In the latest episode of #TheVampireDiaries, we finally learned the origin story of Sybil and Selene, the beautiful new monsters that are running the show this season. But how much did the writers of The Vampire Diaries invent, and how much did they borrow from ancient legends? Read up on the lore of sirens and see for yourself.
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The sirens of Greek mythology (also spelled Seirenes) were creatures that resembled beautiful women. They lived on islands in the sea and sang gorgeous songs that tempted sailors to come to them. Then they feasted on their flesh.
In some versions of the story, they were the daughters of the river god Achelous. In others, they were three sisters, the handmaidens of the goddess Persephone. When Hades kidnapped Persephone to make her his queen in the underworld, Persephone's mother Demeter gave the Sirens the bodies of birds so that they could fly and help search for the young goddess. The sirens settled on the island of Anthemoessa.
Many depictions of sirens show them as being mermaid-like, with the tails of fish and the bodies of women.
There are two instances of men narrowly escaping from the song of these temptresses. When the Argonauts sailed passed, Orpheous played his magical lute so loudly and beautifully that it drowned out the song of the sirens and the men were able to continue on their way.
In The Odyssey, Odysseus had heard tales of these bewitching creatures and wanted to hear the song for himself. He instructed his men to bind him to the mast of the ship and plug their own ears with wax, and not to let him go no matter how much he begged.
When they passed Anthemoessa, Odysseus heard the sirens sing:
Come this way, honored Odysseus, great glory of the Achaians, and stay your ship, so that you can listen here to our singing; for no one else has ever sailed past this place in his black ship until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips; then goes on, well-pleased, knowing more than ever he did; for we know everything that the Argives and Trojans did and suffered in wide Troy through the gods' despite. Over all the generous earth we know everything that happens. (12.184-196)
Odysseus pleaded to go and join them, but his men kept their word, and they managed to sail to safety. Devastated that they had been thwarted, the sirens plunged themselves into the sea and died.
Another famous "siren" exists on the bank of the Rhine River in Germany. The Lorelei is a steep slate cliff that used to produce a peculiar murmuring sound, due to the current and waterfall that flowed there. The Lorelei became immortalized as a female, siren figure in a story by Clemens Bretano in 1801, and later by the poet Heinrich Heine. Heine wrote the following lines in 1822 in his poem "The Lorelei":
She combs with a comb also golden,
And sings a song as well
Whose melody binds a wondrous
And overpowering spell.
In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He'd rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.
I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song's sheer power
Fair Lorelei has done.
Do you believe in Sirens?
Don't miss the promo for next week's all new The Vampire Diaries on the CW.