Monday, September 13, 2004

it's merMAN!!!

well, i didn't think i'd soon see the day where i would stumble across such an obvious connection between the roman 'neoteric' poets and the critically-acclaimed, ground-breaking film zoolander. but i just did, in t.p. wiseman's book Cinna the Poet. i quote (p.55):

Calvus' "Io" was about the girl whom amorous Jupiter made into a heifer, while the subject of Cornificius' "Glaucus" was presumably the fisherman turned merman whose inamorata Scylla was changed by Circe into a sea-monster.

the crucial word to note here is 'merman', which also appears in zoolander in the pivotal bar-scene involving derek and his estranged father. i did not know that this word had an existence outside of the movie.

but boy am i glad it does.

1 comment:

mastersk said...

Hi Eric,
Boy am I glad that you posted this comment. In fact, mermen are often slighted figures in the bestiary of mythology and folktale, much like male graduate students at an all-girl institution. It seems that most of the attention goes to their fanciful, frolicky female counterparts (as seen in the Hans Christian Anderson classic, “The Little Mermaid”), but let me assure you, mermen are a vital part of the fairy realm. (How else could mermaids propagate the species?) Here's a little bit of information about these elusive creatures.

The Greco-Roman world made much of mermen, also known as tritons, and depicted them as having two distinct serpentile / fish tales for legs; but most modern conceptions of this fantastic creature depict him with one sleek fish (or porpoise) tale extending from his otherwise human torso and upper body. Obligatory nautical adornments (seashells, shark teeth, etc.) are usually included, and like modern portrayals of earthen elementals (such as gnomes, kobolds, and nisse), they are usually covered in a shaggy beard to indicate their timelessness.

Mermen are not to be confused with their more translucent cousin species, the flumen / fluvii, typical depictions of river gods in Greco-Roman iconography. These appear to be the male counterparts of water nymphs, appearing in human (albeit drenched) form, as seen in the shaggy portrayal of Danuvius on the Column of Trajan in Rome. They are also not to be confused with the Norse / Germanic Klabautermaenner, (spirits of dead children buried beneath trees which are subsequently chopped down and used as a ship’s mast, transforming the child’s soul into the ship’s guardian spirit); these benevolent creatures are usually classed as tree--and not water--spirits, as they are usually confined to the ship’s vessel, and share no part in the watery realm.

The question has been raised as to whether or not these poor creatures have souls, or if they work outside the Judeo-Christian mindset. Modern portrayals assume that they do not, as female mermaids can only obtain souls through baptism or marriage (as seen in Friedrich, Baron de la Motte Fouque’s “Undine”). But, aside from the occasional morally-charged soliloquy given by these creatures in 19th century folklore-clothed romances, I would suspect that the question is not an immediate and pressing concern for the merfolk themselves.

So thank you, Eric, for rekindling an interest in the lesser-known gender of the merfolk species; they are underappreciated and rarely discussed. And thank you for allowing me the opportunity to vent my otherwise completely useless knowledge of elementals; I hope this helps.