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Sirenes.

Sirens

IIII.

Absque alis volucres, & cruribus absque puellas,
Rostro absque & pisces, qui tamen ore canant,
Quis putet esse ullos? iungi haec natura negavit
Sirenes, fieri sed potuisse docent.[1]
Illicium est mulier, quae in piscem desinit atrum,[2]
Plurima qụd 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. Woman is an enticement, 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, Illicitum est, ‘That which is forbidden’.

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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    Link to an image of this page  Link to an image of this page  [m7v p190]

    In pudoris statuam.

    A statue of Modesty

    III.

    Penelope desponsa sequi cupiebat Ulyssem,
    Ni secum Icarius mallet habere pater.[1]
    Ille Ithacam, hic offert Spartem manet anxia virgo,
    Hinc pater, inde viri mutuus urget amor.
    Ergo sedens velat vultus, obnubit ocellos:
    Ista verecundi signa pudoris erant.
    Queis sibi praelatum Icarius cognovit Ulyssem,
    Hocque pudori aram schemate constituit.[2]

    When Penelope was betrothed, she wished to go with Ulysses, except that her father Icarius would have preferred to keep her with him. Ulysses offers Ithaca, her father Sparta. The girl is distressed: on opposite sides her father and the mutual love between her and her man make their claims on her. So she sits and covers her face, veils her eyes - those were the signs of seemly modesty. By them Icarius knew that Ulysses was preferred to himself, and he set up an altar to Modesty in this form.

    Notes:

    1.  Some editions give a variant reading, Ni secus Icarius ..., ‘except that ... Icarius would have preferred to have it otherwise’.

    2.  See Pausanias, Periegesis, 3.20.10, for this statue and the story behind it.


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