If you’ve been following this blog, then you will know that I’m rather obsessed with Greek Mythology. Always have been. I am also semi-obsessed with Mermaids. It always puzzled me though that in modern art and literature the term Siren and Mermaid seem to be synonyms. The mythological Greek Siren’s are nothing like modern Mermaids except that they both have a penchant for singing.
In Greek Mythology the Sirens are creatures with the heads of women, bird wings and clawed feet (like those that a bird has). One example of the myth is related here. The myth of the Sirens is a part of the myth of Hades and Persephone, which has always been my favourite. The version of the myth I grew up with was that when Hades abducted Persephone she was not alone. She had been in a field with a group of nymphs, and she had wandered off to look at a flower and gotten separated from her friends. The flower had been planted by Hades to draw her attention and he was able to kidnap her unimpeded. When Demeter found out that the nymphs had failed to protect her daughter she cursed them to their half woman half bird form and made their song deadly to humans so that they would forever be as alone as she was.
Of course, other versions of the myth give different accounts, like the account in the link above, some have Demeter giving them wings to help search for Persephone for example. I always thought the nymphs, or Sirens if you would rather, got a raw deal. In the myth Hades kidnaps Persephone, marries her and basically gets off scot free and the poor nymphs are cursed for something they had no control over. I’ve never really felt that this was a likely scenario and rather believe that Persephone chose to become Hades bride but that’s beside the point.
So why do we think the Sirens are beautiful human-fish hybrids? I spent a lot of time thinking about this one day and the only logical conclusion I could draw on was this. From a literary standpoint, if the mythological nymphs were Persephone’s friends then it would stand to reason that as Queen of the Underworld she would be packing some pretty heavy power (I’ve never really seen her as the naïve young girl the myths originally portray her as), I mean in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice it’s because of Persephone’s sway over her husband that Orpheus is given the opportunity to win the rebirth of his wife, and in the myth of Menthe when Persephone finds out her friend has been having an affair with Hades she transforms the nymph into the plant, now known as Mint. Persephone isn’t exactly powerless. According to myth she spends half her year in the Underworld and half on Earth. So, imagine Persephone comes back to visit her mother after that first winter. Wouldn’t one of her first questions be something along the lines of “Hey mom, what happened to my friends?”. I can imagine a rather awkward conversation ensuing.
I like to think that Persephone felt sorry for her friends but couldn’t undo the curse her mother had inflicted upon them. So, she did what she could do. She at least changed their appearance into something beautiful. We already know she has the power to transform living things (see my point about Menthe above) so it stands to reason that she could do something for her unfairly punished friends. I feel like there is a book in this somewhere so expect to see my version of the myth appearing in a book on Mermaids in the not too distant future XD. I’ve already started plotting it out.
I wrote this poem inspired by the Greek Myth of the Sirens a few years ago.
Poem – Siren’s Song
By B. Forrester
Beware the lilting Siren’s song,
For it will be the last you hear.
The sound so beautiful yet wrong,
It calls you to your death my dear.
Born as nymphs, young and carefree,
Companions of Demeter’s daughter.
Their guard was down, his eyes were keen,
they were cast out to rocky water.
The harvest Goddess took revenge,
transformed them to immortal beasts,
then froze the world, rage avenged
She forgot they also grieved.
Demeter cursed their arms to wings,
and their feet to taloned claws.
Only one has heard them sing,
and lived to brag in awe.
Hades won more than a Queen.
The latest band of killers,
and scores of waifish shades unseen,
dancing through his gated pillars.