Sea and Sky and Sirens, Oh My!

Sea and Sky and Sirens, Oh My!

Phoebe White, Journalist

When we hear the word “siren” the majority of humans automatically think of the evil mermaids, who lure men to their death at the bottom of the sea. Well, did you know that in Ancient Greek mythology, sirens were depicted as bird women who flew to sailor’s ships and sang their “siren song” to lure men to their islands where they would die (possibly of starvation, or, as some people believe, the sirens were cannibals and would eat the sailors).

Fish Sirens

Now, these are the sirens you probably know about. They are evil mermaids who lure sailors to their deaths at the bottom of the sea. A song called “The Mermaid Song,” written in 1794 by Franz Joseph Hayden has the line, “Follow follow follow, as she dove beneath the waves.” Sirens would sing to unsuspecting sailors to convince them to go beneath the water. While the normal day mermaids sometimes forgot that humans couldn’t breath, sirens knew and would purposely bring them to the bottom of the sea where they would drown.

Atargatis, goddess of the Moon, femininity, and water, dove into a magical lake because she wanted to become a fish, but the lake believed her to be too beautiful, so the lake’s powers made her stay half human, and only fish from the waist down.


Bird Sirens

These sirens you may not have known about, but in Greek mythology sirens were actually half bird and half human. They were depicted as birds because birds are known to sing beautiful songs. They would sing and play music on their lyres to entice passing sailors to visit their island(s). It is said that their islands were layered with the rotting corpses of their victims. In  Odyssey by Homer, there is a tale about a Greek hero named Odysseus. On his way back to his home in Ithaca following the Trojan War, he passes by the siren’s island. Circe had let Odysseus know about the sirens beforehand, and tells his crew to put wax in their ears and to tie him to the mast on their boat. While they are passing the island, since Odysseus had not put wax in his own ears, he eggs his crew to untie him but they do not. After making it past the island, the sirens fall out of the sky because they had been fated to die if someone were to resist their siren song. The sirens once had a singing battle against the Muses, who won. The Muses wanted a prize for their success, so they plucked the siren’s feathers to make themselves crowns. The sirens then turned white from pain and fear, then fell into the ocean where they became little white islands.


Fish Sirens Both Bird Sirens
Would pretend to drown in the sea, drag unlucky sailors down to the bottom of the sea Killed sailors/lured them to death Starved/ate men on their island
Half fish Half woman Half bird
Enchanting songs Sang songs Songs about knowledge
A goddess wanted to be a fish, but she was too pretty so a magical lake made her stay half human Started from Gods/Goddesses Achelous the river god had children that became sirens. They were birds because of birds’s incredible singing voice


While many people still don’t know the true story of sirens, you are one of the few who do. They are gruesome creatures who think too highly of themselves and do not care for humans.