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The Two Tailed Mermaid

Historically, it is likely that people believed that mermaids, including two tailed mermaids (a.k.a Sirena bicodula, gorgona) actually existed in the distance reaches of the Earth. And when rumors of these creatures circulated they were described in many and various ways. In this hub I discuss various depiction of mermaids with two tales in bestiaries, mythology and art.

from 'Naturalis Historia' (1565)

from 'Naturalis Historia' (1565)

Sirens

The siren daughters of Phorcus or Achelous were said ti live on an island surrounded by crags and rocks, They used their beautiful singing voices to lure sailors to their deaths. The sirens were describe various ways, as having the bodies of birds or beasts. Some depictions of them show them as double-tailed mermaids (see statue of Mixoparthenos, below).

16th century bronze of Mixoparthenos the siren.

16th century bronze of Mixoparthenos the siren.

Melusine

A.k.a. Melusina

A melusine is a creature similar to a mermaid or siren, but depicted as living in fresh water. It is often shown as twin tailed. The melusine comes from French and other European myths, and is often depicted in heraldry. The melusine is a maiden who transforms partly into a siren in water. Most myths regarding the melusine are similar to the tale of the Duke of Aquitaine who married a girl who required that he never bother her on a Saturday. When he broke this promise he saw her in her siren form and she turned into a dragon and fled, never to return. You can read traditional tales about melusines here.

the-two-tailed-mermaid
  • Alchemical Melusine: In alchemy the melusine represents enlightenment. The two tails of the siren represent symbolic dualities such as water and earth, or body and soul.
  • Lusignan Melusine: The French Lusignan family claims descent from a melusine.
  • Naples Melusine: The melusine is associated with Naples and used to appear in its heraldry.
Many commentators note that a two-tailed mermaid offers more obvious "romantic" possibilities than one with a single tail.

Many commentators note that a two-tailed mermaid offers more obvious "romantic" possibilities than one with a single tail.

Triton

Triton, a mythical messenger and son of sea-god Poseidon (and Amphitrite) is often depicted as a two-tailed merman. The tails may be depicted as resembling fish or dolphins. In some depictions he also has the legs or hooves of a horse. Triton is often shown carrying a conch, used as a trumpet.

the-two-tailed-mermaid

Starbucks Logo (1971)

Now increasingly stylized, the logo of the Starbucks coffee chain is a two-tailed mermaid. The logo is inspired by Starbuck's base in Seattle and the close ties between this city and the sea. The original mermaid is clearly quite a close copy of a 16th century engraving. The logo has been revised several times to simplify it and remove any obvious nudity (i.e. nipples). This logo is not used in some very conservative/religious markets where even highly stylized nudity would be considered unacceptable.

Decorative

Two-tailed sirens appear widely as a decorative motif with no particular mythological origin including in traditional Cretan embroidery designs and on a medieval Bishop's mitre on display at the Metropolitan Museum.

Learn More:

References

  • Belger Krody, S. (2004). The Tale of the Two-Tailed Mermaid A Case Study in the Origins of the Cretan Embroidery Style.
  • Sachs, E. B. (1978). Some Notes on a Twelfth-century Bishop's Mitre in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Needle and Bobbin Club.

Comments

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on April 20, 2016:

Like shai77, I had never realised that two-tailed mermaids existed in mythology, and I found the link with Starbucks and their logo, very interesting. Thanks. Alun

Chen on December 26, 2012:

Never realized there were two-tailed mermaids before, never saw Starbucks with the 2-tailed mermaid either. Really interesting. that would answer some curiosities about mermaid breeding.