Mermaids and Sirens: Women’s Relationship with Water from Myth to Renaissance

Performing Humanity

By Elysia S.
 Though Renaissance ideas of the mermaid shape our modern vision of her, we can trace her origins as polymorphous character back to pre-literary visual records. Arguably this is where the mermaid’s power lies–not in her unabashed sexuality, as early modern artists asserted, but rather in her changeability.  This quality ties her with the sea. Women’s symbolic relationship to water has even been referenced as far back as the charter myths of the Assyrians, Mesopotamians, and Sumerians. According to Sumerian reliefs, the world was born as Abizu, the bisexual, primordial sea. Abizu was composed of the male fresh water named Abzu and female salt water named Tiamat. Coincidentally, A. A. Barb notes that Abizu is one of the many names of Hebrew demonic entity, Lilith. We see the name transcending regional and religious mythology, still maintaining however, its original definition: “of the sea” (Barb 7).

The sirens, bird-woman…

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