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“Ulysses and the Sirens” by Herbert James Draper

Ulysses and the Sirens

“Ulysses and the Sirens” by Herbert James Draper

“Ulysses and the Sirens” by Herbert James Draper depicts an episode from the epic poem Odyssey by Homer in which the voices of Sirens torment Ulysses.

Although there are only two Sirens in Homer’s poem and they stay onshore, this painting shows Ulysses tied to the mast and forcibly attracted to three Sirens’ seductions.

The Sirens were traditionally depicted in ancient Greek art as ugly creatures; however, as with most modern artists, Draper has transferred the Sirens’ seductiveness from their song to a visible form.

The artist has depicted the Sirens as beautiful mermaids who invade Ulysses’ ship. The Sirens are nude, and their tails disappear as they board the ship.

The conflation of Sirens with mermaids and the sexualization of the Sirens is consistent with other artwork of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Draper also painted a reduced replica that is housed at the Leeds Art Gallery.

"Ulysses and the Sirens" by Herbert James Draper

Study of Janet Fletcher for “Ulysses and the Sirens” by Herbert James Draper


Ulysses is the legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey. Ulysses also plays a key role in Homer’s Iliad.

In the Odyssey, Ulysses has to endure ten years of adventures before returning home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. On the way home from Troy, one of the significant incidences is his encounter with the Sirens.

Some post-Homeric authors state that the Sirens were fated to die if someone heard their singing and escaped them and that after Odysseus passed by, they, therefore, flung themselves into the water and perished.


Homer is the presumed author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems that are the foundational works of ancient Greek literature.

The Iliad is set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of Troy by a Greek coalition.

The Odyssey focuses on the ten-year journey home of Odysseus after the fall of Troy. Modern scholars consider these accounts legendary.

Many accounts of Homer’s life have come down to us from classical antiquity, the most widespread being that he was a blind bard.

Academic opinions are split as to whether the works are of a single poet of genius or the result of a process of working and reworking by many contributors, and that “Homer” is a label for an entire tradition.

It is generally accepted that the poems were composed around the late eighth or early seventh century BC.

"Ulysses and the Sirens" by Herbert James Draper

Study for the rower in Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper

“Ulysses and the Sirens” by Herbert James Draper

  • Title:                The Sirens and Ulysses
  • Artist:               Herbert James Draper
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Date:               1909
  • Dimensions:    Height: 177 cm (69.6″); Width: 213.5 cm (84″)
  • Type:               Mythological Paintings
  • Museum:         Ferens Art Gallery and Leeds Art Gallery

Paintings of Herbert James Draper

Herbert James Draper

Herbert James Draper (1863 – 1920) was an English Classicist painter whose career began in the Victorian era and extended through the first two decades of the 20th century.

During his lifetime Draper was quite famous, a well-known portrait painter.

Herbert James Draper

  • Artist:             Herbert James Draper
  • Born:              1863 – London, England
  • Died:              1920 – London, England
  • Nationality:    English
  • Movement:    Classicism
  • Notable Works:

Herbert James Draper, Sirènes

A Virtual Tour of the Art of Everything


“Some things you will think of yourself,…some things God will put into your mind.”
– Homer, The Odyssey


Photo Credit:  Herbert James Draper / Public domain

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