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Thessalonike was the daughter of Phillip II of Macedon, and a half sister to Alexander III of Macedon. Legend has it that when Alexander died, Thessalonike "became a mermaid passing judgment on mariners":

There exists a popular Greek legend which talks about a mermaid who lived in the Aegean for hundreds of years who was thought to be Thessalonike. The legend states that Alexander, in his quest for the Fountain of Immortality, retrieved with great exertion a flask of immortal water with which he bathed his sister's hair. When Alexander died his grief-stricken sister attempted to end her life by jumping into the sea. Instead of drowning, however, she became a mermaid passing judgment on mariners throughout the centuries and across the seven seas. To the sailors who encountered her she would always pose the same question: "Is Alexander the king alive?" (Greek: Ζει ο βασιλιάς Αλέξανδρος;), to which the correct answer would be "He lives and reigns and conquers the world" (Greek: Ζει και βασιλεύει, και τον κόσμο κυριεύει!). Given this answer she would allow the ship and her crew to sail safely away in calm seas. Any other answer would transform her into the raging Gorgon, bent on sending the ship and every sailor on board to the bottom.

Wikipedia contributors, 'Thessalonike of Macedon', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 June 2015, 18:36 UTC, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Thessalonike_of_Macedon&oldid=667233592 [accessed 22 June 2015]

Almost every version I've read mentions Alexander's search for the fountain of youth, which points to the legend being part of the Alexander romance. However, I haven't been able to pinpoint a possible source for the legend or even get a vague idea of when it first appeared.

Help?

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    I searched , found a reference that the legend is recorded in N.Politis in "Paradoseis". A lot of links with conjectures but no references – anna v Jun 23 '15 at 8:45
  • N. Politis is Nikolaos Politis, a late 19th century/early 20th century scholar who penned a two-volume study on Greek traditions called Paradoseis, so he is not the author of the story. I unfortunately do not have access to it nor can read modern Greek, but maybe Yannis can somehow get a hold of it and add to the answer below/offer his own answer. – C. M. Weimer Jan 31 '16 at 19:40
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According to Eugenia Russell in her 2013 monograph Literature and Culture in Late Byzantine Thessalonica (Bloomsbury Academic, pp. xxi–xxii), the origin of the story is rather late:

The legend of the beautiful mermaid is derived from a post-Byzantine romance Ἡ Φυλλάδα του Μεγαλέξαντρου [hee feelada too Megalexantroo, "The Novella of Alexander the Great" - CW],' a well-liked text among Greeks during the Ottoman period.

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Nikolaos Politis records at least five versions of the legend in his Paradoseis. Tales 551, 552 and 553 involve mermaids (γοργόνες), and tales 651 and 652 involve fairies (νεράϊδες).

In his notes for the mermaid versions, Politis compares and paralles the legend with older ones, highlighting its relationship with the legends of the sirens, the gorgons, and the homeric Scylla. He also mentions that Hebraic versions of the tale exist, where king Solomon takes the place of Alexander. As for a source of the tales, Politis points to pseudo-Callisthenes, the unknown author of Alexander romance and mentions that a version of the tale can be found in a 13th century Bulgarian version of the text.

Unfortunately, Politis' original notes on the stories he collected end abruptly at tale 644. Thus, the only information we have about the mermaid versions are the tales themselves:

  • In the first version (tale 651), Alexander and his sisters have discovered the fountain of youth. When the sisters bathe in the fountain's waters, they turn to fairies. Then, the sisters steal girls from nearby villages and turn them into slaves. The slaves attack passerbys, and can only be repeled if the victim utters the phrase "Alexander lives and reigns".

  • The second version (tale 652) is shorter and has Alexander taking a fairy as a lover. For this, the fairies always remember Alexander with fondness, and will calm down bad weather if one utters the magic phrase thrice.

Brad L. Cook builds on Politis, and in A Watery Folktale in the Alexander Romance: Alexander's Byzantine Neraïda asserts that the legend may have appeared as early as in the 5th century:

In Greek folktale, Alexander the Great has had a mermaid associated with him for millennia. When she first appeared in written form, between the fifth and eighth centuries A.D., Alexander’s mermaid was called a νεραΐδα, neraΐda (νεράϊδα, neráïda in Modern Greek), though she is now more often called a γοργόνα, gorgóna. Under either name in Greek folktales, she exhibits both a maleficent and a beneficent side when she stops ships at sea to ask: ζει ο βασιλιάς Αλέξανδρος; (Does King Alexander live?) If told yes, she is happy and sings for the sailors as they sail safely away; if told no, she sinks the ship in anger.

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