Although mermaids have featured in various world mythologies since 1000BC, the most familiar example in Western culture is Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1836). At the age of fifteen, the mermaid in the tale is permitted by her father, the Sea King, to venture up above the surface of the ocean. When she does so, she rescues a young human Prince from drowning, and falls in love with him. Before deciding to visit the evil Sea Witch and gain legs to walk on land, the mermaid spends a melancholic period of time longing to see the Prince again. This is depicted in the famous statue situated at Copenhagen harbour.
In other tales, mermaids had both malevolent and benevolent characteristics, sometimes saving humans and sometimes drowning them. In British (often Cornish) folk tales, mermaids were usually perceived as bad omens for seafarers, and in some cases swam in fresh water. Over the centuries, people have claimed to see these alluring creatures; in 2009 a town in Israel offered a $1,000,000 reward to anyone who could prove the existence of a mermaid that various people had claimed to have spotted in the area.