The Sirens by Auguste Rodin
“The Sirens” modelled by Auguste Rodin, depicts sea nymphs from Greek mythology who lured sailors to their destruction through their enchanting song. In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous creatures, who lured sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. The Sirens were the companions of young Persephone, and they were given wings by Demeter to search for Persephone when she was abducted. After failing to find Persephone, Demeter cursed the Sirens for failing to intervene in the abduction of Persephone.
The most famous Sirens’ literary reference is in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus was curious to hear the Sirens sing and on the advice of Circe, he had all of his sailors plug their ears with beeswax. He ordered his men to tie him to the mast without the earplugs and to leave him tied tightly to the mast, no matter how much he would beg. When Odysseus heard their beautiful song, he ordered the sailors to untie him, but they bound him tighter. When they had passed out of earshot, Odysseus was released. Post-Homeric authors state that the Sirens were fated to die if someone heard their singing and escaped them. Thus after Odysseus passed by, they flung themselves into the water and perished.
Sirens in Greek myth combine women and birds in various ways. Birds were chosen because of their beautiful songs. In early Greek art, Sirens were represented as birds with a women’s head. Later, they were portrayed as female figures with the legs of birds, with or without wings, playing a variety of musical instruments, especially harps. Lather in Classical Greek and Hellenistic Art, Sirens were sometimes depicted as beautiful women, whose bodies, not only their voices, are seductive. This seductive image is the approach that Rodin has taken in this sculpture of his imagined Sirens.
Like many other works by Rodin associated with water, the fluid shapes suggest a smooth sensuality, which in “The Sirens” stands in strong contrast to the women’s malicious behaviour. Rodin conceived of “The Sirens” in 1887, when he worked to create a definitive plaster, which was used as the basis for many of bronze casts and studio marble versions. He then miniaturised them, and placed them in his aesthetic prison, “The Gates of Hell.” These figures can be seen halfway up the left panel of The Gates of Hell. As a stand-alone sculpture, Rodin’s Sirens continue to lure us today with their smooth wave-like bodies and silent song.
Demeter and Persephone
In the ancient Greek mythology, was the goddess of the harvest and agriculture, she presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Zeus and Demeter and the gods Ares, Hermes and Apollo had wooed Persephone, but Demeter rejected all their gifts and hid her daughter away from the company of the Olympian gods. Zeus, however, permitted Hades, who was in love with the beautiful Persephone, to abduct her as her mother Demeter was not likely to allow her daughter to go down to Hades. Demeter was distraught at the loss of her daughter and searched everywhere for her.
As Demeter became inconsolably preoccupied with her loss and her grief, the seasons failed, living things stopped growing and began to die. Faced with extinction on earth, Zeus, the king of all the gods, sent his messenger, Hermes, to the underworld to bring Persephone back to Demeter. Hades agreed to release her if she had not eaten anything while in Hades, unfortunately, Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds. This indiscretion condemned Persephone to Hades and the underworld for certain months every year.
Thus every Spring, Demeter, with her daughter’s return, would make sure the flowers bloomed, and crops grew, and the fields were green. Every Winter, when Persephone returned to the underworld, Demeter would ignore the plants and the flowers and let them die.
Auguste Rodin is generally considered the father of modern sculpture; he possessed a unique ability to model a complex and deeply pocketed surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were criticised during his lifetime. Rodin’s most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, he modelled the human body with realism and with individual character and physicality. By 1900, he was a world-renowned artist and remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the arts community.
Did you know?
- The etymology of the ” word Sirens” is contested. A popular view is that it is connected the Greek names for “rope or cord” and “to tie”, resulting in the meaning of “entangled” through song. This meaning is reinforced by the famous scene in the Odysseus where Ulysses is bound to the mast of his ship, to resist the Sirens songs.
- Originally, Sirens were shown to be male or female, however, by the fifth century BC, the male Siren disappeared from Greek art.
- Why were the Ancient Greek Gods so complicated and cruel?
- Greek mythology reflected a world that was indifferent and cruel toward human beings. The brutality of the ancient world led the Greeks to imagine that whatever deity governed the lives of men and woman was sublimely unconcerned with individual human welfare, with little rhyme or reason for natural disasters and illness.
- In other ancient religions such as Hinduism, many Gods are also imperfect.
- Is this a key reason the Abrahamic traditions which supplanted Greek and Roman mythology and gods; they presented a deity who cared about humanity and was more appealing by comparison to those indifferent ancient gods?
- Title: The Sirens
- Year: Modelled in clay 1887; cast in bronze 1925
- Place of Origin: France
- Material: Bronze Casting
- Dimensions: 17 3/4 x 7 1/4 x 10 1/2 inches (45.1 x 18.4 x 26.7 cm)
- Museum: Rodin Museum, Philadelphia
- Name: François-Auguste-René Rodin
- Born: 1840 – Paris, France
- Died: 1917 (aged 77) – Meudon, France
- Nationality: French
- Notable work
“I invent nothing, I rediscover.”
– Auguste Rodin
Photo Credit: GM