Fish-tailed Merbeing of Southern Europe.
Etymology: Greek word, possibly a composite formed from Amphitrite and Poseidon. originally, the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite (a NEREID) but later a class of fish-tailed Merbeings.
Variant name: Tritonid (for the female).
Physical description: Half human, half fish. Covered with scales. Green hair. Blue eyes. Gills under the ears. Sharp teeth. Fins on the breast and belly. Clawed fingers. Forked tail like a fish's or dolphin's.
Behavior: Lascivious. Steals cattle. Enjoys playing music, especially lyres and conch shells.
Distribution: Mediterranean Sea.
Significant sightings: Pliny recounted that a manlike Triton was seen climbing into ships at night in the Gulf of Cádiz, Spain, by reliable observers and that a delegation from Lisbon, Portugal, had reported to Emperor Tiberius (a.D. 14-37) that a Triton had been seen in a sea cave.
Some women of Tanágra in Voiotia, Greece, were along the seacoast when they were attacked by a Triton. It was later beheaded by a man with an axe. Pausanias noted that dead Tritons could
be seen as curiosities in Rome and Tanagra, where he examined a famous preserved specimen in A.D. 150. Possible explanations:
(1) Fake Tritons stitched together from various fishes, animals, or even human mummies may have been placed on exhibit in ancient times, just as fake MERMAIDS were manufactured in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
(2) Exposed vertebrate fossils—especially the large Miocene sirenian Halitherium known from deposits in the Gironde Valley, France—may have inspired Triton lore. Sources: Pliny the Elder, Natural History: A
Selection (New York: Penguin, 1991), pp. 128-129 (ix. 9-11); ^lian, De natura animalium, XIII. 21; Pausanias, A Description of Greece, trans. W. H. S. Jones (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1918) (viii. 2.7, IX. 20.4-5, IX. 21.1); New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (New York: Putnam, 1968), p. 147; Adrienne Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 145, 228-232.
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