The Siren Legend: The Story of Evil Mermaids

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Mythology is a collection of mystical stories and legends that are unreal yet deeply rooted in culture. It is also a branch of study that features several legendary creatures with odd appearances, most of whom are usually half-humans. The purpose of creating such creatures was to give humans the power of supernatural beings and mighty animals.

Since mythical creatures are abundant, we are shedding light on the siren myth today. Sirens first appeared in legends from Greek mythology. They are evil creatures who live off killing sailors and hypnotising people with their enchanting songs. However, they have the appearance of overly beautiful beings and seem pretty friendly. 

The Siren

The Physical Appearance of the Siren in Greek Mythology

What the sirens look like has never been agreed on. Not only that, but the appearance of the siren shifted or evolved through the years. The very first appearance of a siren goes back to The Odyssey legend by the 8th-century Greek epic poet Homer. He never described the physical traits of a siren, yet somehow later adaptations showed it as a mythical monster that is half-woman and half-bird.

The early depictions of sirens involved women with beautiful faces, scaled feet, and enormous wings. Their superpower was hypnotising their victims with their enchanting songs. Throughout the centuries, the appearance of the siren in Greek mythology evolved from giant birds with women’s heads to beautiful women with human bodies and massive wings. They were usually playing an instrument, given their music-loving nature.

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The sirens started making appearances in other ancient mythologies from the Middle East. However, they were described as fishtailed creatures with human heads. This Middle Eastern depiction somehow influenced how the Greeks perceived the sirens. Thus, new portrayals started emerging involving half-human and half-fish creatures with wings. 

Since the early 14th century, sirens were no longer bird-like creatures. Their standard appearance became beautiful women with fishtails and hypnotic voices that they used to control their victims. They are what we know today as mermaids, yet people rarely use the term ‘sirens’ to describe these creatures.

The Difference between Sirens and Mermaids

Throughout the years, people have used the terms’ sirens’ and ‘mermaids’ interchangeably, unable to tell the difference between both creatures. As we previously mentioned, sirens used to look like half-bird and half-women creatures in early Greek mythology. The confusion started in medieval times and new portrayals that involved mermaid-like creatures. 

While mermaids were known to be harmless and beautiful, sirens were described as evil mermaids. Perhaps the confusion stemmed from the depiction of the siren in other mythologies. Both creatures had similar attributes, including being half-women, having hypnotic voices, being captivatingly beautiful, and luring men into their death traps. 

mermiad vs siren

Sirens in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were enchanting creatures known for their mesmerizing voices and songs. They lived on a rocky island surrounded by treacherous waters. They appeared in the Greek poet Homer’s famous work, the Odyssey, one of the first recorded epics, with our hero being a man called Odysseus and his journey home.

These half-woman, half-bird beings would sing beautiful melodies to passing sailors, luring them towards the perilous rocks, where their ships would crash. To protect themselves from this danger, the clever hero Odysseus devised a clever plan.

He had his sailors plug their ears with beeswax so they couldn’t hear the Sirens’ songs, while he tied himself to the ship’s mast to listen to the music without being able to steer the ship off course. This story teaches us the importance of resisting temptation and being resourceful when faced with challenges.

The Allure and Danger of Sirens: Duality in Enchantment

Sirens, the mythical creatures haunting the seas, have captivated imaginations for centuries. They embody a fascinating paradox: alluringly beautiful yet harbouring deadly intentions. Exploring this duality provides insight into the human psyche and the enduring power of temptation.

The Allure:

  • Beauty Personified: Often depicted as breathtaking women with mesmerizing voices, sirens represent an ideal of physical perfection. Their beauty serves as a potent magnet, drawing in sailors with promises of untold pleasures.
  • Irresistible Song: Their enchanting voices weave seductive melodies, tailored to each listener’s deepest desires. These personalized songs tap into hopes, dreams, and vulnerabilities, offering escape from reality and the allure of a perfect world.
  • Knowledge and Foresight: In some myths, sirens are portrayed as possessing prophetic abilities, tempting with glimpses of the future or knowledge not otherwise attainable. This fuels curiosity and the thirst for power, further strengthening their grip.

The Danger:

  • Deception and Illusion: The beauty and enticing song serve as a facade, masking the true nature of the sirens. They lure victims closer only to bring them to ruin, highlighting the danger of mistaking appearances for reality.
  • Loss of Self: Succumbing to the siren’s call often leads to the loss of individual will and identity. Sailors become entranced, surrendering their agency and ultimately meeting their demise. This symbolizes the perils of succumbing to external influences and losing control of one’s own destiny.
  • The Destructive Power of Desire: The sirens tap into primal desires and forbidden knowledge, highlighting the destructive potential of unchecked longing. Their danger lies not just in physical destruction, but in the moral and spiritual wreckage they leave behind.

Symbolism and Significance:

The duality of sirens transcends mere entertainment. They serve as archetypes representing fundamental human struggles:

  • Beauty vs. Truth: The sirens remind us that outward appearances can be deceiving, urging us to look beyond the surface and seek deeper truths.
  • Temptation vs. Self-Control: They represent the ever-present battle between succumbing to alluring desires and exercising self-discipline.
  • Knowledge vs. Wisdom: The sirens’ glimpses of knowledge highlight the difference between mere information and true understanding, gained through experience and moral grounding.

The Siren in Other Mythologies

While the first appearance of a siren was in the Odyssey epic poem by Homer, its concept spread widely to appear in different mythologies and has its own depiction in every culture. Most cultures perceive the siren as a mermaid-like creature that kills men, especially sailors and is always lounging on a rock, singing with her enchanting voice. However, they have different names.

The Siren in Roman Mythology

Greek and Roman mythologies usually go hand in hand. They are both identical and typically share the same folktales and mystical creatures. In some cases, the names differ between them; however, this is not the case with the legend of the siren. The siren in Roman mythology was a humanlike creature with wings that lured sailors into their islands to drown them. 

The Merrow in Irish Mythology

Irish folklore involves classic legends of sirens, but they are commonly known as merrows and have the appearance of mermaids. In Irish mythology, sirens were evil mermaids who travelled between dry land and deep water using a magical cap. They were depicted as having hair the colour of the sea and scaly skin that was either green or white.

According to the Celts, merrows were beautiful women who always swam in the sea. They were sometimes referred to as sea fairies. Legends have it that merrows have alluring voices just like the sirens. However, they don’t sing in order to seduce sailors. Many folktales have narrated that the merrows actually take men away from land, but only to live underwater with them. They also make them obey and grant their every wish.

El Naddaha in Egyptian Mythology

El Naddaha is an Arabic word that means “a female caller,” someone who calls out someone else’s name. Egyptians gave this name to what we know as mermaids. However, according to them, El Naddaha doesn’t have the same appearance as a mermaid. She is rather a female genie that lives by the sea.

The similarity between El Naddaha and the siren is the possession of an enchanting voice that sailors never seem to resist. In Egyptian mythology, sailors who were gone missing were deemed to be taken away by El Naddaha. She lives by any water body, either the sea or the Nile River, and she appears only at night. Anyone who hears her alluring song can never be saved.

The Ceasg in Scottish Mythology

The Ceasg is the Scottish version of mermaids or sirens, and it is pronounced “kee-isk”. This sea creature has the upper body of a beautiful woman and the tail of a grisle, which is a young salmon. According to Scottish folklore, the ceasg marry human men, and if they ever have a son, he becomes a mighty sailor.

Another legend about the ceasg is that she has magical abilities and can grant people three wishes. Thus, unlike the siren, the people of Scotland chased the ceasg and tried to capture her, so they could have three wishes come true. Other narrations depict the ceasg as a malevolent creature that can swallow humans, and the only way to save this person is to destroy her soul, which is kept in a magical egg.

Lorelei in Germanic Mythology

The siren in German mythology goes by the name Lorelei and is sometimes spelt as Loreley. This legend professes that Lorelei was a beautiful maiden whose desperate lover let her get trapped in the vines of despair. Thus, she went to the Rhine River, a river that courses between the borders of Germany and Switzerland, and threw herself, immediately transforming into a siren.

Many people believe the Rhine River to be haunted by the spirit of Lorelei; they think she lives by the river, luring in boatmen and other people who pass by. Other legends narrate she lounges on a rock on the Rhine River, and whoever sees her is doomed to death.

Modern Sirens: Luring Audiences with New Songs

The allure of sirens isn’t confined to ancient myths. Their captivating blend of beauty, danger, and temptation continues to resonate in modern pop culture, where they are reimagined and adapted to reflect contemporary anxieties and desires. Let’s explore how the siren legend has evolved and continues to captivate us:

Shifting Tides:

  • From Mythological Monsters to Complex Characters: While some modern portrayals retain the sirens’ monstrous nature, others delve deeper, exploring their motivations, desires, and even vulnerabilities. In shows like “Siren” and “The Lure,” sirens become protagonists, grappling with their own identities and the impact they have on humans.
  • Beyond Seduction: Modern sirens often represent more than just physical allure. They embody themes like technology’s seductive pull (“The Matrix”), the dangers of social media (“The Social Network”), and the allure of forbidden knowledge (“Stranger Things”).
  • Mirrors to Society: Modern sirens often act as social commentaries. In “Pirates of the Caribbean,” they represent the dangers of greed and materialism. In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” they symbolize the seductive nature of totalitarian regimes.

Examples of Modern Siren Adaptations:

  • Movies:
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: Sirens use their beauty and song to incapacitate sailors before revealing their monstrous true forms.
    • The Lure: Two mermaid sisters leave the ocean for a taste of human life, highlighting the dangers of forbidden desires.
    • Aquaman: Mera, the queen of Atlantis, embodies the fierce and independent qualities often associated with modern sirens.
  • TV Shows:
    • Siren: Three mermaids arrive in a coastal town, exploring themes of identity, belonging, and the consequences of their choices.
    • Once Upon a Time: The mermaid Ursula is portrayed as a power-hungry villain, highlighting the manipulative nature of some siren interpretations.
    • The Magicians: The sirens are seductive creatures who trap travelers in their realm, representing the dangers of escapism and illusion.
  • Books:
    • The Thirteenth Tale: Mermaids symbolize the allure of the unknown and the dangers of seeking forbidden knowledge.
    • The Daughter of the Moon and the Sun: A mermaid princess struggles with her dual identity, reflecting the theme of belonging and the challenges of navigating different worlds.
    • The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A mysterious woman embodies the ambiguity and unsettling nature of some modern sirens.

Why Do They Still Captivate Us?

Modern sirens continue to resonate because they reflect our evolving anxieties and desires. They represent the ever-present struggle between self-control and temptation, the allure of the unknown, and the dangers of succumbing to desires that promise pleasure but ultimately lead to destruction. By exploring these themes through modern interpretations, we can gain valuable insights into ourselves and the world around us.


What are sirens?

Sirens are mythical creatures, often depicted as beautiful women with the tails of fish. They are known for their enchanting voices and irresistible allure, which they use to lure sailors to their deaths.

Where did the siren myth come from?

The siren myth originated in ancient Greek mythology, but similar tales appear in various cultures around the world.

What is the symbolism of sirens?

Sirens represent a variety of things, including beauty, danger, temptation, and the power of desire. They can also symbolize the allure of the unknown and the dangers of succumbing to our desires.

Are there any real-life animals that inspired the siren myth?

There is no definitive answer to this question, but some speculate that dugongs, manatees, or bioluminescent phenomena may have played a role in the development of the myth.

What are some modern interpretations of the siren myth?

Modern sirens appear in various forms, often representing the dangers of technology, social media, or forbidden knowledge. They can also serve as social commentaries, reflecting contemporary anxieties and desires.


The siren myth has endured for centuries, captivating audiences with its blend of beauty, danger, and temptation. By exploring their stories and interpretations across cultures and time, we gain valuable insights into ourselves and the world around us. The siren’s song continues to resonate, reminding us to be wary of appearances, exercise self-control, and navigate the complexities of desire with wisdom and discernment. So, the next time you hear a haunting melody or encounter a captivating beauty, remember the siren’s song and the lessons it holds.

The story of the siren may have destroyed the images of mermaids for you now. However, it is essential to note that these stories belong to legendary folktales and have no actual existence. While it may be disappointing to learn about the origins of the beautiful mermaids, it is still interesting to know about the famous legends and tales of mythology. Do not forget to check out the other great articles on our website covering this topic:

Mythical Monster Legends for Kids

Medusa Greek Mythology

Vikings History: Norse Mythology and the 9 Worlds

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