Myths and Folklore Wiki
Myths and Folklore Wiki

In Greek mythology, the Siren (Ancient Greek: Σειρήν (Seirḗn)) was a dangerous creature that lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and singing voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Although they lured mariners, for the Greeks, the Sirens in their "meadow starred with flowers" were not sea deities. Roman writers linked the Sirens more closely to the sea, as daughters of Phorcys.

Roman poets placed them on some small islands called Sirenum scopuli. In some later, rationalized traditions, the literal geography of the "flowery" island of Anthemoessa, or Anthemusa, is fixed: sometimes on Cape Pelorum and at others in the islands known as the Sirenuse, near Paestum, or in Capreae. All such locations were surrounded by cliffs and rocks.

According to the Greek Neoplatonist philosopher Proclus, Plato said there were three kinds of sirens: the celestial, the generative, and the purificatory/cathartic. The first were under the government of Zeus, the second under that of Poseidon, and the third of Hades. When the soul is in heaven the sirens seek, by harmonic motion, to unite it to the divine life of the celestial host; and when in Hades, to conform the soul to eternal infernal regimen; but when on earth their only job to "produce generation, of which the sea is emblematic".

Notable Sirens[]

There were some named sirens; Parthenope, Thelxiepeia, Peisinoe, Aglaopheme, Ligeia and Leucosia. When the Sirens were given a name of their own, they were considered the daughters of the river god Achelous, fathered upon Terpsichore, Melpomene, Sterope, or Gaia (the Earth; in Euripides' Helen 167, Helen in her anguish calls upon "Winged maidens, daughters of the Earth").

In the Odyssey[]

Sirens are found in many Greek stories, particularly in Homer's Odyssey, where they are particularly famous. In the story, Odysseus orders himself to be tied to the mast of the ship so he may hear their song as the ship passes. He orders his crew to block their ears with beeswax and to ignore his pleas to be untied (so that he cannot leave the ship to join the sirens).

Other myths[]

  • They were given wings by Demeter, in order to help the goddess search for her lost daughter Persephone. However, Demeter cursed them when they failed to find her.
  • In another myth, Hera persuaded the sirens to participate in a singing competition against the Muses. The Muses won and plucked the feathers from the sirens. In anguish, the sirens turned white and threw themselves into the sea at Aptera ("featherless") and became the Leukai.