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6236: Funerary siren mourning with primitive tortoise-shell lyre. Mid-4th century BC. From the Kerameikos. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

The SIRENS, they say, had maidens' features, but from the thighs down they had the forms of birds. One of them played the lyre, another sang, and another played the flute. By these means, and by clever, knavish, and deceitful words, they persuaded passing mariners to linger, thus causing their destruction. That is why the island where they lived was full of the bones of those who had perished. The SIRENS are thought to be three, but the names given are more: Aglaope, Leucosia 2, Parthenope 3, Pisinoe 1, Thelxiepia.

Former companions of Persephone

The SIRENS had been companions of Persephone before she was ravished by Hades. Having sought for her in vain, they prayed that they would grow wings, and that they might not loose their tuneful voices. Once their wishes were granted by the gods, they sang in unison with the music of the MOERAE.

Their feathers plucked

It is also told that Hera persuaded the SIRENS to compete with the MUSES. But these, invincible as ever, won with their songs, and having plucked out the SIRENS' feathers, they made crowns for themselves out of them.

The ARGONAUTS pass by them

When the ARGONAUTS sailed past the SIRENS, Orpheus chanted a counter melody to protect his companions, but the Argonaut Butes 1 (son of Zeuxippe 1, daughter of the river god Eridanus) swam off to the SIRENS, and would have perished had not Aphrodite carried him away.


It was predicted, however, that the SIRENS would die when a ship passed them unharmed. And since Odysseus succeeded in escaping them, no one else has met them, which indicates that they are forever dead and gone.

One reason for their absence

It is well known that no one returns from the Underworld (except for a few), and it has been conjectured that all who die are being kept there, not by Compulsion (which would not be strong enough), but by the strongest of bonds, Desire, which Hades himself entertains.

"... not even the SIRENS, but they and all others have been overcome by his (Hades) enchantments ..."


"... so beautiful, as it appears, are the words which Hades has the power to speak."

this god being

"... a great benefactor of those in his realm." (Socrates. Plato, Cratylus 403e).

8230: Ulysses resists the song of the sirens. Roman c. AD 50-75. Pompeii. British Museum, London.

How Odysseus escaped them

But Odysseus heard their lovely song. For he, following Circe's instructions, stopped the ears of his comrades with beeswax, and ordered that he should himself be bound to the mast, so that he could hear the voices of the SIRENS, who then sang:

"Draw near ... illustrious Odysseus, flower of the Achaean chivalry, and bring your ship to rest that you may hear our voices. No seaman ever sailed his black ship past this place without listening to the sweet voice that flow from our lips, and none that listened has not been delighted and gone on a wiser man. For we know all that the Achaeans and Trojans sufferer on the broad plain of Troy by the will of the gods, and we have foreknowledge of all that is going to happen on this fruitful earth." (The SIRENS to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 12.184).

When he heard their persuasive song, he strongly desired to linger and begged to be released, but his comrades bound him tighter, until they had sailed past them.

Death of the SIRENS

This is how Odysseus defeated the SIRENS, and yet heard their voices. According to what had been prophesied, they then flung themselves into the depths of the sea and perished. The body of one of them, Leucosia 2, appeared on the shore of the island off Leucania in southern Italy, which was called after her.

Mourning voices

The SIRENS were believed to join those who mourn with their voices. That is why Helen, in a moment of grief, says:

"Oh, as I begin the great lament of my great distress, what mourning shall I strive to utter? or what Muse shall I approach with tears or songs of death or woe? ... Sirens, may you come to my mourning with Libyan flute or pipe or lyre, tears to match my plaintive woes." (Helen. Euripides, Helen 165 ff.).


Parentage (three versions)


Achelous & Melpomene


Achelous & Sterope 2


Achelous & Terpsichore 1


Achelous is the river god who, in the shape of a bull, wrestled against Heracles 1 for the hand of Deianira 1, and got one horn broken which he recovered by giving the horn of Amalthea in its stead.
Melpomene is one of the MUSES.
Sterope 2 is daughter of Porthaon & Euryte 2 and sister of Oeneus 2 (see Calydon).
Terpsichore 1 is one of the MUSES.

List of SIRENS


Apd.1.7.10; Apd.Ep.7.18; Arg.4.893; Hyg.Fab.125.

Leucosia 2.


Parthenope 3.


Pisinoe 1.

Apd.1.7.10; Apd.Ep.7.18; Arg.4.893; Hyg.Fab.125.


Apd.1.7.10; Apd.Ep.7.18; Arg.4.893; Hyg.Fab.125.

Siren. 10008: Sirena. Canosa (Magna Grecia), 340-300 a.C. Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid.

Related sections  

AO.1271ff.; Apd.1.7.10; Apd.Ep.7.18; Arg.4.893ff; Hom.Od.12.39ff., 12.165ff.; Hyg.Fab.125; Nonn.2.11, 13.314; Strab.5.4.7, 6.1.1.