Hello and welcome back to another Monstrous Monday. Today, we’ll be taking a look at a creature that is similar to the merfolk / mermaid / merman we dug into last week: the Siren! Not to be confused with the loud, blaring alarm coming from emergency vehicles or warning calls from emergency towers, this beastie is a creature fairly similar to our merfolk but also distinctly different.
For a time at least, it does seem as if they were considered one and the same or at least often confused, much like the case was for our basilisk and cockatrice critters as well. However, while a mermaid is half woman and half fish, a siren is more often seen with feathers or wings. You might be tempted to confuse them with a harpy, given the often birdlike characteristics, but they are more commonly seen in or at the sea. Half bird and half woman, by all accounts they come from Greek mythology. Now, between the Greek mythology version and the Final Fantasy version, I’m not sure which I became aware of first – I had a pretty strong Greek mythology obsession that started in the fifth grade when we learned the various gods and goddesses as well as the Greek alphabet, but I have long been familiar with this particular songstress – or songstresses if we’re talking about Greek myths. Other than having an otherworldly voice, they were also known to be exceptionally good at playing the lyre as well, as can be seen in the second image below.
Now that I’m looking for pictures, I likely learned about Greek mythology sirens first as the FF summon didn’t appear until FFVIII… Anyway! As you can see here in both of these images, they are distinctly different from our mermaids from last week. In some versions, they have the body of a bird and the head of a woman and in others, they look like the first image above: half-woman and half-bird with wings and arms. Unlike mermaids, the name siren doesn’t appear to have any special meaning (minus one connection for Middle English that denotes an imaginary type of snake). It is Greek in origin, as are the origin stories of them, though I did find a new one I hadn’t heard before. Coming from the World History Encyclopedia, it details one possible origin of the sirens as being companions of Persephone. If anyone is familiar with Greek Mythology – or a gamer at all familiar with the title Hades – Persephone was the daughter of Demeter – goddess of the harvest and agriculture, one of the 12 main gods and goddesses in the pantheon. Persephone was kidnapped by Hades – the god of the Underworld – after he fell in love with her sublime beauty and taken to the Underworld to be his queen. Apparently, there’s a version of this wherein he rapes her and as punishment for their inability to stop him, the Sirens are punished by being transformed into the form we recognize them as today. Sounds a bit familiar to the Medusa myth actually… There seems to be a pattern of women being punished for crimes committed against them in various tales but… I digress.
Whatever the actual origin of the Siren story is (perhaps born from one of the nine Muses and a River God), the fact of the matter remains that they are known to be temptresses that lure men to their deaths with their hypnotic and seductive songs. We see this in the Odyssey story when Odysseus encounters three such creatures as he’s crossing the seas. He wants to hear their song so in order to keep from jumping off the ship and to his death, he allows himself to be tied to the mast of the vessel while his men stuff beeswax into their ears so they cannot hear. It nearly drives him mad but when they sail past the Sirens’ rock, Odysseus survives and the Sirens, upon having failed to kill their prey, threw themselves into the sea to drown because of their failure. Apparently, were any person to listen to their song and survive, death would shortly follow for the Sirens.
Now, at some point during the Middle Ages, Sirens and Mermaids were effectively combined and this is why we sometimes see Sirens with fish or serpentine tails and living in the water. You may have seen such a version in The Witcher 3 if anyone is familiar with the game.
As you can see, the above image depicts an Ekhidna (I’ve also seen Echidna – a half woman and half snake creature in Greek mythology we might take a look at later too), the name for what would otherwise be a Siren in the game. I was quite enamored with them when I found the creatures in the game actually. Granted, when they’re attacking you, they do take on a more monstrous appearance but from afar, the wings are mesmerizing and the way they could dance in the water as well as the air was a sight to behold. ^_^ As for other forms of media, I’m not sure how often they’ve made appearances, though I know their ability to lure people with their songs or voices has been utilized in various forms. I have dabbled with sirens in my own work, though I tend to steer clear of the manipulation or control idea. My sirens tend to enchant people with their songs in an entertainment format or… draw them into local bars to increase the patrons within. Commercial? Definitely. Nefarious? Not at all. haha
That’s not to say the less than savory approach isn’t used elsewhere. Again, nothing immediately comes to mind but it’s a common enough trope – a woman is said to have bewitched a man with her words or voice which you could attribute to either a witch’s power or a siren’s in most cases. And there’s very much a reason we use the phrase ‘the siren call of something’ when we can’t resist a particular temptation or desire, especially one that may have or end in a bad or poor result. Some people use it to describe something that is otherwise irresistible to them, good or bad, as well. For example, there are times I can’t resist the siren call of my bed or the latest book I’m reading.
If you’d like to read up a bit more on the Sirens and their history in Greek myths, feel free to check out this link. It gives a pretty good breakdown of their likely birth and appearances in various stories. Otherwise, it’s safe to say that unlike mermaids, sirens are potentially more dangerous since their sole purpose appeared to be to lure sailors to their deaths on the rocky shoals around their islands. Mermaids at least had helpful moments historically speaking, though they could be treacherous as well. And since we’re on the topic of hybrid creatures, and also since I mentioned them briefly earlier, I think it could be interesting to take a look at harpies next week. I first remember hearing about them / seeing them in the Last Unicorn. I’m excited just thinking about it now. haha I can bookmark Medusa / the Gorgons for later too in fact.
But for now, we’ll go ahead and wrap things up here. As always, thank you so much for coming by. I hope you’ve found this topic interesting and / or enlightening. Feel free to follow any of the links for additional info and if you have comments or questions of your own, I’m all ears!