The idea of mermaids always fascinated me. Every image I have ever seen of a mermaid shows a drop-dead gorgeous siren. Supposedly they were all so beautiful that they could lure ships onto the rocks with just a glance. And they could sing too! Their melodies could bewitch men at the helm and totally distract them...leading to rather dramatic circumstances on rocky shores.
Rumor has it that these beauties also had other pretty potent powers. Their emotions could influence the weather and actually manipulate the sea. Sailors would navigate very carefully around them to avoid the potential of terrible storms and hurricanes capable of destroying entire ships and coastal towns.
While I realize that mermaids are mythological creatures, every now and then I fantasize that perhaps there is a little truth in at least one of the myths.
An early Greek legend refers to a mermaid who lived in the Aegean for hundreds of years. Thessalonike was the sister of Alexander the Great. Supposedly in his quest for immortality, Alex found a flask of magic water and after taking a few sips he bathed his sister’s hair with it. (Not sure where the water came from...or why he would use it for a hair treatment...but hey, it’s all part of the myth.)
Anyway...when her brother died, Thessalonike tried to kill herself by jumping into the sea but instead of drowning she became a mermaid (blame it on the potent hair wash) and for centuries she ruled the Aegean...sending any sailors who gave her lip to the bottom of the sea.
An even earlier legend comes from Ancient Syria which has the Goddess Atargatis diving into a lake because she fancied “sleeping with the fishes” (1000 years before Luca Brasi shared a similar fate in Mario Puzo’s novel).
She apparently was a real stunner and the Gods who watched over the lake would not allow her to give up her good looks to become a bass or trout. So she made a deal with the big boys and kept her top half in human form and thereafter was allowed to swim with her buddies.
My Favorite Legend
My favorite legend comes from my happy place...the Amalfi Coast. For any of you who have made that perilous drive along the coast and dared to take your eyes off the road you would have seen the three tiny islands called “Li Galli” (also known as Le Sirenuse) which lie off the coast near Positano.
With an imaginative eye, the islands are in the shape of three mermaids or sirens which the locals claim was the home of three sisters, Ligea, Leucosia and Partenope (monikers from the Greeks).
The three mermaids lived very happily together and spent their days taunting sailors with their tunes and re-directing their ships toward the rocky shore. One day Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca, was sailing dangerously close to where the girls were perched.
According to Homer, the King had been warned of their fatal serenades and he managed to resist them by fastening himself to his ship’s mast and he sailed by without a glance in their direction.
The girls were so distraught with their failure to entice the king that they disappeared and were never seen or heard from again.
Ligea, Leucosia and Partenope have inspired many an artist and artisan. Traveling around the Amalfi Coast one can find no end of art and artifacts bearing the images of these three sirens.
Parnership with Mermaids
Splendor of Florence is now partnering with the wonderful artisans of La Bacheca di Praiano to capture them in a special limited collection.
So stay tuned to the SOF Website.