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Paintings › View › Ulysses and the Sirens 1891   
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  bullet  1891 . Oil on canvas
  bullet  National Gallery of Victoria - Victoria, Australia
Actual Size (W x H): 99cm x 201cm [ 39.01" x 79.19" ]
John William Waterhouse: Ulysses and the Sirens - 1891 John William Waterhouse: Ulysses and the Sirens - 1891

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In Greek mythology, the Sirens or Seirenes (Greek Se????a?) were Naiads (sea nymphs) who lived on an island called Sirenum scopuli which was surrounded by cliffs and rocks. Approaching sailors were drawn to them by their enchanting singing, causing them to sail on the cliffs and drown. They were considered the daughters of Achelous (by Terpsichore, Melpomene or Sterope) or Phorcys (Virgil. V. 846; Ovid XIV, 88). Their number is variously reported as between two and five, and their individual names as Thelxiepia/Thelxiope/Thelxinoe, Molpe, Aglaophonos/Aglaope, Pisinoe/Peisinoë, Parthenope, Ligeia, Leucosia, Raidne, and Teles. According to some versions, they were playmates of young Persephone and were changed into the monsters of lore by Demeter for failing to intervene when Persephone was abducted (Ovid V, 551).

The term "siren song" refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad result.

Odysseus escaped the Sirens by having all his sailors plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast. He was curious as to what the Sirens sounded like. When he heard their beautiful song, he ordered the sailors to untie him but they ignored him. When they had passed out of earshot, Odysseus stopped thrashing about and calmed down, and was released (Odyssey XII, 39).

Jason had been warned by Chiron that Orpheus would be necessary in his journey. When Orpheus heard their voices, he drew his lyre and played his music more beautifully than they, drowning out their voices.

It is said that after a ship successfully sailed by the Sirens, they drowned themselves for their failure. Varying traditions associate this event with their encounters with Jason or Odysseus.
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