in Greek mythology, a creature half bird and half woman who lured sailors to destruction by the sweetness of her song. According to Homer there were two Sirens on an island in the western sea between Aeaea and the rocks of Scylla. Later the number was usually increased to three, and they were located on the west coast of Italy, near Naples. They were variously said to be the daughters of the sea god Phorcys or of the river god Achelous.
The Greek hero Odysseus, advised by the sorceress Circe, escaped the danger of their song by stopping the ears of his crew with wax so that they were deaf to the Sirens; yet he was able to hear the music and had himself tied to the mast so that he could not steer the ship out of course. Another story relates that when the Argonauts sailed that way, Orpheus sang so divinely that none of them listened to the Sirens. In later legend, after one or other of these failures the Sirens committed suicide. In art they appeared first as birds with the heads of women, later as women, sometimes winged, with bird legs.
The Sirens seem to have evolved from a
primitive tale of the perils of early exploration combined with an Oriental
image of a bird-woman. Anthropologists explain the Oriental image as
a soul-bird--i.e., a winged ghost that stole the living to share its fate.
In that respect the Sirens had affinities with the Harpies.
si.ren n [ME, fr. MF & L; MF sereine, fr. LL sirena, fr. L siren, fr. Gk seiren] (14c) 1 often cap: any of a group of female and partly human creatures in Greek mythology that lured mariners to destruction by their singing 2 a: a woman who sings with bewitching sweetness b: temptress 3 a: an apparatus producing musical tones esp. in acoustical studies by the rapid interruption of a current of air, steam, or fluid by a perforated rotating disk b: a device often electrically operated for producing a penetrating warning sound <ambulance ~> <air-raid ~> 4 [NL, fr. L]: either of two No. American eel-shaped amphibians that constitute a genus (Siren) and have small forelimbs but neither hind legs nor pelvis and have permanent external gills as well as lungs
si.ren adj (1568): resembling that of a siren: enticing
siren song n (1568): an alluring utterance or appeal; esp: one
that is seductive or deceptive
in Greek religion, one of the
nine Muses, patron of tragedy and lyre playing. In Greek art her attributes
were the tragic mask and the club of Heracles. According to some traditions,
the half-bird, half-woman Sirens were born from the union of Melpomene with
the river god Achelous.
German LORELEY, large rock on
the bank of the Rhine River near Sankt Goarshausen, Ger. The rock produces
an echo and is associated with the legend of a beautiful maiden who threw
herself into the Rhine in despair over a faithless lover and was transformed
into a siren who lured fishermen to destruction. The essentials of the
legend were claimed as his invention by German writer Clemens Brentano in
his novel Godwi (1800-02). Lorelei has been the subject of a number
of literary works and songs; the poem Die Loreley by Heinrich Heine was set
to music by more than 25 composers.