One of the new characters in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a mermaid named Syrena (I haven’t met the prounciation of her name yet, but I’m hoping it’s a proper play on “siren”).
Mermaids are half women (or men)/half fish (type thing). They are personifications of the sea itself, being both beautiful and seductive but also highly destructive. As Tamra Andrews notes in her Dictionary of Nature Myths, the “image of the mermaid probably stemmed from fish-tailed gods of early civilizations who had power over water. Mermaids date back to Babylonian myths and to the sea god Oannes and his female counterpart, Atargatis…. Both Oannes and Atargatis were at first depicted as mortals in fish cloaks, but over time, their cloaks were modified to tails. Oannes was perhaps an earlier form of the Sumerian fish-god Ea or Enki, and he represented the positive side of the ocean, rising from the waves each morning and sinking below the waves each night, like a sun god. Atargatis, conversely, was worshipped as a moon goddess and represented the ocean’s dark destructive side” (118). Mermaids tend to have long hair, like seaweed or the sun’s rays on the water. They often “hold mirrors to reflect the light of the moon to identify them with the moon’s control over the tides” (ibid.). While they live in the sea, they are known for basking on the rocks brushing their hair. But they are frightened of mortals, and quickly swim back into the water when they are spotted. If a mermaid was spotted from a ship, it was usually seen as a sign of foreboding, such as a storm or a shipwreck.
Some legends claim that mermaids long to capture a human soul, and to do this they must capture the heart of a mortal. Among other means of capturing said heart, mermaids are associated with sirens, luring men to the sea with their beautiful song, only to pull them under. Which helps explain why it was so tragic for Ariel to lose her voice in The Little Mermaid….
From what I’ve read about On Stranger Tides, mostly from the latest issue of twenty-three (the D23 magazine), Syrena’s mermaids are sirens, luring pirates to their death; however, Syrena is an odd one. She’s not vicious, and has no mal-wishes for humans. In fact, she falls in love with a missionary.
By the way, as a total OT aside, how really cool is it that Rodrigo y Gabriella are features on the On Stranger Tides soundtrack?!