The Sirens were mythical creatures whose beautiful songs lured sailors to their deaths by causing their ships to crash into rocks.
The Sirens were originally bird-like in their appearance: they had a blend of a woman’s body with bird wings, or sometimes a bird’s body with a woman’s head. Over the years, their bird-like features have been minimized and they are typically depicted as mermaid creatures instead. They resided at the island of Anthemusa, and there they would sing beautiful songs until they lured a ship full of sailors into the rocks.
The Sirens was a challenge Odysseus had to face in the epic poem The Odyssey by Homer. Odysseus was warned by Circe that he alone must endure their song, which would drive him nearly insane. He covered his men’s ears with softened beeswax and had them tie him to the mast so that he couldn’t break free. He listened to the song and struggled, screaming for his men to set him free and let him go towards the alluring, but they kept rowing until they had passed through the danger.
Jason encountered the Sirens on his way to find the Golden Fleece. He knew that he would need Orpheus’ help on his journey, and just as the Sirens began to sing, Orpheus played his beautiful lyre and drowned their voices out until their ship had safely passed.
Some myths place the Sirens as the protectors of Persephone, daughter of Demeter. However, after Hades abducted her and brought her down into the Underworld, Demeter cursed the Sirens and sent them to the island. Their songs often intone notes of regret and a wish for Persephone to return to the land of the living.
Another myth details the goddess Hera calling for a singing contest between the Sirens and the Muses. The Sirens lose the contest and Hera lets the Muses pluck all of the Sirens’ feathers to make crowns for themselves. This is one explanation for how the Sirens may have lost their feathers.
Achelous and Terpsichore
Beautiful mermaid creatures, sometimes depicted with feathers