What are your thoughts on sirens?
The topic came up in my comments section on Instagram recently and it got me thinking about a few things. One is how Homer’s portrayal of them in the Odyssey can be a source of surprise for first-time readers, who might expect (if they’ve seen 19th century paintings) sirens to be alluring, seductive figures. I mean, they are, but it’s their song (and the deceptive promise contained in it) not their bodies that lure sailors to their deaths.
Here is Anthony Verity’s translation of what the sirens promise Odysseus from 12.186-191:
“No man has ever sailed past this place in his black ship without hearing the honey-toned voice that issues from our lips, and then, full of delight, going on his way a much wiser man. You see, we know everything that both Trojans and Argives endured on Troy’s wide plain, by the will of the gods; and we know too all that happens on the earth that nourishes many.”
It seems Odysseus is being promised access to a collective consciousness, divine knowledge—tempting indeed for the “man of many guises” who travels around learning the minds and ways of many people. The sirens’ promise is “true,” in that when a hero dies, he seems to enter that consciousness to some degree. Hence the heroes’ shades who Odysseus chats with seem to know broader events, beyond those they were directly involved in. But the part about Odysseus having to die to access that knowledge…well, the sirens gloss over that part.
They’re strange creatures to behold in ancient Greek visual representations, quite a departure from how they’re depicted in post-antiquity:
I’d love to hear your thoughts, impressions, questions, musings, and so on, as always.