Friday, 1 August 2008


This image is of a mosaic we took in the Bardo Museum, Tunis last year. The image shows a ship forced to come close to land due to a storm. It depicts a scene from Homer's Odyssey where Odysseus sails past an island with sirens. Yet he is tied to the mast to avoid the temptation of their magical songs. In Greek Mythology, the Sirens (Greek singular: Σειρήν Seirḗn; Greek plural: Σειρῆνες Seirênes) were three dangerous bird-women, portrayed as seductresses, who lived on an island called Sirenum scopuli. Seamen who sailed near were decoyed by the Sirens' enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast. Although they lured mariners, the sirens were not sea deities. Sirens, like harpies, partake of women and of birds, in various ways. In early Greek art sirens were represented as birds with large women's heads, bird feathers and scaly feet. Later, they were represented as female figures with the legs of birds, with or without wings playing a variety of musical instruments, especially harps. The tenth century Byzantine encyclopedia Suda says that from their chests up Sirens had the form of sparrows, below they were women, or, alternatively, that they were little birds with women's faces. Birds were chosen because of their characteristic, beautiful voices.

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