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Sirens are creatures from Greek mythology. They are a mixture of a woman and a bird in appearance, though exactly how the mixture looks differs greatly between accounts. Because sirens are associated with the sea, they are sometimes also depicted as mermaids. The song of a siren is capable of enchanting either humans or men specifically, which is usually used to lure them to their death. Despite being part bird, part human, they are not harpies.
"Siren", as can be expected from a creature from Greek mythology, comes from the Ancient Greek word "Σειρήν" (Seirēn). It is based on the word "σειρα" ("seira"), which means "rope". "Σειρήν" means "entwiner", "binder", and "entangler". The name refers to the fact that a siren's song would draw anyone, or at least men, who heard it to her.
Sirens, while having general traits in common between stories, differ greatly between iterations. Firstly their numbers waver between two and four. In both the Odyssey and the Argonautica, there are two. In most works succeeding the Odyssey, there are three to fulfill the triple deity symbolism, and there's one work containing four sirens. And there are even more name variations (when their names are given) than there are number variations, and that's not even accounting for the name-specific variations. There's the trios of Peisinoe, Aglaope, and Thelxiepeia; of Parthenope, Ligeia, and Leucosia; of Thelxinoe, Molpe, and Aglaophonos; and of Thelxiepeia, Peisinoe, and Ligeia. As quartet, their names are Teles, Raidne, Molpe, and Thelxiope; and as duo, their names are Aglaopheme and Thelxiepeia. Name-specific variations comprise Thelxiepeia/Thelxiope/Thelxinoe, Aglaophonos/Aglaope/Aglaopheme, Pisinoe/Peisinoë/Peisithoe, and Himerope/Parthenope.
In Greek mythology, the sirens were the daughters of the chief river god Achelous and either Terpsichore, Melpomene, Sterope, or Chthon. As this, the sirens were thought of as bird-women because of their singing but despite their marine theme. It were the later Roman writers that made them creatures of the sea, in part by reassigning Phorcys as their father. As birdfolk, sirens were originally depicted as large birds with human heads. Later depictions make them more human in form, namely as female figures with the legs of birds, sometimes with and sometimes without wings. In this form, they are given musical instruments such as lyres and flutes. The 10th-century Byzantine Suda describes them as sparrows from the chest up and below that human, essentially the reverse of their original depiction. As fishfolk, they are thought of as mermaid-looking or having legs that end in flippers or fins.
In any iteration, they live on one or more islands surrounded by rocks and cliffs. The two names commonly given to these islands, by Roman writers, are the Sirenum Scopuli and Anthemusa. The latter name refers to the fact that the sirens are, in a way, the dark counterpart of the Muses. The island is or islands are traditionally located in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Sirens only feature as monstrous creatures born from non-Olympian gods in Greek mythology, but Book V of the Roman Ovid's 8 CE Metamorphoses greatly changes their origin. According to it, the sirens were the companions of Persephone before she was abducted by Hades. Persephone's mother, Demeter, made them birdlike and gave them wings to go look for her daughter and their friend. The later Fabulae changes the gift of wings to a curse to such shape for their failure to protect Persephone. In either version, the sirens' song, traditionally song to lure sailors either for the fun of it or for food, becomes instead a call for Persephone and the influence it has on sailors is just a side-effect they don't register.
The sirens' song is the defining skill of the sirens. It is a beautiful song that lures anyone who hears it to them regardless of what obstacles lie in the way. Sailors who pass by their island will jump in the water and drown, or make it to the island and be smashed against or pierced by the rocks. Those who make it past are either eaten or starve to death in the next few days, still entranced by the song. Because sailors in Ancient Greece were predominantly men, there's little clarity on whether the song affects all humans or only men. The few stories that deal with women and the sirens suggest it's only men who are affected though. And while not originally part of their singing power, many later stories featuring the sirens state that if so much as one man hears their song and lives, they die.
As a result of the fluid treatment sirens have received over the centuries, being anything from bird women to single-fish women to double-fish women to bird-fish women to human women, there exist numerous descendents of the general siren concept that are not necessarily sirens themselves. They do, however, continue the narrative and as such are worthy of mention.
Mother Carey is an entity who on her own is about as fluid as sirens all together, being identified as a witch or fairy depending on the source but occassionally with the implication she's something more demonic. It is thought that Mother Carey developed from Saint Mary in her role as protector of sailors and that her name is an adaption of "mater cara", which means "beloved mother" and occasionally refers to Saint Mary. Mother Carey's fictional existence is limited to a few decennia around 1900 and her origins appear to lie in the 18th century due to the term "Mother Carey's chickens" going back to the 1760s. Storm petrels are known as her chickens and giant petrels as her geese. Because of the habit of storm petrels to seek out ships as shelter to an upcoming storm, they came to be viewed as foretellers of storms and later even causers of storms. Naturally, the same happened to Mother Carey. Storm petrels, along with albatrosses, are also sometimes thought of as the souls of sailors, making Mother Carey a mistress to be considered. An early mention of her is by Charles Kingsley in his 1862 novel The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby. Mother Carey is a multi-faceted fairy who sits on a high throne at the North Pole. Whales go to die in her care, dead sailors in the form of birds work off their debt in her service, and she has the ability not just to create other, but to make others create themselves, which she finds much easier. In 1877, John Gerrard Keulemans portrays her as a standard witch on a broom surrounded by storm petrels. Rudyard Kipling mentions her in Anchor Song (1893) as a representation of the open seas. In Theodore Watts-Dunton's Ode To Mother Carey's Chicken (1897), Mother Carey is a weather or storm witch, who sings to her birds. Arguably the most iconic version of Mother Carey appears in John Masefield's 1902 poem Mother Carey (as told me by the bo'sun), in which she returns to her spot on an iceberg in the north. She's a beautiful appearance, but one who combs her hair with sailors' bones and who causes storms to have the men as meal to enjoy with her husband, Davy Jones. The Pearl and the Pumpkin (1904) is a childrens' book by Paul Clarendon West and William Wallace Denslow in the vein of the Oz series of novels. It turns Mother Carey into a kind fairy once more, whose chickens are other fairies. Davy Jones and the Ancient Mariner are also part of the cast, but they have no connection to Mother Carey other than the marine theme. The 1914 poem Mother Carey by Cicely Fox Smith, lastly, tells of Mother Carey as an entity that calls sailors back to sea and the call is not something they can resist.
The Lorelei is a Rhine spirit based on the iconic Lorelei rock bordering the narrowest part of the river. The name is mainly theorized to mean "murmering rock", but "lurking rock" is a proposed possibility too. The people living near it have a long history of believing the rock to be home to beings of various sort, but the Lorelei, the one supernatural inhabitant known these days, has literary origins. Clemens Brentano published Near Bacharach on the Rhine in 1801.
There are two stories in Greek mythology that prominently feature the sirens, namely Homer's Odyssey, believed to be written in the 8th century BCE, and Apollonius's Argonautica, written in the 3rd century BCE.
In the Odyssey, Odysseus encounters the sirens in the second half of his journey home, after leaving Circe's island permanently. On her advice, all of the sailors had their ears plugged up with beeswax. Odysseus himself was the only exception and had himself tied to the mast instead because he wanted to hear the song. His crew was instructed to not untie him no matter what he'd say. The plan worked, making Odysseus the only man who ever heard the sirens' song and lived.
Inspired by the Odyssey, the Argonautica also contains an encounter with the sirens. In Book 4, Chiron tells the Argonauts to have Orpheus, a famous musician who was part of their crew, play a song of his own to drown out the sirens'. As per the advice, when the ship neared the sirens' habitat, Orpheus grabbed his lyre and played music that was both louder and more beautiful, drowning out the sirens' enchantment.
Neither story notes anything about the fate of the sirens after having been defied, but later stories assert they died as a result.
The Monster High sirens are Melody Carver and her mother Marina, Ms. Siren, and Madison Fear. There's also a Create-A-Monster iteration of a siren. Between the four, Melody and Marina are birdlike, the Create-A-Monster fishlike, and Madison amphibian-like. Ms. Siren's appearance is unknown. Because none of the four known appearances match, it is thus not clear what sirens in Monster High are supposed to look like, though characters resembling the fish-like siren, such as Sirena Von Boo and Finnegan Wake, have since been identified as mermaids (well, a mermaid and a merman).
Though Melody is the franchise's major siren, being the main protagonist of the Monster High book series, her existence is limited to those four books. Because in the books several kinds of monsters are indistinguishable from humans until puberty and Melody's adopted, she did not know she was a siren until the second half of her teens. The only thing of note about her up to that point was that she had a large nose, but after that she started growing feathers among her hair and gained a singing voice that allowed her to control others.
Madison is a well known singer in the Monster High world, whose voice powers come closer to the source creature's than Melody's. Rather than control anyone, Madison can only lure people to her. She uses this power to guide people to safety, both literally and metaphorically. It is unknown what powers Ms. Siren has, but she utilizes her knowledge of voice manipulation to teach Voice Training at Monster High.
- In Ghoulfriends Forever, there is a mention of a historical figure by the name of "Lord Siren", a pun on Lord Byron.