Greek Art: The Sirens

Michael Lahanas


Siren Eimi, "I am a Siren", Vase painting

Three examples of the strange Siren. A mixture of a women and a duck. There were actually three Sirens: Pisinoe, Aglaope and Thelxiepia (other sources use different names such as Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligia). They were daughters of the river god Acheloos and Terpsichore (or maybe Sterope). They were turned into Sirens when they failed to save Demeter’s daughter, Persephone from Hades, the god of the underworld. They asked to have wings to be able to fly to find easier Persephone. One Siren played the lyre, the other the flute and the last one sang. They lured men to their death with their melodies. Odysseus and Jason encountered the Sirens. Jason was lucky that he had Orpheus in his team. Orpheus was a much superior musician than the Sirens and the Argonauts didn't care about the song of the Sirens.

Odysseus' ship passing the Sirens. The hero has been tied to the mast so that he can hear their beautiful song. Painting on an Athenian jar in the British Museum; late 6th/early 5th century BC.

It should also be noted that the word "Siren" means in Greek "twinkler", if it is correctly derived from the rare verb 'seriazein' "to twinkle"....Perhaps it was the "twinkling" or accelerated beats of the music which seem so absorbing to the Greeks, much in the way that the musical third-interval, which produces about twenty beats per second, seemed un-calming and frenzied to l4 th century Church officials, who outlawed it from official church use. William Harris, Land and Climate in the Greek Myths, Greek Myth

Odysseus and the Sirens, Attic Stamnos, Siren Painter, Red-Figure, 470 BC, London, British Museum , Another View

Odysseus and the Sirens, Krater, Python 475-450 BC, Berlin

Ulysses and the Sirens, John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

Mythology of Sirens

Comments to J. Michael Padgett, The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art


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