Did Columbus really see mermaids?

written by Aisulu on January 9, 2012 in Content and Europeana Maps and Geography and Feature story with 18 comments

On 9 January 1493, Christopher Columbus observed something he had before seen on the coasts of Africa… Mermaids.  In his journal he described the encounter with three mermaids that elevated themselves above the suface of the sea.

Card depicting a mermaid

Most likely mistaking manatees, aquatic mammals also known as sea cows, for mermaids, “Columbus, disposed to give a wonderful character to everything in this New World, had identified these misshapen animals with the sirens of ancient story”, explained historian Washington Irving.

Excerpt from Irving's book on Columbus, page 144

In his journal entry, Columbus also added that the mermaids were by no means as beautiful as depicted in folk tales.

Indeed, mermaids have been traditionally known as creatures of divine beauty. Across the globe, from generation to generation, legends have been told about the mesmerising voices of mermaids that bewitched sailors to join the underwater world.

Here are some of the examples of how mermaids have been depicted in different countries:

Vuurwerk voor op het water in de vorm van een zeemeermin Andersen's fairy tale The Little Mermaid The Siren

Book cover of Andersen's The Little Mermaid Disney's Arielle

Buch der Natur Mermaid's song

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