Nereid

Female Merbeing of Southern Europe.

Etymology: From the Greek Nereis, "daughter of Nereus."

Variant names: Amphitrite, Neraid, Ner-aidhe, Oceanid (an Atlantic variety).

Physical description: Beautiful woman. Green or golden hair. Not fish-tailed.

Behavior: Aquatic. Enjoys dancing and singing. Sometimes portrayed as riding on a dolphin or sea horse. Lascivious. Said to marry a human occasionally or to abduct children. Able to change into a fish or other animals.

Distribution: North Atlantic coast; eastern Mediterranean seacoast of Greece and Turkey. Khios, the area around Mina, and the Gulf of Argolis were said to be favorite spots.

Significant sightings: In ancient Greece and Rome, the creature was primarily described as a nymph of the sea, rivers, and streams. The governor of Gaul reported to the Emperor Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D. 14) that there had been a mass stranding of Nereids on the Atlantic coast.

In the nineteenth century, the Nereid persisted in folklore, and descriptions expanded its habitat into forests and mountains. Possible explanations: (1) There is evidence that the Dugong (Dugong dugon) was present in the eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf in early antiquity, where it may have influenced Greek beliefs in humanlike sea creatures.

374 NEPALESE TREE BEAR

(2) Mass strandings of whales or seals along the Atlantic coast may have inspired stories of beached Nereids.

Sources: John Cuthbert Lawson, Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals (Cambridge: University Press, 1910); Christopher Kininmonth, The Children of Thetis: A Study oflslands and Islanders in the Aegean (London: J. Lehmann, 1949); Philip P. Argenti and Herbert J. Rose, The Folk-Lore of Chios (Cambridge: University Press, 1949); New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (New York: Putnam, 1968), pp. 146-147; Adrienne Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 144- 145, 230-232.

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