Porn-Songs and Camel-Sparrows: The Suda’s Strange Sirens

From the Suda, s.v. Seirênas

“The Sirens were some Greek women with beautiful voices in ancient Greek myth who sat on some island and so delighted passers-by with their euphony that they stayed there until death.  From the chest up they had the shape of sparrows but their lower halves were woman.

The mythographers claim that they were small birds with female faces who deceived passers-by, beguiling the ears of those who heard them with pornographic songs. And the song of pleasure has no end that is good, only death.

But the true story is this: there are certain places in the sea, narrowed between hills, which release a high song when the water is compressed into them. When people who sail by hear them they entrust their souls to the water’s swell and they die along with their ships.

The creatures who are called Sirens and Donkey-centaurs in Isaiah are some kind of demons who are foretold for abandoned cities which fall under divine wrath. The Syrians say they are swans. For after swans bathe, they fly from the water and sing a sweet melody in the air. This is why Job says, “I have become the Sirens’ brother, the companion of ostriches. This means that I sing my sufferings just like the ostriches.”

He calls the Sirens strouthoi, but he means what we call ostriches [strouthokamêmlos: “sparrow-camel”]. This is a bird which has the feet and neck of a donkey. There is a saying in the Epirgams “that chatter is sweeter than the Sirens’”. The Sirens were named Thelksiepeia, Peisinoê, and Ligeia. The Island they inhabited was called Anthemousa.”


Σειρῆνας: γυναῖκάς τινας εὐφώνους γεγενῆσθαι μῦθος πρὶν ῾Ελληνικός, αἵ τινες ἐν νησίῳ καθεζόμεναι οὕτως ἔτερπον τοὺς παραπλέοντας διὰ τῆς εὐφωνίας, ὥστε κατέχειν ἐκεῖ μέχρι θανάτου. εἶχον δὲ ἀπὸ μὲν τοῦ θώρακος καὶ ἄνω εἶδος στρουθῶν, τὰ δὲ κάτω γυναικῶν.

οἱ μυθολόγοι Σειρῆνας φασὶ θηλυπρόσωπά τινα ὀρνίθια εἶναι, ἀπατῶντα τοὺς παραπλέοντας, ᾄσμασί τισι πορνικοῖς κηλοῦντα τὰς ἀκοὰς τῶν ἀκροωμένων. καὶ τέλος ἔχει τῆς ἡδονῆς ἡ ᾠδὴ ἕτερον μὲν οὐδὲν χρηστόν, θάνατον δὲ μόνον. ὁ δὲ ἀληθὴς λόγος τοῦτο βούλεται, εἶναι τόπους τινὰς θαλαττίους, ὄρεσί τισιν ἐστενω-μένους, ἐν οἷς θλιβόμενον τὸ ῥεῖθρον λιγυράν τινα φωνὴν ἀποδίδωσιν· ἧς ἐπακούοντες οἱ παραπλέοντες ἐμπιστεύουσι τὰς ἑαυτῶν ψυχὰς τῷ ῥεύματι καὶ αὔτανδροι σὺν ταῖς ναυσὶν ἀπόλλυνται.

αἱ δὲ παρὰ τῷ ᾿Ησαΐᾳ εἰρημέναι Σειρῆνες καὶ ᾿Ονοκένταυροι δαίμονές τινές εἰσιν, οὕτω χρηματιζόμενοι ἐπ’ ἐρημίᾳ πόλεως, ἥτις χόλῳ θεοῦ γίνεται. οἱ δὲ Σύροι τοὺς κύκνους φασὶν εἶναι. καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι λουσάμενοι καὶ ἀναπτάντες ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος καὶ τοῦ ἀέρος ἡδύ τι μέλος ᾄδουσιν. ὁ  οὖν ᾿Ιὼβ λέγει, ἀδελφὸς γέγονα Σειρήνων, ἑταῖρος δὲ στρουθῶν. τουτέστιν ᾄδω τὰς ἐμαυτοῦ συμφοράς, ὥσπερ Σειρῆνες.

στρουθοὺς δὲ λέγει, ὃν ἡμεῖς στρουθοκάμηλον λέγομεν, ὄρνεον μὲν ὄντα, πόδας δὲ καὶ τράχηλον ὄνου κεκτημένον. καὶ ἐν ᾿Επιγράμμασι· καὶ τὸ λάλημα κεῖνο τὸ Σειρήνων γλυκύτερον. ὀνόματα Σειρήνων· Θελξιέπεια, Πεισινόη, Λιγεία· ἡ δὲ νῆσος ἣν κατῴκουν ᾿Ανθεμοῦσα.

Image result for Medieval manuscript Greek Sirens
Mirror of History, a MS from Ghent (J. Paul Getty Museum)

Crazy, Deceptive Women. Or Maybe Birds: The Odyssey Scholia on the Sirens

From Bob Dylan’s Nobel Lecture:

“In a lot of ways, some of these same things have happened to you. You too have had drugs dropped into your wine. You too have shared a bed with the wrong woman. You too have been spellbound by magical voices, sweet voices with strange melodies.”

Schol. V ad Od. 12.39

“Sirens: According to many, the Sirens were the daughters of Akhelôos and Steropê, the daughter of Porthaôn. But according to others, they were daughters of Akhelôos and one of the Muses, Terpsikhorê. When they attained maidenhood, they were hated by Aphrodite and she changed them into birds and moved them to a Turrhenian island called Anthemoussa. They were named Aglaophêmê, Thelksiepeia, Peisinoê, and Ligeia. But according to Homer, there were two of them, for he uses the dual form.”

Σειρῆνας] κατὰ μὲν τοὺς πολλοὺς ᾿Αχελῴου καὶ Στερόπης τῆς Πορθάονος αἱ Σειρῆνες, κατ’ ἐνίους δὲ ᾿Αχελῴου καὶ Τερψιχόρης μιᾶς τῶν Μουσῶν. ἑλόμεναι δὲ παρθενίαν ἐμισήθησαν ὑπὸ ᾿Αφροδίτης καὶ ἔχουσαι πτερὰ ἀπέπτησαν εἰς τὸ Τυρρηνικὸν κλίμα, καὶ νῆσον κατέσχον ᾿Ανθεμοῦσσαν ὀνομαζομένην. ὀνόματα δὲ αὐτῶν ᾿Αγλα-οφήμη, Θελξιέπεια, Πεισινόη καὶ Λίγεια. κατὰ δὲ ῞Ομηρον δύο· Σειρήνοιν γὰρ λέγει. V.

Schol. HQT ad Od. 12.39

“Sirens: According to many, the Sirens were the daughters of Akhelôos and Steropê, the daughter of Porthaôn. But according to others, they were daughters of Akhelôos and one of the Muses, Terpsikhorê. When they attained maidenhood, they were hated by Aphrodite and she changed them into birds and moved them to a Turrenian island called Anthemoussa. They were named Aglaophêmê and Thelksiepeia. People claim that they were enraged when Odysseus escaped and they hurled themselves into the sea. Homer does not mention their lineage; nor does he say they had wings.”

τὰς Σειρῆνας ᾿Αχελῴου καὶ Τερψιχόρης μιᾶς τῶν Μουσῶν, οἱ δὲ Στερόπης τῆς Πορθάονος, ἀγαπησάσας τὴν παρθενίαν ἀπεστύγησεν ᾿Αφροδίτη καὶ ὠρνίθωσεν. αἱ δὲ ἀπέπτησαν εἰς τὴν Τυρρηνίαν περὶ νῆσον ᾿Ανθεμοῦσσαν. ὀνόματα δὲ αὐτῶν ᾿Αγλαοφήμη καὶ Θελξιέπεια. φασὶ δὲ ὡς ᾿Οδυσσέως φυγόντος αὐτὰς ὀργισθεῖσαι καθῆκαν ἑαυτὰς εἰς θάλασσαν. ῞Ομηρος δὲ οὔτε γένος αὐτῶν παρίστησιν οὔτε πτερωτὰς αὐτάς φησιν εἶναι. H.Q.T.

Schol. B ad. Od. 12.39

“The Sirens were either loud-voiced birds on the shore or bewitching and deceptive women; or this is flattery. For they bewitched, deceived, and drove many to death.”

αἱ Σειρῆνες ἢ ὄρνιθες κέλαδοι ἦσαν ἐν λειμῶνι, ἢ γυναῖκες θελκτικαὶ καὶ ἀπατητικαὶ, ἢ αὐτὴ ἡ κολακεία. πολλοὺς γὰρ θέλγει καὶ ἀπατᾷ καὶ ὡσανεὶ θανατοῖ. B.

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“Many who have been my enemy hate me”: Two Fragments from Sophocles on Odysseus

Two Fragments about Odysseus

Fr. 965

“I am called Odysseus for evil deeds correctly:
For many who have been my enemy hate me.”

ὀρθῶς δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς εἰμ’ ἐπώνυμος κακῶν•
πολλοὶ γὰρ ὠδύσαντο δυσμενεῖς ἐμοί

Fr. 860

“I approached the Sirens,
Daughters of Phorkos, singing Hades’ songs”

Σειρῆνας εἰσαφικόμην,
Φόρκου κόρας, θροοῦντε τοὺς ῞Αιδου νόμους

Plato Was a Bad Poet, so He Turned to Philosophy: Aelian, Varia Historia 2.30

“Plato, the son of Ariston, at first pursued poetry and used to write heroic verse. But he soon burned it all because he despised it, since he reckoned that his poetry was far inferior when compared to Homer’s. He then tried tragedy and even completed a tetralogy, and he was about to enter the competition, even to the point of giving the verses to actors. But right before the Dionysia, he went and heard Socrates; and once he was seized by that Siren, he not only withdrew from the competition, but he also gave up the writing of tragedy for good to immerse himself in philosophy.”

Πλάτων ὁ ᾿Αρίστωνος τὰ πρῶτα ἐπὶ ποιητικὴν ὥρμησε, καὶ ἡρωϊκὰ ἔγραφε μέτρα• εἶτα αὐτὰ κατέπρησεν ὑπεριδὼν αὐτῶν, ἐπεὶ τοῖς ῾Ομήρου αὐτὰ ἀντικρίνων ἑώρα κατὰ πολὺ ἡττώμενα. ἐπέθετο οὖν τραγῳδίᾳ, καὶ δὴ καὶ τετραλογίαν εἰργάσατο, καὶ ἔμελλεν ἀγωνιεῖσθαι, δοὺς ἤδη τοῖς ὑποκριταῖς τὰ ποιήματα. πρὸ τῶν Διονυσίων δὲ παρελθὼν ἤκουσε Σωκράτους, καὶ ἅπαξ αἱρεθεὶς ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκείνου σειρῆνος, τοῦ ἀγωνίσματος οὐ μόνον ἀπέστη τότε, ἀλλὰ καὶ τελέως τὸ γράφειν τραγῳδίαν ἀπέρριψε, καὶ ἀπεδύσατο ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν.