In Greek mythology, sirens were not depicted uniformly. In fact, many early art claimed they had bird bodies that sported women’s heads. Other representations had women’s bodies with bird feathers, legs, and feet. Some had wings, but all played musical instruments. By the seventh century sirens had become more like the modern mermaid – female bodies to the waist and fish tails on the lower half. By the middle ages the mermaid figure had supplanted all other representations.
Music, whether created through playing of instruments such as the lute, harp, and lyre, or through vocal songs has almost always been associated with sirens. One exception was the Siren of Canosa whose job it was to accompany or guide the dead on their afterlife journey.
The word “siren” in modern usage is an attention-getting sound, such as to warn of an impending disaster or the approach of police or emergency personnel. Modern usage most likely stems from the siren’s tendency to ensnare or entangle humans – usually sailors – with sound and shipwreck them on the rocks and cliffs near their homes. Often they were depicted as cannibalistic, but not always as there are legends that say the stench rising from the decaying corpses on the rocks could be scented for miles.
Many times art portrayed both male and female sirens, but the males disappeared by the 400s. The Greeks and the Romans differed in their opinion as to whether or not sirens were sea creatures. The Greeks generally showed them in meadows with flowers all about them. Other discrepancies exist in their number, parentage, and purpose.
Homer, in his epic Odyssey, wrote of two sirens singing promises of wisdom and hidden truths. The problem is that whenever a human is drawn by the siren song it ends in tragedy or death. Sweet and sad, siren songs in ancient times appealed to the spirit rather than the flesh. Modern interpretations generally focus on carnal promises.
My version of sirens
In my WIP Siren Crux (working title), sirens use their song which is limited by treaty to lure “volunteers” to their deaths. In exchange for the siren’s love and power, the victims give their emotions to the sirens who have few of their own, but crave them insatiably.
Prior to crossing the bridge from Yonhev to Eile sirens were of two types, those who reclaimed their power from their lovers by killing them and those who didn’t. Conal, the Siren King, is power hungry as is his Choir (the collective for sirens – like a flock of birds, a murder of crows, a herd of goats, etc.). In my story, the Choir is divided into the Melody (the older sirens) and the Harmony. They are ranked by number and that rank is highly competitive.
My heroine, Mireia (Me-RAY-ya), is Conal’s daughter. But she wasn’t raised with the sirens. Instead, she was raised in the faerie world, her power restricted and hidden. Sirens are hated and feared for their viciousness, so her mother hid her heritage. Now, faced with an upcoming test of her power, Mireia must travel to the Undersea Palace, confront her father and beg him to train her so she can pass the test. Beyond that, she must learn to fit into a society she knows nothing about navigating the fierce jealousy and greed exhibited by the Harmony while concealing the fact that she has no ability to defend herself should they decide to attack, or so she believes.
Combining the Greek and Celtic mythology has been fun as I wrote this story. Adapting the tales to fit my world was also interesting. With other authors using such characters in their own works, I had to be careful to fully explain major deviations or risk misunderstanding by my readers. The work is in the final revision stages before I begin to query agents hoping to find representation and begin searching for a publishing home for the story. I hope readers will enjoy Mireia’s story as much as I have.
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Featured image by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash
Have a blessed week!