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 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.
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.
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.
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
Vikings History: Norse Mythology and the 9 Worlds
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