later proved to be a fake made from the skin of angelshark. The exhibitor, was punished for the hoax. A clever American exhibited a similar curiosity not many years ago. His was made up of a monkey's skin sewed on to that of a seal. Today there are no living examples of either Mermaid or Merman. Scientists deny they ever existed, and yet the legend lives on.

A. Morris.

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