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Encyclopedia > Siren (mythology)
For other uses, see Siren (disambiguation).

In Greek mythology, the Sirens or Seirenes (Greek Σειρῆνας) were sea nymphs who lived on an island called Sirenum scopuli which was surrounded by cliffs and rocks. Approaching sailors were drawn to them by their enchanting singing, causing them to sail on the cliffs and drown. They were considered the daughters of Achelous (by Melpomene) or Phorcys (Virgil. V. 846; Ovid XIV, 88). Their individual names are variously reported as Aglaope, Leucosia, Parthenope, Pisinoe, and Thelxiepia.

According to some versions, they were playmates of a young Persephone and were changed into the monsters of lore by Demeter for not interfering when Persephone was abducted (Ovid V, 551).

The term "siren song" refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad result.



In early art, the Sirens were represented as birds with the heads, and sometimes the breasts, of women. Later, they were represented as female figures with the legs of birds, with or without wings. The 10th century encyclopedia Suda [1] (http://www.stoa.org/sol-bin//search.pl?search_method=QUERY&login=&enlogin=&searchstr=sigma,280&field=adlerhw_gr&db=REAL) says that from their chests up Sirens had the form of sparrows, below they were women, or, alternatively, that they were little birds with women's faces. Birds were chosen because of their characteristic beautiful voice. However, later in history Sirens were sometimes also depicted as beautiful women (whose bodies, not only their voices, are seductive), or even as mermaids (half woman, half fish). The fact that in some languages (such as French) the word for mermaid is Siren adds to this confusion.

Encounters with the Sirens

Odysseus escaped the Sirens by having all his sailors plug their ears with wax and tie him to the mast. He was curious as to what the Sirens sounded like. When he heard their beautiful music, he ordered the sailors to untie him but they ignored him. When they had passed out of earshot, Odysseus stopped thrashing about and calmed down, and was released (Odyssey XII, 39).

Jason had been warned by Chiron that Orpheus would be necessary in his journey. When Orpheus heard their voices, he withdrew his lyre and played his music more beautifully than they, drowning out their music.

It is said that after a ship successfully sailed by the Sirens, they drowned themselves for their failure. Varying traditions associate this event with their encounters with Jason or Odysseus.

See also

Water nymph, mermaid, harpy, Melusine

External links

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  Results from FactBites:
Siren (mythology) - MSN Encarta (208 words)
Siren (mythology), sea nymph in Greek mythology, sometimes described as having the body of a bird and the head of a woman and at other times represented as a woman.
The Sirens are the daughters of the sea god Phorcys, although in one version of the myth their father is the river god Achelous.
The Sirens had such sweet voices that sailors who heard their songs were lured into grounding their boats on the rocks on which the nymphs sang.
| greek mythology (993 words)
In the various greek mythology legends, stories and hymns, the gods of ancient Greece are nearly all described as human in appearance, unaging, nearly immune to all wounds and sickness, capable of becoming invisible, able to travel vast distances almost instantly, and able to speak through human beings with or without their knowledge.
When these greek mythology gods were called upon in poetry or prayer, they are referred to by a combination of their name and epithets, with the epithets identifying them by these distinctions from the other gods.
These half-human, half divine children are collectively known as "the heroes" in greek mythology, and until the establishment of democracy their descendents claimed the right to rule on the basis of their divine ancestry and presumed divinely inherited ability to rule well.
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