One of the most famous works from the early Greek era is Homers The Odyssey. It details the journey home of a war hero, Odysseus. His homecoming entails many adventures, many of them carrying reflective themes. The Sirens are one episode that he must overcome. This episode contains many prevalent themes that are repeated throughout the work. Though the varied episodes differ in terms of characters and settings, most are based on similar patterns of plot and theme. The themes that are most emphasized are forgetfulness, a willingness to risk pain for pleasure, and female temptation.
When comparing the Sirens episode with much of Odysseus other adventures, one can observe an emergence and repetition of these themes. The most obvious comparison that can be drawn between the Sirens episode and most other adventures is the theme of forgetfulness. The same idea is repeated in Odysseus adventures with Calypso, Circe, and most importantly the Lotus-eaters. The Sirens are all knowing, and draw men in with their songs about all that has happened in the world, but all those who stop to listen can never leave.
Fortunately, the Sirens are unable to draw Odysseus in because he has been forewarned by Circe and knows how to resist. “but melt wax of honey and with it stop your companions ears, so none can listen. ” (12. 47-48) Once he hears their song, he forgets about his homeland and wants to be set free so that he can listen to their song. “fastened me with even more lashings and squeezed me tighter. ” (12. 196) Without Circes warning, he would have been drawn into the song and perished. The food of the Lotus-eaters, like the song of the Sirens, causes those who eat it to forget everything they know.
Those who ate the fruit had to be bound to the ship, like Odysseus must be tied to the mast in order to bypass the Sirens. “took these men back weeping, by forceput them aboardtied them there fast” (9. 98-99) There are not only thematic similarities but also plot repetitions between the Sirens and Lotus-eaters episodes. Yet, one main difference is evident. Here Odysseus does not receive advice from anyone, rather he passes the challenge through wit and luck. Though Odysseus managed to avoid being tied into the web of the Sirens and the Lotus-eaters, he loses much time with both Calypso and Circe.
Circe also draws men in with her songs, but it is her herbs, not the voice, that causes forgetfulness and turns them into beasts. “Singing with a sweet voiceinto the mixture malignant drugs, to make them forgetful of their own country. ” (10. 221, 235-236) Once again it is advice, this time from Hermes, that allows Odysseus to save his men. “I will tell you all the malevolent guiles of Circe” (10. 289) The recurrence of helpful stranger, like Circe with the Sirens, is a common plot theme throughout the Odyssey. Though he manages to avoid becoming swine, still he succumbs to Circes charms and resides on the island for a year.
It is only the reminders of his men that bring to his mind the homecoming. “It is time to think about our own country. ” (10. 472) Circe is the only one who manages to draw Odysseus away from his homeland, though in the end, he does leave. When concentrating on the theme of forgetfulness, one notices much similarities, both thematic and plot, between the Sirens episode and others. Though the preoccupation of the Siren scene leans to forgetfulness, another thematic point can be explored, that of Odysseus willingness to endure unneeded pain for pleasure.
The song of the Sirens is extremely beautiful and satisfies Odysseus thirst for knowledge. Unfortunately, that fleeting moment wherein he can listen to their songs also makes him endure much pain. “they sang in sweet utterance, and the heart within me desired to listen. ” (12. 192-193) Not only does his thirst go unsated, for he cannot listen to all they know, but also has to deal with being physically unable to follow his instincts. He begs his men to let him go yet knows that they will not. I signaled my companions to set me freefastened me with even more lashings and squeezed me tighter. ” (12. 193-196) Odysseus chooses this pain, for to him the pleasure of hearing the sirens is worth the pain of having their song snatched from him.
A similar choice is made when he decides to wait for the….. Cyclops and see if he will lavish them with gifts. Though he realizes that this is a huge risk, his greed makes him go for it. “I would encounter a man who was endowed with great strength with no true knowledge of laws and customs. (9. 214-215). Unfortunately, this is a huge mistake and instead of gifts it brings death, yet for Odysseus the choice was the right one, for it is better to experience a painful life than not to live life at all, which would have been the result of not taking the risk. Then for a second time in that same episode, Odysseus risk life for satisfaction. Taunting the Cyclops, “I called out to the Cyclops, taunting him. ” (9. 474) The reason for this is purely egotistical, as Odysseus just wants the Cyclops to know it was he who outwitted him.
The pattern is repeated in the Phaiakian episode, wherein Odysseus decides to listen to Demodokos sing of the fall of Troy. “sing us the wooden horse. ” (8. 492-493) While in the prior examples, the risk was a deadly one, with Demodokos the pain is internal. Odysseus cries to hear the song, but the pain of remembering is worth hearing the beauty. This is quite similar to the Sirens episode, in that Odysseus chooses to hear the song that he knows will cause him pain. The difference is that in the Sirens episode, listening to the song was a risk, for it could have caused his death.
Odysseus risk-taking character is intricately woven through almost every scene. Intertwined with the theme of pain and pleasure are the representations of women as temptresses. Throughout most of the work, women are portrayed as cunning or deceitful. For one, the Sirens are women who tempt men into certain death. They are very deceptive, as even to Odysseys they say that he will listen to them and then be able to leave, “until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips; then goes on” (12. 187-189), though it is known that this is a lie.
If Odysseus had not followed Circes instructions, his temptation for knowledge and their deception would have made him perish. Similarly, Circe lures men in with hospitality and singing, then uses her magic to change them to swine. Her sweet singing, ” Circe inside singing with a sweet voice. ” (10. 221), like that of the Sirens, belies her deceptive nature. Her innocence and hospitable nature give off the impression of goodness, but evil dwells within her heart. Unlike the Sirens, Circe tempts Odysseus with a sexual relationship, one that he cannot resist. Even Odysseus wife, Penelope, is shown as crafty.
First off by unwinding her weaving to hold off suitors, but most importantly when she outwits Odysseus. Penelope needs to prove to herself that this is Odysseus, so she claims that their bed, which is made from the trunk of a tree, has been moved. “So she spoke to her husband, trying him outshe recognized the clear proofs Odysseus had given. ” (23. 181, 206) Unlike the above-mentioned episodes, the portrayal of Penelope in the scene is beneficial, though she is still seen as deceptive. Though each female has different characters and appearances, almost all are drawn as deceptive temptresses.
Much of the obstacles that Odysseus has to face are due to the deceptive guiles of the female characters. Three themes are derived from the Sirens episode, those of forgetfulness, risk of pain for pleasure and the deceptive female. Each theme is repeated throughout the adventures, and all tie in with one another. Many of the episodes have entwined within them the theme most prevalent in the sirens, that of forgetfulness. From Lotus-eaters to Calypso, each has within it the idea of memory loss. Even so, Odysseus manages to overcome these obstacles, sometimes with help, and stay focused on his homecoming.
Yet much of the episodes are purely his fault, for if he had not tried to glean as much pleasure from life and taken so many risks, then they would not have occurred. These are episodes best represented by Polyphemos the Cyclops. The final theme that ties in the Siren episode with that of all others is the deceptive nature of women. Each woman in the work uses craft and trickery to get her way. The Sirens episode has many comparisons to episodes preceding and following it, and contains within it the most prevalent themes of the play, changing only the setting and character descriptions.