Who were the Sirens of Greek Mythology?
The Sirens were beautiful sea nymphs (a creature, half bird and half woman) who charmed sailors with their alluring songs. Although initially depicted as bird-maids, they later became fair temptresses.
In Greek myths, Odysseus sails past with his crew; having advised his men to stop their ears with wax, he had himself bound to the mast so that he could hear the sirens’ magic song without being lured away. This made the sirens hurled themselves into the sea and were drowned.
The Sirens — The Introduction
You awake to a loud thump as the waves crash against the hull of the ship. The hull echo instructions from your captain, “there’s a storm coming, boys!”
You jump to your feet and race to the top deck. Some of the crews are scurrying frantically to secure the hull, but there are so many of them missing. As you begin to question where they have gone, you hear shouts of men overboard and turn to see your peers leaning over the edge of the ship, fixated on the ocean.
They begin to jump one by one to almost certain death. As you approach, you start to hear a song. The song is familiar, but at the same time, you’ve never heard anything like this. The song has a soothing effect, and you are captivated by the melody.
You begin to forget your surroundings. You no longer hear the screams of your crew or the waves that bombard the ship; you are no longer in a storm. You glanced into the distance and saw the outline of a woman lying on a bed of rocks.
It appears that she’s gesturing for you to join her, but as you look down, you see the lifeless bodies of your crew being carried away by the waves.
Unable to stop yourself, you begin to climb overboard knowing that it would mean certain death; if only you could warn the rest of the crew of the song; if only you could stop them sharing your fate; but at this point, you are nothing more than a passenger in your own body.
As you plunge into the cold dark abyss, you finally realize that the Sirens song is the last you will ever hear.
Origins of the Sirens
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were beautiful creatures, but they were also extremely dangerous, luring many sailors to their doom with their enchanting voices.
Numerous authors mention the sirens, and they are said to be the daughters of Phorcys, one of the primordial sea gods and their mother, one of the nine Muses, which could be why they are graced with such elegant voices.
The number of sirens varies depending on the author of the story, and most tend to disagree. In some stories, there are two or three, and in others, there are many more.
According to some of the older stories, the sirens accompanied Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Shortly after Persephone’s abduction by Hades, the sirens were given their wings.
In some accounts, the sirens requested these wings to aid them in their search for their mistress, and in others, the wings were a form of punishment from Demeter because the sirens were unable to prevent the abduction of Persephone.
Their song was an enchanting but sad melody. They are eternally calling for the return of Persephone. Because of this myth, the sirens are depicted as birds with the heads of women, almost harpy-like.
The Depictions of the Sirens
The earliest depictions of the sirens described them as nymph-like creatures, and they could be seen living amongst the Muses.
There are stories where the sirens would compete against the Muses to see who had the best voice. When the sirens lost, as punishment, they would have their feathers plucked from them.
The Sirens and Odysseus
One of the most famous stories regarding the Sirens can be found in Homer’s Odyssey. In this story, the sirens are said to live on an island near Scylla.
The hero Odysseus has warned how dangerous the Sirens are, and he comes up with a plan to cross the island safely.
To stop his men from being seduced by the Sirens, he had them blocked their ears using wax. Because of his curiosity, Odysseus did not block his ears as he wanted to hear the song of the Sirens. Instead, he tied himself to the mast of his ship, and as they sailed past the island, his men were unaffected by the sirens singing. Odysseus, however, struggled to resist, but his men stood firm and ignored his demands to untie him.
Odysseus would become one of the only men to have heard the song of the Siren and lived to tell the tale.
In some versions of the story, there was a prophecy that stated, “if anyone heard the song of the Sirens and lived, the Sirens would die.”
There is an alternative ending to this tale, where the sirens would take revenge on Odysseus by taking his son.
The Sirens and Jason and the Argonauts
Another popular myth involves Jason and the Argonauts, who had to sail past the island of the Sirens.
Rather than blocked their ears, the Argonauts had the famed musician Orpheus accompany them. When the sirens began to sing in an attempt to seduce the Argonauts, Orpheus began to play his harp, and the music overpowered the voice of the Sirens.
One of the Argonauts did fall victims that are some of the Sirens, and he jumped out of the ship’s women towards them, but he was lucky enough to have been saved by the goddess Aphrodite.
The sirens are interesting creatures in Greek mythology. Their exact origins may be a little bit hazy as several figures could be considered their mother and father.
Over the years, their appearance has changed, going from nymph to almost harpy-like in Greek mythology.
If we look outside Greek mythology, the Sirens are now depicted as almost mermaid-like creatures living in the sea. They serve as a warning that looks can be deceiving as they are both beautiful and deadly.
Image Sources: Vasylina.