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Sirens and Mermaids

This is a painting by John William Waterhouse(British, 1849-1917) which shows the Greek hero Odysseus (English: Ulysses) tied to the mast of his ships, listening to the sirens song. The next two pictures are also of Odysseus' encounter. (see below for the story of Odysseus and the Sirens)


Siren (mythology), sea nymph in Greek mythology, sometimes described as having the body of a bird and the head of a woman and at other times represented as a woman. The Sirens are the daughters of the sea god Phorcys, although in one version of the myth their father is the river god Achelous. The Sirens had such sweet voices that sailors who heard their songs were lured into grounding their boats on the rocks on which the nymphs sang.
Taken from Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2001. ©1993-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The Greek Hero Odysseus in Homer's The Odyssey was able to pass the beautiful singing sirens with the help of the sorceress Circe. She told him to plug the ears of his rowers with beeswax, and have his sailors tie him to the mast of the ship so that he could listen to the sirens' song safely. In another legend,the Argonauts, who were sailing on their ship, the Argo, also passed the sirens because the musician, Orpheus, was on board. The music from is lyre and his voice was so beautiful that it drowned out the sirens' song. After both these boats successfully passed the sirens, the beautiful creatures were so angered that they threw themselves into the sea and perished.

Homer mentions only two sirens in his story, The Odyssey, but later authors mention three or four. They were regarded as the daughters of Phorcys, or the storm god Achelous. According to Ovid, they were nymphs and the play-mates of Persephone. They were there when Persephone was kidnapped by Hades (Pluto)and taken to the underworld to be his wife. Because they did not interfere and try to stop Hades, Demeter, Persephone's mother and Greek goddess of crops and grain, turned them into birds with the faces of women. Homer only mentions two sirens in his story but later stories mention up to four. Sophocles, in his play Ulysses, called the Sirens daughters of Phorcus, and agreed with Homer in recognizing only two of them. Hyginus names four of them, Teles, Raidne, Molpe, and Thelxiope, and, in like Apollodorus, says that they were the offspring of Achelous by the Muse Melpomene.

Tzetzes calls them Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligia, but adds that other people named them Pisinoe, Aglaope, and Thelxiepia, and that they were the children of Achelous and Terpsichore.

The Lorelei or Lurlei is a steep rock in west central Germany. It is about 120 m (about 390 ft) high and rises perpendicularly on the right bank of the Rhine River, near the town of Sankt Goar. The Lorelei is in a part of the river that is very difficult to navigate and is very popular for its marvelous echo. These factors inspired the German writer Clemens Brentano, who in his novel Godwi (1800-1802) created the legend of a beautiful siren who sits on the rock and entices mariners to their death. The story was later retold in Die Lorelei (1823), a famous lyric by the German poet Heinrich Heine.

Below is the ancient writer Apollodorus' version of Odysseus' encounter with the Sirens

And having come to Circe he was sent on his way by her, and put to sea, and sailed past the isle of the Sirens. Now the Sirens were Pisinoe, Aglaope, and Thelxiepia, daughters of Achelous and Melpomene, one of the Muses. One of them played the lyre, another sang, and another played the flute, and by these means they were fain to persuade passing mariners to linger; and from the thighs they had the forms of birds.

Sailing by them, Ulysses wished to hear their song, so by Circe's advice he stopped the ears of his comrades with wax, and ordered that he should himself be bound to the mast. And being persuaded by the Sirens to linger, he begged to be released, but they bound him the more, and so he sailed past. Now it was predicted of the Sirens that they should themselves die when a ship should pass them; so die they did.


Mermaid, (in folklore), supernatural, sea-dwelling creature with the head and upper body of a beautiful woman and the lower body of a fish. The mermaid is frequently described as appearing above the surface of the water and combing her long hair with one hand while holding a mirror in the other. Mermaids, in the numerous tales told of them, often foretell the future, sometimes under compulsion; give supernatural powers to human beings; or fall in love with human beings and entice their mortal lovers to follow them beneath the sea. A similarity exists between the stories concerning mermaids and those told about the Sirens.
Taken from Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2001. ©1993-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Mermaids are one of the most famous mythological creatures. They have appeared in movies, books, and poetry. The most famous mermaid story is The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen from Denmark. This book has been made into countless movies including Disney's 28th full length animated feature by the same title. Though the story has changed quite a bit in years, its magic is still as timeless as ever.

Mermaids have always been thought of as beautiful, mystical, and mysterious; creatures that dwell in the deepest parts of the oceans. Many people truly believe in these merfish even without physical evidence to support the stories. Though many pictures of mermaids have been taken, most have been proven hoaxes, while others are still uneplained. The greatest mermaid hoax in the world has to be the Fiji Mermaid.(seen below) It was claimed to be a genuine mermaid found of the coast of Fiji. The famous P.T. Barnum, exhibited the "mermaid" in his museum. It turned out only to be a human-made craft of a monkey skeleton and a fish skeleton.

Dagon, god of fertility worshiped by the Philistines, was regarded as a merman because his name came from the hebrew word for "fish."

Often times, mermaids have been sighted just by their fins splashing in the water as they jump beneath the waves. Unfortunately, these are not good sightings because the fin could simply be a large fish or dolphin.

The blue Men of the Minch used to inhabit the east coast, particularly the straights between Long Island and Shiant Island and were known for wrecking passing ships. The only way to save the ship is for the captain to talk to them in rhyme and get the last word. They live in underwater caves and were ruled by a chieftain.

Bunyip are monstrous creatures from Aboriginal land. The bunyip were rumored to live in swamps, lakes, and rivers of the Austrailian Outback. They are believed to bring disease and are roughly the size of a cow. Usually the bunyip leave humans alone but when their source of food is lacking, they will take humans under the water to their death.

Each Usige are Highland water-horses who are very fierce, much more so than any other water-horse. Generally, the Each Usige are beautiful, sleek horses which offers to be ridden, but beware. If you mount the horse it will carry you off at great speed into the water where only your liver will be eaten. Do not even touch the spirit for it is said that the skin of an each usige is sticky and you are not able to tear yourself away from it after touching it. They are generally found in sea water but sometimes they are sighted near fresh water.

A Glaistig is half human and half goat. This beautiful female water spirit tries to hide her goat half under a green robe. She invites men to dance with her, then she drinks their blood. She is, however, kind to children and the elderly. She even herds cattle for farmers at times.

In old Scotland, the Kelpie is a evil water devil that lurks in lakes and rivers. It usually takes the shape of a young horse and when a tired travler stops by a lake to rest or have a drink he may see the horse, mount it, and the Kelpie takes it into the water. Unlike the Each Usige, the traveler is able to walk away unharmed.

In Celtic tradition, Selkies (Selchi) are part seal rather than part fish. Selkies are the seal people of Orkney and Shetland. It is not the common seal that they think of as a faerie in disguise, rather they believe it is the sea-lions, crested seals and all of the larger creatures are of a faerie nature. They are believed to be faerie people who live on dry land near the sea or on lonely skerries and wear sealskins to move through water easily. They were thought to have been Fallen Angels and tend to be very beautiful.


Many people believe that the siren and the mermaid are the same thing. They are NOT. Though they are both mythological creatures who live around the sea, they are completely different. Sirens are half-women, half-BIRD while mermaids are half-women, half-FISH. Mermaid is also just the term placed upon a large group of mythological creatures while the sirens were a SPECIFIC THREE (or more or less) creatures. The final difference is that the sirens lived on a rock in the middle of the sea while mermaids live UNDER the water on the ocean floor. Though they are both mysterious and beautiful creatures, they are not the same.

Far out at sea,
the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflowers,
and as clear as the purest crystal.
But it is very deep - so deep, indeed, that no rope cane measure it,
and many church steeples must be piled one upon the other to reach from the bottom to the surface.
It is there that the sea folk dwell.

~From Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid