Mythology Monday: Atargatis, the Very First Mermaid

Are you excited to see the new Little Mermaid movie? As a huge fan of the original, I’m really looking forward to seeing the live action version. I’ve always had a fascination with mermaids, and growing up I really, really wanted them to be real. I was enthralled by the thought of a human being with the tail of a fish, able to live and breathe underneath the water. When I would go fishing with my family I would hope and pray that I would catch a mermaid. Or at least see one, swimming quickly by the boat in a brilliant flash. Alas, it never came to be. But just because I’m fairly sure mermaids aren’t real (hey, one can always dream), they remain incredibly interesting.

Today’s mythical deity is Atargatis, an Assyrian goddess who is also the subject of one the world’s first mermaid legends (from 1000 BC, wow!) Atargatis’s story is, as these things usually are, a rather tragic one. Atargatis fell in love with a mortal shepherd and they had a daughter, who would become the Syrian Queen Semiramis. Her mortal partner did not survive, and the goddess threw herself into the water in grief. She transformed into a half fish, half woman, retaining the upper part of her body but growing the tail of a fish.

Atargatis was worshiped primarily in the region of Syria, particularly in the city of Hierapolis (modern-day Manbij) and later in other parts of the Seleucid Empire and the Roman Empire. She was believed to be the goddess of sacred water sources, such as springs, rivers, and lakes. As a fertility goddess, Atargatis was associated with the abundance of crops and the birth of children. She was also revered as a protective deity, safeguarding her worshipers from harm and evil.

Over time, the cult of Atargatis merged with other deities and religions, including Hellenistic and Roman influences. In the Hellenistic period, she became associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and her worship spread to other parts of the Mediterranean. The Romans identified her with their goddess Venus.

Even though she isn’t particularly well-known any more, Atargatis and mermaids more generally remain figures of mystery and fascination. As humans I think that we love to imagine what incredible creatures live in the vastness of the sea. Isn’t it amazing to dream of a castle underneath the waves, made of coral and decorated with pearls? A place glittering and sun dappled with rays of gold and blue and shimmering purple? In this place fish and whales and dolphins and all manner of sea life live in tranquility in the clean and peaceful water. A lovely thought for a Monday morning.

Wishing you the best day, and sending you positive energy and good vibes for the week ahead. Hang in there, you’ve got this week already beat! 🧜‍♀️ 🌊 Talk soon!


7 thoughts on “Mythology Monday: Atargatis, the Very First Mermaid

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    1. Thank you so much Gaby! I didn’t know about her before either, she is new to me too! So fascinating that over 3000 years ago people were writing about mermaids just like we do today ♥️


  1. This goddess is completely new to me. Thank you for introducing her. It’s funny how these deities get swallowed up into rising powers. Obviously Christianity took a lot of existing rituals, but we forget that the Greeks and Romans did a bit of appropriating too. Or maybe identities and deities were a lot more fluid then, and we look retrospectively with more hardened eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so true! She was totally new to me too, I was really interested to see that she was considered to be the first story of a mermaid. It’s amazing that her story has become so obscure even though she is very interesting and we are still fascinated by mermaids today.

      Liked by 1 person

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