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Sirens



Sea-nymphs in Greek mythology who sat on the shores of an island between Circe's isle and Scylla, near the south-western coast of Italy, and sang with bewitching sweetness songs that allured the passing sailor to draw near, but only to meet with death. In Homer's writings there are two Sirens, in later writers three, Ligeia, Leukosia, and Parthenope, or Aglaopheme, Molpe, and Thelxiepedia. If any seam could resist the enticements of their magic music they themselves were doomed to die, but Ulysses or the Argonauts alone succeeded in doing so. In the Odyssey we read how Ulysses, by the advice of Circe, plugged the ears of his companions with wax, and lashed himself to a mast, until he had sailed out of hearing of the fatal songs. The Argonauts got safely past because Orpheus protected them by by the stronger spell of his own singing, whereupon the sirens threw themselves into the sea and were transformed into rocks. The Latin poets gave them wings, and in works of art they are often represented as birds with the faces of maidens, and are given musical instruments. Parallel conceptions are the mermaid of western Europe and the lorelei of the Rhine.