Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ariel the Siren/Mermaid in Echoean situation?

Ariel the Siren, Ariel the Mermaid trades her beautiful, beguiling voice for human legs...

From the H.C. Anderson tale:

"But if you take my voice,' said the little mermaid, 'what have I left?'

'Your beautiful form,' said the witch, 'your gliding gait, and your speaking eyes; with these you ought surely to be able to bewitch a human heart. Well! have you lost courage? Put out your little tongue, and I will cut it off in payment for the powerful draught.'

'Let it be done,' said the little mermaid, and the witch put on her caldron to brew the magic potion.

There is nothing like cleanli- ness,' said she, as she scoured the pot with a bundle of snakes; then she punctured her breast and let the black blood drop into the cal- dron, and the steam took the most weird shapes, enough to frighten any one. Every moment the witch threw new ingredients into the pot, and when it boiled the bubbling was like the sound of croco- diles weeping. At last the potion was ready and it looked like the clearest water.

'There it is,' said the witch, and thereupon she cut off the tongue of the little mermaid, who was dumb now and could neither sing nor speak."

cut to after she's drank the potion and has lost her voice and her tail (tale?!!?)

"When the sun rose on the sea she woke up and became conscious of a sharp pang, but just in front of her stood the handsome young prince, fixing his coal black eyes on her; she cast hers down and saw that her fish's tail was gone, and that she had the prettiest little white legs any maiden could desire; but she was quite naked, so she wrapped her long thick hair around her. The prince asked who she was and how she came there. She looked at him tenderly and with a sad expression in her dark blue eyes, but could not speak. Then he took her by the hand and led her into the palace. Every step she took was, as the witch had warned her beforehand, as if she were treading on sharp knives and spikes, but she bore it gladly; led by the prince, she moved as lightly as a bubble, and he and every one else mar- velled at her graceful gliding gait.

Clothed in the costliest silks and muslins she was the greatest beauty in the palace, but she was dumb, and could neither sing nor speak. Beautiful slaves clad in silks and gold came forward and sang to the prince and his royal parents; one of them sang better than all the others, and the prince clapped his hands and smiled at her; that made the little mermaid very sad, for she knew that she used to sing far better herself. She thought, 'Oh! if he only knew that for the sake of being with him I had given up my voice for ever!' Now the slaves began to dance, graceful undulating dances to enchanting music; thereupon the little mermaid, lifting her beautiful white arms and raising herself on tiptoe, glided on the floor with a grace which none of the other dancers had yet attained. With every motion her grace and beauty became more apparent, and her eyes appealed more deeply to the heart than the songs of the slaves. Every one was de- lighted with it, especially the prince, who called her his little found- ling; and she danced on and on, notwithstanding that every time her foot touched the ground it was like treading on sharp knives. The prince said that she should always be near him, and she was allowed to sleep outside his door on a velvet cushion."

Lots of parallels and opportunities can come out of Ariels rather myopic trading with the witch. However the situation is not quite a complete tracing of the Echo and Narcissus tale - in Echo and Narcissus (well according to the Ovid version I've been feinding over) the love is not mutual, Echo loves Narcissus and would like to tell him that she loves him but cannot, Narcissus, nymologically, only loves himself and has no time for Echo. In Hans Christian Andersens tale the love between the Prince and the Mermaid is painfully mutual. The tragedy of not being able to vocalise love is where a predicament that both The Mermaid and Echo share (or harbour - Bore!?!):

"Day by day she became dearer to the prince; he loved her as one loves a good sweet child, but it never entered his head to make her his queen; yet unless she became his wife she would never win an everlasting soul, but on his wedding morning would turn to sea- foam.

'Am I not dearer to you than any of them?' the little mermaid's eyes seemed to say when he took her in his arms and kissed her beautiful brow.

'Yes, you are the dearest one to me,' said the prince"

Whereas Echo could only echo, the last fragments of Narcissus' sentences and twist his words, twist his meaning, warp his logos through re-uttering his last breath (E.g. "are you here?" - "Here!" etc)... through the forest at a distance; The Mermaid has the exact inverse of this problem. She has her love in her arms (unlike Echo), she has the proximity that Echo yearned for, but, importantly,..... not the capability to communicate verbally.

The other mode of communication, a mode prior to linguistics is action, and both The Mermaid and Echo find themselves in positions to express their love through action at the end of their tragedies, they both resort to expressing their love through action after the verbal, vocalistic opportunity to do so is rendered impossible. Echo's ultimate act is to fling her arms around Narcissus:

"To throw her longing arms around his neck.
He bolted, shouting 'Keep your arms from me!
Be off, i'll die before I yield to you.'
And all she answered was 'I yield to you'"

The Mermaid also has an opportunity to express her love through her own actions, she has to kill her love to lift her curse (to die upon the prince's wedding night unless it is to her). The Prince is to be wed to someone else and she is given the opportunity to kill her love:

"The little mermaid drew aside the purple curtain from the tent and looked at the beautiful bride asleep with her head on the prince's breast. She bent over him and kissed his fair brow, looked at the sky where the dawn was spreading fast, looked at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes on the prince, who, in his dream called his bride by name. Yes! she alone was in his thoughts! For a moment the knife quivered in her grasp, then she threw it far out among the waves, now rosy in the morning light, and where it fell the water bubbled up like drops of blood.

Once more she looked at the prince, with her eyes already dimmed by death, then dashed overboard and fell, her body dissolving into foam."

Echo expresses her love overtly and is shunned, The Mermaid makes the ultimate expression of love covertly, she saves the princes life and sacrifices her own unbeknownst to the Prince. This shows action as of greater truth than love but there is a darker facet to these two tragedies - they both re-inforce the 15th century proverb: "A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd.". Let's examine Echo's fate after acting boldly:

The nymph, when nothing could Narcissus move, 
Still dash'd with blushes for her slighted love, 
Liv'd in the shady covert of the woods, 
In solitary caves and dark abodes; 
Where pining wander'd the rejected fair, 
'Till harrass'd out, and worn away with care, 
The sounding skeleton, of blood bereft, 
Besides her bones and voice had nothing left. 
Her bones are petrify'd, her voice is found 
In vaults, where still it doubles ev'ry sound.

Whereas The Mermaid, who committed the ultimate act of love, who committed self sacrifice - but covertly, finds a silver lining in her tragedy:

"You have suffered and endured, raised yourself to the spirit-world of the air, and now, by your own good deeds you may, in the course of three hundred years, work out for yourself an undying soul.'

Then the little mermaid lifted her transparent arms towards God's sun, and for the first time shed tears.

On board ship all was again life and bustle. She saw the prince with his lovely bride searching for her; they looked sadly at the bub- bling foam, as if they knew that she had thrown herself into the waves. Unseen she kissed the bride on her brow, smiled at the prince, and rose aloft with the other spirits of the air to the rosy clouds which sailed above.

'In three hundred years we shall thus float into Paradise.'"


  1. Hi Tristam, thank you very much for that. It seems that to become a woman you have to give up something, would be nice to dicover what it is. The man hero usually has to die to acquire something... it seems that women heroins have to loose something. Usually their love. It would be nice to make a comparison between the 'formation' tales and novels for different genders...

    thank you very much for inspiring such discussion, I hope someone else replies!

  2. Heya - yeah, most tales are drenched in phallonarcissistic undertones - no doubt. That's quite a broad (insert sexist joke at readers discretion) subject though - it's convergence with the feminine voice, as in echo and ariel and the sirens is much narrower.

    I'm currently obsessed with in-utero ideas of original voice, skeletal resonance through mother pelvis' after reading sloterdijks bubbles - totally anti lacan/freud but thought provoking nonetheless.... also, we all come from a uterus, so no engendered genesis in many ways, apart from an ironically feminine voice being the original voice....