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What Did Sirens in Greek Mythology Look Like?

There has always been an understanding the mermaids and sirens are different. While sirens are depicted as evil temptresses that lure sailors to their untimely demise, mermaids are peaceful and choose to live far away from humans. But did you know that the Siren is actually not in any way, shape, or form, close to being a mermaid?

According to Greek mythology, sirens are not beautiful, nor were they even closely related to mermaids. They were actually strange human-faced bird creatures that lured men to their deaths by promising them knowledge of the future.

Did We Misunderstand What Sirens Were?

As explained in Greek mythology, a siren is a half-bird and half-woman creature that lured sailors by their sweet songs. This was proven by a new translation of Homer’s Odyssey.

The Sirens’ seductive power lies with their otherworldly, avian knowledge. Those who passed in their black ships heard only voices, twining over the windless waves, singing a song that promised knowledge of all things. Once they heard it, they were enchanted; they had no choice but to land and seek out the singers. Those who did never left the island; their bodies remained, rotting amid the flowers, for none who heard the Sirens’ song could escape it.

Homer, Odyssey

The story of these sirens has truly inspired several writers, poets, and artists. Somewhere along the way, their interpretation of Homer’s work has caused the Siren to evolve from a human-faced bird into a voluptuous and beautiful mermaid. (Source: Audubon)

The bird-woman became a death-demon, a soul sent to fetch a soul, a Ker that lures a soul, a Siren. They are mantic creatures like the Sphinx with whom they have much in common, knowing both the past and the future. Their song takes effect at midday, in a windless calm. The end of that song is death. These creatures exclusively appeal to the spirit, not the flesh.

Jane Ellen Harrison

(Source: Vice)

How Did The Siren Transform?

Over the centuries, the Siren transformed into different kinds of characters. During the Middle Ages, the singing bird-woman morphed into a fish-being who used the sea and her sexuality to lure her victims.

The Liber Monstruorum Diversis Generibus or the Book of Monsters show one of the transition’s earliest examples. In the book, they described sirens as sea-girls.

Like human beings from the head to the navel, with the body of a maiden, but have scaly fish tails, with which they always lurk in the sea.

Liber Monstruorum Diversis Generibus

The illustrations in the book show how different they saw sirens compared to what Homer had initially described. The sirens of the middle ages no longer symbolized the spirit but focused on lust and the pleasures of the flesh.

By the 19th century, during the Victorian era, sirens were depicted as beautiful and sensual women. They moved so gracefully to seduce sailors, and they often had harps and lyres. (Source: Vice)

What Did The Siren Symbolize?

The aesthetic evolution of the Siren from being a deadly demon to a sensuous nymph symbolizes something quite relatable. The Siren represented society’s fear of female sexuality and prowess. The symbolism of the Siren was clear whenever men succumb to temptation and choose lustful human impulses, and they will face their end. (Source: Vice)

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