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Sirenes.

Sirens

Absque alis volucres, & crucibus [=cruribus] absque puellas,
Rostro absque & pisces, qui tamen ore canant,
Quis putet esse ullos? iungi haec natura negavit.
Sirenes fieri sed potuisse docent.[1]
Illicitum est mulier, quae in piscem desinit atrum,[2]
Plurima qud secum monstra libido vehit.
Aspectu, verbis, animi candore, trahuntur,
Parthenope, Ligia, Leucosiaque[3] viri.
Has musae explumant,[4] has atque illudit Ulysses.[5]
Scilicet est doctis cum meretrice nihil.

Birds without wings, girls without legs, fish without snouts, yet singing with their mouths - who would think such creatures exist? Nature said such things could not be combined, but the Sirens show that it could happen. That which is forbidden is a woman, and she ends in a black fish, because lust brings many monstrous things in its train. By looks, by words, by radiant charm, men are drawn on, by Parthenope, by Ligeia and by Leucosia. These the Muses strip of their feathers, these Ulysses also dupes. The wise of course have no truck with a whore.

Notes:

1. The Sirens, creatures that lured passing sailors to destruction with their entrancing song, are described in Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.552ff. as having the faces of girls and the wings and feet of birds. The fish-tail seems to be added from the description of Scylla, Vergil, Aeneid, 3.427. The ‘woman ending in a black fish’ echoes Horace, Ars Poetica, ‘ut...atrum desinat in piscem mulier’, indicating an incongruous juxtaposition.

2. Variant reading, Illicium est, ‘woman is an enticement’.

3. Various names for the Sirens are recorded. The ones given here mean ‘Maidenface’, ‘Sweet sounding’, ‘Bright’. The Sirens represent snares and temptation.

4. The Sirens were defeated in a contest with the Muses and stripped of their wings. See Pausanias, Periegesis, 9.34.2. The Muses represent learning.

5. See Homer, Odyssey, 12.39ff. and 165ff. for Ulysses’ escape from the Sirens. After this the Sirens killed themselves. Ulysses becomes the type of the wise man who escapes temptation through self-control.


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