If the apple is the symbol of temptation, sirens are signs of seduction. For at least three thousand years these enchantresses have reigned supreme on the popular imagination. From the wine-coloured sea of the Homeric tale, sirens have travelled – leaping like dolphins from one genre to another – from story to story, experiencing representational transformations, from orality to writing, from poetry to painting, from cinema to television, from the analogue to the digital. During their endless journey, they have often changed their bodies and their appearance but never lost their name. Homeric fiction called them “seirēnes”; and “sirens” they remain in recent television fiction. What makes them so resistant to the passage of time and cultural change? Does their bewildering charm lie in their body or in their song? Comparing myths and cultures, legends and pseudoscience, music and visual arts, cinema and serials, the author concludes that sirens literally embody an impossible union, in that their body is made of two halves that can be together only in our imaginations. From this standpoint, they are like riddles and metaphors.
Elisabetta Moro teaches Cultural Anthropology at the Suor Orsola Benincasa University in Naples.