The Starbuck’s Mermaid’s Evil Ancestor!

Plaque from the Scythian Treasure of Kul-Oba, 400 -350 BCE. Source.

While researching for the presentation Mermaids in Church and Other Pagan Oddities in Medieval Europe I traced the history of the mermaid and came across this object from around 400 to 350 BCE, probably a small plaque to be attached to clothing. She was found in ancient Crimea, heart of the great Scythian empire.

Far removed from the world of pumpkin spice lattés and Disney’s Ariel, this bicaudal (two tailed) beauty, identified by some as Argimpasa, the Great Dragon mother, has serpents for tails, and is brandishing a severed head which likely did not leave its owner under the most pleasant of circumstances. The Scythians were one of many ancient peoples to practice a head cult, involving decapitation of enemies. They also sacrificed slaves and animals to accompany leaders to the afterworld. Nasty!

Another serpent-legged goddess from ancient Crimea, and the original Starbucks logo.

The original Starbucks logo came from a 15th century German translation of the tragic romance of serpent-lady Melusine, who was more interested in loving men than killing them. Starbucks has since subjected her to increasing sanitization, first losing the suggestive parting of the tails, then the nipples. But once you’ve seen her fiercer forerunner, her current cartoon form seems deadly dull.

From cartoons, to cafés to churches, mermaids have ended up in some strange places. Here's my talk on Mermaids in Church, presented in conjunction with the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies.