According to Greek mythology, the Sirens were sisters who lured sailors to their island home with enchanted singing and then killed them. The sisters sang so sweetly that anyone who heard them wanted to listen forever. Although sailors were usually shipwrecked before falling into the hands of the deadly sisters, the Sirens’ island, Anthemoessa, was believed to be covered with the bodies and bones of their victims.

Greek heroes* devised various methods of sailing past the island of the Sirens. Odysseus blocked the ears of his sailors with beeswax, and then he ordered them to tie him to the mast so he could not be seduced by the Sirens’ song. When Odysseus heard the singing, he pleaded with his men to release him, but they tied him even tighter to the mast. Orpheus helped Jason and the Argonauts sail past the island by drowning out the Sirens’ singing with the music of his lyre*. The lone member of the crew who heard the Sirens’ song threw himself overboard.

The Greeks associated the Sirens with death. In some versions, the Sirens died or committed suicide if a mortal* was able to resist their singing.

* hero in mythology, a person of great strength or ability, often descended from a god

* lyre stringed instrument similar to a small harp

* mortal human being; one who eventually will die

Sirens were mythological birdlike creatures that lured sailors to their death by the captivating beauty of their song. According to legend, Odysseus had his men tie him to his ship’s mast to ensure his safe passage past the island of the Sirens.

Although the Sirens were originally represented in art as birds with the heads of women, they later lost their evil look and were depicted as very beautiful women. The philosopher* Plato wrote that the Sirens supplied the divine music of the heavenly spheres. {See also Myths, Greek.)

* philosopher scholar or thinker concerned with the study of ideas, including science

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