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became “hispid” and case-hardened, and therefore deserve edly lost the name of nymphs.*
THE SIRENS AND MERMAIDS OF THE
EAVING Æaca on their homeward voy
age,” says Mr. Keightley, in his excellent “Mythology,” “ Odysseus (Ulysses) and his companions came first to the islands of the
Sirens. These were two maidens, who sat in a mead close to the sea, and with their melodious voices so charmed those who were sailing by that they forgot home, and every thing relating to it, and abode there till their bones lay whitening on the strand. By the directions of Circe, Odysseus stopped the ears of his companions with wax, and had himself tied to the mast; and thus he was the only person who heard the song of the Sirens, and escaped.
“Hesiod † describes the mead of the Sirens as blooming with flowers, and says that their voice stilled the winds. Their names were said to be Aglaiophéme (Clear-voice), and Thelxiepeia (Magic-speech). It was feigned that they threw themselves into the sea with vexation at the escape of Odysseus; but the author of the “Orphic Argonautics” places them on a rock near the shore of Ætna, and makes the song of Orpheus end their enchantment, and cause them to fling themselves into the sea.
* Sunt præterea, &c. — “Genealogia Deorum,” lib. vii. cap. 14. † Frag. xxvii.
" It was afterwards fabled * that they were the daughters of the river-god Achelous, by one of the Muses. Some said that they sprang from the blood which ran from him when his horn was torn off by Hercules. Sophocles calls them the daughters of Phorcys.
“Contrary to the usual process, the mischievous part of the character of the Sirens was, in process of time, left out, and they were regarded as purely musical beings, with entrancing voices. Hence Plato, in his ‘Republic,' places one of them on each side of the eight celestial spheres, where their voices form what is called the music of the spheres; and when the Lacedæmonians invaded Attica, Dionysius, it is said, appeared in a dream to their general, ordering him to pay all funeral honors to the new Siren, which was at once understood to be Sophocles, then just dead.t
“ Eventually, however, the artists laid hold on the Sirens, and furnished them with the feathers, feet, wings, and tails of birds.” I
According to this statement of our best English mythologist, the Sirens were but two. It is not a little surprising, however, that so careful a writer has omitted to notice the various accounts of their number, and the prevailing opinion of its having been three. “Fulgentius and Servius affirm,” says Boccaccio, “that the Sirens were three, one of them singing with the voice alone, another to the lyre, and a third playing on the flute. Leontius, however,” he continues, " says there were four, and that the fourth sang to the timbrel.” And a little further on, our Italian
* Apollod. i. 3.
† Pausan. i. 21. I “Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy. By Thomas Keightley, p. 246.
brings them up to five; * and this is the number (as we shall see), which is assigned them by Spenser.
Mr. Keightley, who has a just reverence for the oldest Greek authorities, and as proper a suspicion of Latin sources of fable, will stick to his Hesiod, and not care what is said by the later poets. His caution becomes a teacher ; but as mythologies may, with others, be reasonably looked upon as of a more large and inclusive character, even to the admission of modern inventions, provided they be the work of great poets, the popular number of three may ordinarily be allowed to the Sirens; and when we come to Spenser, I, for one, must take the freedom of believing in five. Any true poet, not only after his death, like Sophocles, but before, is himself a Siren, who makes me believe what he pleases while he is about it.
The Sirens, then, are more particularly taken for three sisters, monstrous in figure, but charming in face and voice, who used to stand upon a place near the coast of Naples, and with alluring songs enticed wayfarers to their destruction. Some say the victims perished for want of food, pining and dying away, unable to do any thing but listen; others, that the three sisters devoured them; others, that they tumbled them out of their ships. The whole place was strewn with bones, and shone afar off with the whiteness, like cliffs; and yet neither this, nor their monstrous figure, visible on nearer approach, hindered the infatuated men from doting on their faces and sweet sounds; till, getting closer and closer, they glided headlong into the snare.
Ulysses had a permission, of which he availed himself, to hear their song ; but it cost him a desperate struggle. He ordered himself to be chained, and then to be unchained; but the sailors would only stand by the better orders, and put more chains upon him. So, the vessel shooting away, the sounds gradually died off, and he was saved. Upon this, the Sirens threw themselves into the sea, and perished. The only man (according to some) who had passed them before, was Orpheus, who, raising a hymn to the gods, in counterpart to their profaner warble, sailed along with his Argonauts, harping and triumphant. To one who has read the life of Alfieri, it is impossible not to be reminded of him by this story of Ulysses ; how he had himself bound down in his chair, to avoid going to see his mistress; and how he struggled and raved to no purpose ; imitating Orpheus at intervals, by going on with his verses. The reader will have seen, however, that the destruction of the Sirens has been attributed to Orpheus; so that, according to the writer of those Argonautics, the story of Ulysses is a fiction, even in the regions of fiction !
*“Della Genealogia degli Dei,” p. 123. (A translation of his Latin work. I quote from both these books in the present article, not having the latter by me when I wrote the above passage.)
The song of the Sirens in Homer is not worthy of the great poet, being, indeed, rather the promise of one, than the song itself. It is true, the subject is adapted to the hearer; and we must not forget that this adaptation of themselves to the person who was to be tempted, was one among the artifices of the Sirens, and none of their least seductive. But they say little or nothing to the hero, in point of fact. The temptation must have lain in the promise and the sound. William Browne, a disciple of Spenser, and not unworthy of him, has given a song of the Sirens in his “Inner Temple Masque," which a modern Ulysses would at least reckon more tempting to his sailors: —
“Steer, hither steer your winged pines,
All beaten mariners;
A prey to passengers ;
Fear not your ships,
But come on shore,
[These two last lines are repeated, as chorus, from a grove.]
“For swelling waves our panting breasts,
Where never storms arise,
For stars gaze on our eyes.
We will not miss
To tell each point he nameth with a kiss.
Where no joy dies till love hath gotten more.” The shape of the Sirens has been variously represented. Some say (and this, we believe, is held to be the most orthodox description) * that they were entire birds, with the exception of a beautiful human face. Others, that they were half birds and half women, the female being the upper part.f Others, that they were half women and half fish; that is to say, mermaids ; † and this figure has again been varied by wings, and the feet of a hen. § If they
* “Lemprière,” Art. “Sirenes.” + “Natalis Comes,” lib. vii. cap. 13.
$ “Vossius and Pontanus.” (See Todd's “Spenser,” vol. iv. p. 196, and Sandys's “Ovid," p. 101.
§ “Boccaccio, Geneal. Deor.," p. 56 Browne has taken bis Sirens " as they are described by Hyginus and Servius, with their upper parts like women to the navel, and the rest like a hen.”