Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rethinking Sirens

After fleeing the terror of Cyclops Island, The Odyssey’s Greeks landed on a mysterious island that was ruled by the enchantress Circe. There they experienced trouble after trouble, and Circe turned the crewmen into pigs. The clever Odysseus, however, along with the god Hermes, devised a plan to rescue his men from the enchantment of the sorceress. After gaining freedom for his men, the king of Ithaca learned of another peril that he and his crew must at all cost avoid: the Sirens who inhabited a rocky islet that lay along their intended route. Sailors had been tempted to their doom by the alluring chorus of the Sirens, wrecking their ships upon the huge rocks. Their bones were piled high on the peak of the islet.

Odysseus warned his men to beware of the enchanted song and ordered them to put beeswax in their ears so they wouldn’t be enticed by the sweet harmonies of the Sirens as they sailed quickly past the rocky crags. Since he needed all of his senses in order to captain the ship, Odysseus ordered his men to bind him tightly to the mast so he wouldn’t become enchanted and steer the craft into the treacherous shallows or dive into the turbulent waters. Further, he ordered two of his strongest men, Perimedes and Eurylochus, to guard him closely in case he was able to break his bonds.

Because the sail could not be used in such a narrow pass, the Greeks rowed their vessel along the jagged coast. Without fail, the Sirens began their bewitching ballad. The sailors, their ears stuffed with wax, were immune to the singing of the Sirens, but Odysseus pressed and strained against his bonds. The Sirens sang mystical tunes that entreated the Greek king to think about the green hillsides of Ithaca, the warm embrace of his wife, and his longing for knowledge about the mysteries of the world.

Mad with desire, Odysseus broke the sinews that bound him to the mast and rushed to the edge of the ship. Fortunately, Perimedes, Eurylochus, and the rest of his unaffected crewmates were able to restrain the impassioned king in his crazed attempt to swim to the Sirens. As the ship passed the Sirens, Odysseus was finally able to gaze upon the creatures that had lured him with their silvery sweet voices. To his shock and dismay, the beings that so melodically aroused him into a torrid rush revealed themselves to be hideous beyond human comprehension. Each had the ugly, grasping claws of an osprey, winged bodies, and the heads of young women. They sat aloft a pile of human bones, some with the flesh still hanging off them. The disgust and loathing he felt when he looked upon the Sirens and the sudden realization of what they really were shattered the euphoric spell and freed Odysseus to continue on his long voyage home to Ithaca.

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