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Siren
Siren
Naming
Original Σειρήν
Romanization Seirēn
Physiology
Body type Varies
Intelligence
Sentience Sentient
Sapience Sapient
Aggressivity Extreme (usually)
Ecology
Place of origin Mediterranean
Habitat Rocky islands
Diet Carnivorous
Locomotion Swimming, walking or flying (depending on the form they take)
Related species Banshee, Harpy, Hulder, Kelpie, Mermaid, Morgen, Nixie, Nymph, Rusalka, Undine, Xana
Behind the Scenes
Universe Real
Sirens-Odyssey

Odysseus encounters the Sirens, here clearly depicted as shapeshifters.

Sirens are female creatures known to lure sailors with their enthralling songs in order to kill them. Their appearance varies immensely, ranging from women with bird wings and/or bird legs to mermaid-like creatures to simple (albeit extraordinarily beautiful) humanoids. Oftentimes they may be portrayed as shapeshifters, or able to project an illusory appearance.

History

The idea of female water beings who lure people to death with their beauty and/or hypnotic singing is present in numerous cultures and can be associated with creatures such as Hulders, Mermaids, Morgens, Nixies, Rusalkas and Xanas.

Nowadays, Sirens are most often found in the sea, usually in rocky islands and shores. Traditionally, the Sirens were typically associated with a specific island, or, according to Roman authors like Ovid, a formation of three small rocky islands called the Sirenum scopuli, off the coast of Italy. However, in earlier myth they were not necessarily sea-dwelling and could also be associated with meadows, rather than sea islands.

Perhaps the most notable encounter with Sirens in documented history is that of Odysseus from Homer's Odyssey, who ordered his crew to protect their ears with beeswax and tie him to his ship's mast, for he wanted to hear the Sirens singing. When the ship passed close to the Siren's island, he desperately begged his men to untie him, wishing to follow the beautiful voices. But his men had their ears covered and thus heard none of his pleas, allowing Odysseus to travel past the Sirens and survive.

The voyage of Jason and the Argonauts also involved an encounter with the Sirens. Fortunately, Orpheus managed to silence them by playing an even more beautiful song with his lyre. Only one crewman, the sharp-eared Butes, was caught by the Sirens' music and jumped out of the boat, but fortunately, the goddess Aphrodite saved him.

According to some later authors, the Sirens were fated to live only until the day someone would pass by and resist their enchants - therefore it can be assumed that the ones encountered by Odysseus and by the Argonauts died shortly afterwards. Other versions state that the Sirens were driven to suicide at their failure and purposely drowned themselves.

Sirens are also mentioned in Euripides' play Helen, where the title character describes them as "winged maids" and "Earth's virgin daughters".

An origin story for the Sirens is provided by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. In this version, the Sirens were once handmaidens of the goddess Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter. When Persephone was abducted by Hades to become his wife, Demeter transformed the Sirens, giving them wings to be able to fly and retrieve the young goddess. Alternatively, other authors have stated that Demeter transformed them as a form of punishment for failing to save her daughter. The Sirens' singing has even been interpreted as a lament over not being able to protect her.

Appearance

As stated above, the Greeks typically portrayed the Sirens as large birds with human heads, similar to Harpies. Later authors and artists have variously portrayed them as beautiful women with bird wings and/or bird legs; as mermaid-like beings; or simply as beautiful nubile maids which may or may not be able to shapeshift into a fish-like or bird-like form.

In modern fiction, the appearance and nature of the Sirens is extremely variable. Those from The Witcher resemble winged mermaids, with huge dragon-like wings and a long serpentine tail. In Martin Mystery, the Siren is a shapeshifter who alternates between a human form and a monstrous avian form. In Supernatural, they're depicted as strange ghoulish humanoids, but are able to project an illusory human appearance which can be male or female. Once the Siren gets close to its human victim, it injects them with a hormone that causes intense pleasure, love and devotion towards the Siren. It then compels its victim to conduct some terrible act - usually killing the person the victim loves most - in order to prove their love for the Siren.

The creatures referred to as Sirens in Ice Age: Continental Drift resemble large reptilian lungfish and are likewise able to cast an illusory appearance to make them look attractive to their intended victims. Meanwhile, the "New Traveler's Almanac" from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen features an extinct species of flightless bird predators known as Siren Birds, which inhabited an island in the Mediterranean Sea and evolved to physically resemble beautiful women from the waist up, in order to attract humans and prey upon them. In Extreme Ghostbusters, Siren is the name of an individual ghost with a magical singing voice who is the sister of Banshee.

Historically, the close association between Sirens and Mermaids may be rooted in the fact that in several languages, the same word is used for both creatures, for instance, French (Sirène) and Portuguese (Sereia). Famous naturalist Peter Artedi once described the Siren in detail, picturing a creature reminiscent of the typical mermaid:

Two fins only on all the body, those on the chest. No finned tail. Head and neck and chest to the umbilicus have the human appearance. ...Our or Bartholin's Siren was found and captured in the sea near Massilia in America. From the umbilicus to the extremity of the body was unformed flesh with no sign of a tail. Two pectoral fins on the chest, with five bones or fingers, staying together, by which it swims. Its radius in the forearm is scarcely four fingers' width long. Oh that there could arise a true ichthyologist, who could examine this animal, as to whether it is a fable, or a true fish? About something which has not been seen it is preferable not to judge, than boldly to pronounce something.
— Peter Artedi, Philosophia Ichthyologica

Behavior

The Siren's method of killing also varies. Traditionally, they've been described as luring ships to the rocky cliffs to provoke shipwrecks. However, notable authors like Pliny the Elder and even Leonardo Da Vinci claimed that the Sirens would lull their victims to sleep with their songs and then brutally kill them while they're sleeping.

Furthermore, while most stories end with the lured men (and women) being killed and devoured by the Sirens, sometimes they may instead be portrayed as drowning, or dying from starvation while unable to free themselves from the enchant and leave the Sirens. Alternatively, in some modern interpretations, the song itself may be portrayed as lethal, similar to a Banshee's.

Gallery

Face Off Sirens

In the Face Off Season 9 episode "Siren Song", the contestants were challenged to create beautiful but deadly Sirens, each inspired by a specific sea animal.

Notes

  • The name Siren is also used for a genus of aquatic salamanders.

See also

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