FFF Mythology Manual: Siren

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FFFMM - Siren: Seductive Song

The Sirens are amongst Greek mythology's most characteristic monsters. Usually envisioned as half-bird, half-woman, Sirens lure distracted sailors with sweet music causing them to ruin their ships on the rocks. They embody the treacherous zone where sea meets land and signify anxieties surrounding temptation.

In the Final Fantasy franchise the recurring character known as ‘Siren' is sometimes friend, sometimes foe. As a musician capable of silencing her prey, Siren is typically characterised by Square Enix as a humanoid with varying degrees of feather coverage. As we shall see, the particular uses harmonise with the source myths. So strap yourselves to your seats and soak in the knowledge of the Sirens.


Malicious Melodies: Siren’s Mythical Origins

The Sirens appear earliest in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey (traditionally dated between the 10th-7th Centuries BC), where they sit in their meadow surrounded by the piling bones of former prey calling out for new victims. None who hear their song ever return home. Following the witch Circe’s astute advice, Odysseus plugged his crewmen's ears with beeswax and had them fasten him tightly to the mast of his ship so that he could safely enjoy the honey-sweet words of the Sirens. In their song the fiends offered Odysseus their knowledge about the Trojan War and all earthly matters. When Odysseus begged to stay and listen to more, his crewmen, as agreed, increased the bonds tightening Odysseus to the mast. Evading the pull of the Sirens, they sailed past safely (Homer, Odyssey:12.38-55, 153-200). The precise etymology of the name Siren (Seiren in Greek) is uncertain, but it may relate to the verb seirao (binding) thus Sirens could mean ‘the binding ones’. This etymology works twofold in suggesting their captivating performances whilst also relating literally to Odysseus’ method of surviving their seductive song. These core elements of the story found in Homer remained relatively unchanged, but invited embellishments to become full-fledged.


‘Ulysses and the Sirens’ by John William Waterhouse (1891). Held at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Wily Odysseus wasn’t the only Greek hero to successfully avoid these feathered fiends. When Jason sailed past them, his Argonauts attempted a completely different tactic. One Argonaut, the hero-bard musician Orpheus, played his lyre louder to successfully drown out the Siren song (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica:4.891–919; Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library:1.135; Seneca, Medea:355-360).

Another tradition about the Sirens, not explicit in Homer, is the Sirens’ behaviour of throwing themselves from their rocks in suicidal tantrums whenever their prey escape their clutches (Lycophron, Alexandra:712-737; Hyginus, Fabulae:141). While this element appears in later literature, some earlier art might corroborate the idea.


Is this a sad, defeated Siren plummeting to her death?
This is a common interpretation of the central Siren's unorthodox behaviour depicted on this Athenian stamnos
(approximately 480-470 BC) from Vulci, Italy. Held at the
British Museum.

Flocking Together: A Creative Family

As with many genealogies in Greek mythology, the family of the Sirens varies from poet to poet. Euripides names them daughters of Earth (Euripides, Helen: 167), and Sophocles allegedly named their father the primordial sea god Phorcys (Plutarch, Symposiacs:9.14.6), but more often they are attested as the daughters of the river Achelous with one of the Muses: variably Terpsichore, Melpomene, Calliope or Sterope (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library:1.3.4, 1.7.10, Epitome:7.18; Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica:4.892; Lycophron, Alexandra:712-713; Hyginus, Fabulae:141; Nonnus, Dionysiaca:13.313ff). A frequent method of expressing close associations between abstract concepts in Greek mythology was to secure familial connections. Thus the Sirens' heritage signals their qualities of musical creativity in proximity to water.

In Greek mythology there is usually a plurality of Sirens, although their precise numbers typically range between two to five depending on the preferences of individual poets. It is therefore curious that in Final Fantasy the Siren is predominantly a single entity which is unnamed and thus representative of all Sirens collectively. Final Fantasy’s anonymous Siren echoes Homer’s Odyssey where no names were provided. Other accounts of the Sirens in myth (though without consensus) sometimes grant them personal names appropriate to their lifestyle.

Recurring attributed names include:


These names don’t often appear in Final Fantasy. There are, however, noteworthy exceptions. While Square Enix doesn’t go out of its way to explicitly label their Siren origins, Final Fantasy does represent Ligeia, Leucosia, Teles and Raidne in Final Fantasy XI as bird-like humanoids. Here, the Sirens are associated with the Harpy family of monsters (an entirely separate monster but one with visual similarities with Sirens). Ligeia, Teles, Leucosia and Aglaope also appear in Final Fantasy XIV, this time recycling this game’s Siren’s character model through varied palette swaps.



The named Sirens of Final Fantasy XI.


Left: Ligeia in Final Fantasy XIV. That she is fought during the Bard job quest ‘Ballad of Oblivion’ sings to the same tune as the myths.
Perhaps the player channels their inner-Orpheus during this moment.
Right: Final Fantasy XIV’s Aglaope in the dreamlike fairy zone has much in common with Homer’s meadow-dwelling Sirens.

Parthenope is also represented, though her Siren attributes are obscured. In Final Fantasy V Square Enix repurposes Lamia’s sprite in order to create the Siren Parthenope in the English translation, yet in doing so they turn her into a seductive serpentine monster with no obvious Siren design elements. This is somewhat perplexing as the Siren sprite already existed within the game and would have been easy to repurpose. Final Fantasy XIV’s version of Parthenope follows Final Fantasy V’s lead, though this time the bound hell-demon is grotesque. One explanation might uncoil the mystery. The sprite used for Parthenope in Final Fantasy V is also repurposed for Medusa, and the gorgonian elements are strong with this design. In Modern Greek, mermaids are referred to either as Sirens or gorgons (gorgona) and thus the three species are often conflated.


Top left: Final Fantasy V’s Parthenope. This monster’s Japanese rendering is Komusa Bera,
and some speculate that this might relate to the Russian songstress Vera Komissarzhevskaya (1864-1910).
While appropriate for a ‘Siren’ of a different age, it seems rather obscure and does not help in explaining
the snake-like form of the creature.
Main image: Final Fantasy XIV’s Parthenope.

Birdsong: Siren the Performer

As seen, Final Fantasy's Siren is usually a solo act. Special emphasis is placed on her enchanting voice; her signature move is sometimes rendered as Lunatic Voice or Silent Voice. The former combines the tempting lure of Siren’s voice with the maddening effects attributed to the moon, whereas the latter could be considered a rather incongruous oxymoron (perhaps more in tune with Franz Kafka’s The Silence of the Sirens where the Sirens’ silence was deadlier than their song).

The moves’ potential effects vary with each game but consistently inflict the Silence status effect, rendering Siren's enemies incapable of using any magic. In effect they are struck dumb and unable to ‘speak’ and cast spells. While Odysseus plugged the ears of his sailors to save them from the Sirens, Final Fantasy flips the allusion so that, rather than the silence being the tactic to avoid her, the Siren’s voice itself inflicts the silencing.

This focus is appropriate since the principal weapons in the arsenal of the mythical Sirens were their voices; instruments were of secondary value for achieving their aims. That said, in antiquity Sirens were often presented wielding stringed instruments, flutes and sometimes other instruments. Such instrumental accompaniment might functionally have begun as a representational motif to visually (thus silently) suggest ‘music’ rather than being the source of their power.


The Sirens pester Odysseus with instruments (a tambourine and a lyre) on a red-figure bell krater
from Paestum/Poseidonia, 4th Century BC, held at
Antikensammlung Berlin.
Although Final Fantasy’s Siren’s emphasis is also on her voice in the naming of her signature attack, visually she is predominantly represented holding a harp. While in World of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy XIV she audibly and visibly sings at same time as playing her instrument, in Final Fantasy VIII’s Silent Voice we don’t actually hear a perceptible vocal sound. Instead, as she plays, a golden aura flows from her harp and washes over her enemies.


Left: World of Final Fantasy’s tuneful Siren.
Right: Final Fantasy VIII’s
Siren’s musical magic.
As a musical performer, Siren steals the spotlight in Final Fantasy XIII at the Pompa Sancta parade at Nautilus Park. Here, in a flashy Disneyland-esque display, a holographic representation of Siren plays her giant harp atop a pool of water. As water spirits dance in the pool, Siren launches into the night sky, her harp doubling as her ship and stage. There is no singing here. Siren’s fal’Cie (non-humanoid, abstract form) is a giant harp, making her instrument the most embodied aspect of her identity, above her (silent) voice. As in antiquity, the instruments of Sirens are the clearest way of visually representing music to the observer despite the voice of the Siren being much more important narratively.


The fal’Cie shrine of Siren, located in the seaside island town
of Bodhum: an appropriate sacred space for the Sirens.


Taking Wing: Birdlike Sirens

Considering that on average women possess a higher vocal pitch than men, it is not surprising that women have been related with singing birds through Sirens. This association goes beyond the contemporary (sometimes derogative) common slang for a young woman. Birds were not just nest-makers in the ancient world, they were also mantic creatures important for divination. While Homer himself does not actually describe the physical appearance of the Sirens, with the prophetic knowledge in the contents of their song it is unsurprising that Greek art and later poets landed commonly on bird-human hybrids for this charming creature.

The degree of ornithine features visible in depictions of the Sirens varied in antiquity. In the earliest depictions the Sirens are entirely birds apart from human heads. Over time they became split more evenly with the entire body of a bird, but where the head of the bird should be the naked torso, arms and head of a woman are awkwardly positioned (similar to the positioning of the human part of a centaur).


Left: A stern Siren from a Campanian red-figure lekythos, 4th Century BC, held at the British Museum.
Right: A Siren with an awkwardly rendered human torso seen on an Apulian red-figure loutrophoros,
4th Century BC, held at the
Getty Museum.

Final Fantasy’s Siren is usually presented as almost entirely humanoid, aside from feathery appendages or full wings sticking out from various parts. The precise positioning of this eccentric plumage is different in each representation, ranging from head-wings to feathers fashioned into garments. There are ancient precedents to Square Enix’s approach, since by the 5th-4th Centuries BC Sirens were increasingly presented with emphasised humanlike qualities, some eventually imagining them as human musicians apart from bird legs and wings. This more relatable depiction is an important distinction; it is this which Square Enix more often draws inspiration from for Final Fantasy where feathers are used more as decoration than as an integral part of the actual morphology of the creature.


A Roman mosaic depicting humanoid Sirens with instruments attempting to annoy Odysseus’ party.
Approximately AD 100, held at
Bardo National Museum, Tunis.

All-Revealing: Tempestuous Temptresses

One of the enduring legacies of the Sirens is their reputation as temptresses who lure hapless sailors to their deaths. The idea of being charmed by a Siren is today often tied into enchantments of the heart, adding a sexual element to them.

In Homer, however, the temptation threatening Odysseus had more to do with the mind than it did the flesh. It was the knowledge within the contents of the song which lured people to their deaths rather than the bodies of the singers themselves. The Sirens promised to tell Odysseus exactly what he sought: knowledge of all that happened during the Trojan War from which he was attempting to return. This song was no idle chirping: it was catered to its victims’ private longings. They offered omniscience and partaking in such knowledge told by prophetic bird-bards was the real pull.

As this is how the Sirens are first presented in Homer, it is striking how Square Enix gives similar treatment to the Siren’s first appearance in the Final Fantasy franchise (Final Fantasy V). Here, as a boss rather than a summon, Siren taunts the player party with shades from their past: Reina/Lenna and Faris see their father, King Tycoon; Bartz sees his mother, Stella; Galuf sees his granddaughter, Krile. The Siren possesses knowledge of the heroes’ histories and desires and creates phantoms out of them in order to entrap them. Again, the Siren caters for her victims, and it is her knowledge rather than her sexuality which nearly destroys the party. Galuf, whose mind is ‘plugged’ by amnesia is the only hero to avoid succumbing to the fiend’s efforts. Her appearance plays no role in this rendition, just as with the Homeric Sirens.


While unmusical, Final Fantasy V's Siren knows which strings to pull to ensnare her victims.

Most subsequent representations of Siren in Final Fantasy strip her and have her near-naked. Final Fantasy VI (Siren’s earliest appearance as a summon rather than a boss) presents her as an attractive young woman, barely clothed and holding a harp. Her figure is partially draped as if ‘caught’ in the private sphere; a voyeuristic behind shot very familiar in Western art.


Interestingly, the nudity of Final Fantasy’s Siren created somewhat of a stir mirroring some of the ancient cult figures of Aphrodite who were depicted nude. The infamous cult statue of Aphrodite at Knidos (sculpted by Praxiteles in approximately 360 BC) was entirely nude, placed in an open, circular temple so that visitors could admire her assets from all angles. This statue was allegedly controversial, either due to the nudity itself (though this was unlikely to have truly been the first female nude) or Praxiteles’ blasphemous use of his hetaira/courtesan Phryne as his model for the goddess (Pliny, Natural Histories:36.4.20-1; Lucian, Erotes:11-17; Athenaeus, Deipnosophists:13.59). It appears to have fed the Western appetite for female nudes, of which Final Fantasy VI’s Siren partakes.


While Praxiteles’ original statue is lost, it inspired many Roman copies and derivative forms.
The Aphrodite Kallipygos (‘Aphrodite of the beautiful buttocks’) is a close resemblance to Final Fantasy VI’s Siren.
Held in
Naples National Archaeological Museum.

To avoid causing offence, Final Fantasy VI’s Siren was heavily censored for her North American SNES release, with subsequent releases censoring her less extremely (but still obscuring her bottom). As Odysseus plugged the ears of his oarsmen to survive the Sirens’ song, the development team at Square Enix cared to cover Siren’s derriere in order to protect Western audiences from drowning in their desires…


Butt naked: the various states of Final Fantasy VI's Siren's censorship designed to prevent the fluttering of hearts.
From left: Original, Game Boy Advance, Mobile/Steam, North American SNES.


While it seemed that this concern over censorship had been cast aside when Siren resurfaced in Final Fantasy VIII as a completely naked woman, censorship recently became a relevant talking point again with 2019's Final Fantasy VIII Remaster; a vocal minority were outraged by the concealment of Siren’s golden pubic hair with feathery hip-wings.


Did Siren sport special pelvic feathers, or golden pubic hair befitting Aphrodite herself?
All speculation has been silenced by the
Remaster.

Nevertheless, in both cases (as with several uses of the Siren in Final Fantasy) it remains clear that it is not just Siren’s beautiful voice which attracts her foes; her sexuality is also important ammunition in her arsenal.

With Final Fantasy VIII’s Siren’s nudity and head-wings, one suspects she might have inherited attributes from Sirene from the Devilman franchise. In this popular manga and anime from the 1970s, Sirene is a villainous demoness and a lover of Amon (the demon which merges with the main character to create the eponymous Devilman). Square Enix have toned down the nudity to avoid offensive nipples, but her design is very similar.


Sirene in Devilman. Stylistically, Final Fantasy’s Siren often takes the same approach.


Final Fantasy XIII's rendition of Siren moved away from this trope; instead she wears a ball gown. Her feathers still look like wings on her head but they double as a lavish headdress for her performance costume during the Pompa Sancta parade. Just as Homer’s Sirens offer Odysseus their knowledge of the Trojan War, this Siren participates in telling the tale of the War of Transgression between Pulse and Cocoon (albeit a censored version of events endorsed by Cocoon). The audience is drawn into accepting the veracity of this account and into fearing and hating Gran Pulse.


Fake Muse. Final Fantasy XIII’s Siren helps to disseminate misinformation
for Cocoon's Sanctum which bedazzles the masses.


A midway representation can be found in Final Fantasy XIV’s rendition, where the Siren’s feathers are fashioned to look like the tails and sleeves of a coat, but with some emphasis on her bosom. Again, this befits the context, in this case of the 18th century pirate vibes of Limsa Lominsa and the La Noscea region.


Final Fantasy XIV’s Siren. If the historical pirate Anne Bonny (thought to be 1697-1782)
had been raised by seagulls she may have dressed like this dangerous diva.
Lower right: Illustration of Anne Bonny from 'Captain Johnson's'
General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates (1724).

Siren is also less revealing in World of Final Fantasy with even more clothes and feathers. A sexually seductive Siren would probably be out of sorts with the cutesy graphics of this visually child-friendly game.


While Sirens were sometimes visually presented as nude in antiquity, sexual temptations are not explicit in the earliest myths relating to them. This angle would become more pronounced in medieval Christian interpretations of Sirens as allegories for the temptations of women. By shedding the feathers and clothing of the Sirens, Final Fantasy might unintentionally re-enact another myth associated with them. After losing a singing competition with the Muses, the disgraced bird-bards had their feathers plucked (Pausanias, Description of Greece:9.34.3). Denuded, these Sirens begin to resemble those of Final Fantasy.


Rip Battle: The Muses pick the feathers from the Sirens after defeating them in a musical contest.
Detail from a Roman sarcophagus from the 3rd Century AD.
Held in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Siren-mermaids: Fins or Wings?

Being nubile women with minimal clothing, the prevalent Final Fantasy image of the Siren is a far cry from the bird-like monsters more common in myth, and in this quality steers stylistically closer to mermaids in popular imagination. While the Sirens on the one hand are terrestrial creatures but found near the sea, and the mermaids on the other hand are bound ocean-dwellers, their point of contact with mortal men is at the same spot: the surface where the two worlds meet.

Mermaids might be regarded as a conceptual merger of Sirens with Nereids and Oceanids (sea nymphs in Greek mythology), and mermaids have long been interchangeable with Sirens. The gradual shift towards depicting the Sirens as fish-tailed women became increasingly prominent from medieval times onwards. In several modern languages the word for mermaid remains ‘siren’.


A fishy looking Siren on Harley Manuscript 3244 (f. 55r) held at the British Library.


A mermaid-like depiction of the Sirens threatening Odysseus and his crew.
Herbert James Draper's 'Ulysses and the Sirens', 1909.



This union between Sirens and mermaids has entered into taxonomy. Manatees and dugongs are often said to have been mistaken for mermaids by sailors. Christopher Columbus reported seeing three Sirens/mermaids near Haiti (Voyages of Columbus:218). These herbivorous marine mammals drift in swamps, shallow coastlines and estuaries: similar marginal environments to the Sirens of myth. Their scientific order name, Sirenia, acknowledges this.



Beautiful, seductive and with the heavenly voice of an angel.
These qualities have been long admired in the ‘sea cow’, manatee or dugong… By drunken sailors.
Image credit:
Ahodges7

Similarly, the Final Fantasy franchise sometimes marries the two mythical species. In Final Fantasy Dimensions Sirens are depicted visually as mermaids located at the Pirate Hideout. Mermaids themselves are used infrequently but still surface occasionally, first appearing in the original Final Fantasy as an aquatic humanoid race. Here they live in the Sunken Shrine and are tormented by the monstrous Kraken who is after their Water Crystal. Only by defeating Kraken and restoring the crystal can the Warriors of Light prevent the mermaids from dissolving into seafoam (a fate resembling that of the titular ‘Little Mermaid’ in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale). However, this is perhaps the most extensive use of mermaids in the plot of a Final Fantasy game as other allusions tend to be as random encounter enemies.


Mermaids as they appear in Final Fantasy III (Nintendo DS remake).


The interchangeable nature of Sirens and mermaids is particularly strong at the Sirensong Sea in Final Fantasy XIV. Here, the spirit luring sailors to their deaths at a ship graveyard is not Siren, as the name might suggest, but Lorelei. Popularised in Clemens Brentano’s ballad Zu Bacharach am Rheine (1801) and Heinrich Heine’s poem Die Lorelei (1824), Lorelei is a sorceress popularly imagined as a Siren-mermaid who floundered men sailing on the Rhine. The name of the location Sirensong Sea coupled with a ‘mermaid’ boss continues this tradition of conflation.


Sharing a similar character model to other water spirits (such as Undine),
Lorelei’s customised
appearance vaguely resembles the sea slug Glaucus atlanticus.
While not a traditional mermaid design, it undoubtedly transmits nautical characteristics.


A model of a Siren-mermaid is used as the figurehead adorning the bowsprit of the Prima Vista, the airship of the Tantalus Theatre Troupe in Final Fantasy IX. This is rather reminiscent of figureheads of 18th Century ships which would sometimes display Sirens and mermaids. If regarded as a Siren it is also appropriate that a mischievous daughter of the Muses (patrons of the arts) should be strapped to the front of a ship filled with thieves and actors, themselves intent on performing a ‘bird play’ (‘I Want to be your Canary') in order to lure, trap and kidnap the Alexandrian Princess Garnet and whisk her off across a sea of mist.


Artwork of the Prima Vista figurehead, Final Fantasy IX, representing a solid example of
combining the attributes of the bird-winged Sirens with the fish-tailed mermaids.

Well-perched: The Geography of Siren

With the Odyssey’s status as a seafaring adventure, whether the Sirens were represented as mermaids or as bird-human hybrids, they have forever been tied to nautical lore. Although the Sirens were not strictly imagined as seabirds, their abode was within earshot of the coast.

In Homer, the Sirens are described as living in a flowery meadow somewhere between the mythical island of Aeaea and the rock of Scylla, but usually the Sirens are depicted perched on a rocky outcrop in art and later literature (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica:4.892-4; Virgil, Aeneid:5.864).

Ancient commentators had a vague idea about the placement of the Sirens that Odysseus encountered. Tradition situated them somewhere in the Gulf of Naples or in the Tyrrhenian Sea (Italy). More specifically, they have been imagined as perching on rocky islands situated between Sorrento and Capri. Indeed, the town Sorrento supposedly earned its name through its association with the Sirens and there was a temple to the Sirens nearby (Strabo, Geography:5.4.8; Pseudo-Aristotle, On Marvellous Things Heard:103). The tomb of Parthenope was believed to be near Naples and this Siren enjoyed a particular localised cultural significance (Strabo, Geography:5.4.7; Pliny the Elder, Natural History:3.61; Virgil, Georgics:4.563; Italicus, Punic War:12.33).


The Fountain of the Spinacorona: a Renaissance-era depiction of the Siren Parthenope at Naples.
Water flows from her breasts to douse the fire of Mt. Vesuvius.
Even today, Parthenope remains a cultural icon for the city of Naples (which was reportedly founded in her honour).


In Final Fantasy Siren finds herself in similar nesting grounds. Final Fantasy VIII’s Siren channels her inner-Ariel during her summon animation as she plays her music from a rocky perch in the middle of the ocean in a dreamy, fantastical landscape. However, the place where she is drawn as a Guardian Force is fascinating in itself. At Dollet, a coastal town with rocky areas not unlike Sorrento or Naples, her genesis is amongst familiar territory. Here stands an abandoned radio tower which a force of Galbadian soldiers managed to restore, despite the best efforts of a contingent of teenage students embarking on a dangerous D-Day like scenario for their field examinations. Like a beacon of information luring people to their deaths, the tower held the Siren as she waited for the party inside the wind-based demon Elvoret, from which she can be extracted and employed thereafter as a Guardian Force ally. The damage to ships during the landing sequence may not have been the work of Siren herself, but the radio tower was Galbadia’s true motive in their occupation, and she is inevitably linked to that.


Dollet-Day landings. Siren is present during the luring of ships even when unwitting. That the ‘Silence’ spell can be
obtained from a draw point near a number of female fountain sculptures,
and the pub owner possesses the ‘Siren’ Triple Triad card, indicates her regional importance.

(Right field map image by FFDream.com)

A recurring location for Sirens and Siren-like beings is the ‘ship graveyard’. It is in such a location that Siren appeared for the first time in the franchise in Final Fantasy V (as the party's ship stranded there), and similar appearances can be found in Final Fantasy XIV at the Isles of Umbra and Sirensong Sea.

In Final Fantasy XIV Siren haunts the shores of the Isles of Umbra amongst shipwrecks, luring people to their deaths with her enthralling song. Only by using earplugs can the player resist her charms to defeat her, preserving elements from the Homeric myth. Final Fantasy XIV’s Siren’s second location, Pharos Sirius, is a curious twist. Being in a lighthouse, not only does this tie into Greek heritage (pharos being Greek for lighthouse, possibly recalling the famous Pharos of Alexandria in Egypt: one of the wonders of the ancient world) but it bears a twisted irony that Siren, a wrecker of ships, should be haunting a colossal lighthouse purposed with preventing such a fate.

Despite her villainous hold on the La Noscea region, Siren is also memorialised in the form of a mermaid-Siren statue in the seaside town of Aleport (which overlooks the lighthouse), thus comparable to the honouring of the Siren Parthenope at Naples.


The Siren/Mermaid of Aleport. This is a very different Siren to the one fought and can be comparable to the dual roles of Sirens in antiquity:
1) the feared bane of sailors, 2) the honoured, goddess-like saviour.

In Final Fantasy XIII Siren is encountered as a hologram at Nautilus Park. This theme park shares its name with Captain Nemo’s submarine in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870). Nautilus Park is an impressive aquatic-themed paradise befitting the tastes of its namesake's captain. Captain Nemo himself is an allusion to Odysseus’ famous ruse: when the cyclops Polyphemos cried out in pain asking who had blinded him, Odysseus boastfully answered ‘Nobody’ (Nemo being the Latin form of the Greek word Outis / ‘nobody’: Homer, Odyssey:9.366). Siren is perhaps the most appropriate of all the entities displayed at Nautilus.

Siren’s appearance in ship graveyards in Final Fantasies V and XIV, like the dashed out ships imagined near the Sirens of mythology, is an important detail. These graveyards present a visible warning of all the ships the Siren has led astray and it is a natural development of the pile of bones described in Homer’s Odyssey.


Psychopomp to Psychotic: Undead Siren

Something seldom discussed is Final Fantasy V’s Siren’s ability to change states between her untainted form and an undead form during her boss battle. This switch may make sense given the villain’s location at the ghostly Ship Graveyard.


Zombie Queen: Siren’s associations with death might be apparent in her very first appearance
in the Final Fantasy franchise where she attempts to steal the souls of the party members.


While at its most extreme in Final Fantasy V, this motif is no isolated incident. During Final Fantasy XIV’s Siren battles she summons the drowned zombies of those who had previously failed to escape her lure. A possible throwback to her undead form can be seen in World of Final Fantasy. After singing her enchanting, soothing song, Siren, as if possessed, changes her tune by losing control, throwing her head back and pulling a ghoullish face with burning red eyes as she screams menacingly. A stark contrast, then, to the harmonious composure displayed mere moments earlier.


With eyes burning like spheres of flame, World of Final Fantasy’s Siren appears to be
surrendering to Hades.


There may, however, be significantly more to these undead associations as in antiquity the Sirens were sometimes afforded chthonic attributes. Euripides described them as ‘maidens of the Earth’ (Euripides, Helen:167-169). Plato imagined the Sirens bound to Hades’ virtuous words, but variably contemplates Sirens in celestial or infernal contexts (Plato, Cratylus:403d-e, Republic:616b-617d). Some philosophised that Sirens might act like the Muses’ Underworld counterparts serving an important function for ghosts (Plutarch, Symposiacs:9.14.5-6).

A tradition that the Sirens were companions of Persephone intersects with these Underworld associations. As early as Euripides the Sirens are invoked in connection with Persephone (Euripides, Helen:167-170). Others cite their failure to prevent Persephone’s abduction by Hades as the reason for their birdlike forms (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica:4.893-902; Hyginus, Fabulae:141; Ovid, Metamorphoses:5.551-560).

With the Sirens as ambiguous figures perched between the boundaries of life and death, it should be little wonder that material culture provides many examples of Siren figures (often in mourning poses) and depictions on monuments and vases in grave contexts from the 6th Century BC onwards. These Sirens may be leading the mourning process, or serving the important role of a psychopomp (soul guide). The Sirens were not always villains.



Left: A vase in the form of a Siren from approximately 540 BC held at the Walters Art Museum. Indeed, their chthonic associations and particular
form may signal inspirations from the Egyptian Ba (a soul-like aspect of the deceased).
Right: Bronze askos (oil jar) in the shape of a Siren holding a syrinx and pomegranate (a symbol of Persephone: queen of the Underworld).
5th Century BC, from South Italy. Held at the
Getty Museum.


As benevolent friends of the deceased, these Sirens behave more like the Final Fantasy franchise’s summons than the boss we encounter in Final Fantasy V. It is consequently very curious that her undead aspect is most prominent in her role as villains in Final Fantasies V and XIV. Instead, it may be from the appearance of the Siren that Square Enix have taken their cues. At her most deadly (above ground) she also looks most beautiful and alluring. It is here she can cause death, but Final Fantasy uses this aspect as the summon when she is at her most desirable. The undead/chthonic form, however (where in antiquity she could be of use to mortals offering helpful guidance) through association with death, Square Enix have deemed an evil form more appropriate.


The Siren of Canosa: a statuette of a Siren with her arm raised in a state of mourning. Found in a funerary context,
it may have intended to help accompany the soul of the deceased to the Underworld with charming music,
or to take care of the soul while down there.
Late fourth century BC. Held at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.
Photograph:
Luis García (Zaqarbal)


Conclusion: Parting Song

Like the Sirens of mythology, Final Fantasy’s Siren was originally a villain but sometimes reimagined as a helpful spirit. Her appearance makes more use of her human figure than it does her birdlike qualities, but key elements of the source myths remain unfettered: the temptation of knowledge, her musical attributes, her geography retaining occasional cultural significance and chthonic qualities.


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What do you think about Final Fantasy's representations of Siren? Discuss in the comments!

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Dionysos
It took me a while to read this, but I'm glad I did! Honestly up until this point I just accepted the jumbled mess in my head on what I really thought about Siren and never really look the time to do my own researched. I suppose I always accepted that Sirens were either Harpies (which I didn't realize were a different class of monster I guess) or Mermaids, and that they were just different forms of Sirens.

Truthfully I like Sirens depicted as mermaids more. It makes the deep waters that more mysterious and eery, which I love. I'm not particularly interested in any dark topics (or even scary movies) like it seems a lot of people are into these days, but I really love dark nautical themes. It's a shame I haven't read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea yet.

I dunno, Sirens being half bird half woman just seem so strange from a visual standpoint. Some of those photos make them look like chickens or people-doves (my new favorite term: People-Doves) But honestly what bugs me the most is how on earth some of them tied their hair back. I suppose depicting Siren(s) as just a woman with an alluring voice is also acceptable in my tiny-brain, mostly because I figure anything with an alluring voice can be considered a Siren.

I do find it fascinating that it isn't just the melody itself that is what makes people go mad, but what they are actually saying in their songs. I never even thought about it. I think maybe I get too much of my information from television :lew: But I find it interesting that it was different per each individual. Those prophetic people-doves!


I didn't realize they had done that to FFVIII's Siren in the remaster in terms of censoring her. I do kinda remember thinking about how strangely they made her pubic region though, but I was really young when I recall thinking about it. :lew: I think it's a little silly that they did it but I think it makes the rest of her feathers more flush.


I think maybe my information may still be a bit more muddled in my head, but I did learn a thing or two :) Thanks for sharing! My favorite image was between The Fountain of the Spinacorona, the Manatee or the People-Dove oil lamp. I'm thinking the oil lamp.
 
Thanks for the feedback! I don’t always hear much from people when I put these articles out there so it isn’t always clear to me how much of them people have read or have enjoyed. A comment like this means a great deal!

Harpies were similar in appearance to Sirens in their birdlike elements, but otherwise entirely separate entities with their own genealogies, their own associated myths, and located in a different part of the world. They also had a run-in with the Argonauts though, so they intersect on that bit but in a completely different location. By most accounts the Harpies were vicious creatures, sometimes very ugly and monstrous, so quite unlike the Sirens on that point.

I like the term ‘people-doves’ :D

I think the ancient Greeks agreed with your frustrations about imagining the Sirens as 'people-doves'.
"How can they tie back their hair? How can they play their instruments when they only have wings and talons? How do we fix that? Oh yeah, we give them human arms. And breasts. Might as well. Hmmm. These Sirens with lady torsos look a bit awkward... Why not move the human-slider up a notch? All the way, even... There! Problem solved!"

Something like that seems to have happened.
 
I had no idea the Siren had wings at origin ! Looks like I've always confused them with mermaids...

I particularily found interresting to read details about Final Fantasy V's Siren. Her way of attacking remembers me of the visions the Cetras experienced following the destruction of their world. Visions that were probably the work of Jenova.
I wonder if Jenova also has an untainted form if we consider that she wears the undead form in the game.
Is Jenova "the" Siren ? ;)
 
I had no idea the Siren had wings at origin ! Looks like I've always confused them with mermaids...

I particularily found interresting to read details about Final Fantasy V's Siren. Her way of attacking remembers me of the visions the Cetras experienced following the destruction of their world. Visions that were probably the work of Jenova.
I wonder if Jenova also has an untainted form if we consider that she wears the undead form in the game.
Is Jenova "the" Siren ? ;)
That’s a really interesting thought! Yeah, FFV’s Siren’s tactic is essentially the same as one of Jenova’s tactics for fighting the Cetra (tricking them with illusions of their loved ones). And, as you say, Jenova also has an undead aspects (being physically dead but undead/undying herself on a cellular level, but also able to take on the appearances of the dead). Her cells also call for a reunion, like the Sirens of myth singing their songs might call to sailors. The sailors lose their minds and heed the call to their ruin. The same can be said about the 'clones' in black robes who are drawn to the reunion of their Jenova cells.
(Also sidenote: we're also back to your pal Orpheus again with his experience with the Sirens :argor:)

With this and the other aspects shared with FFV (such as meteors being used as a mode of transport to other worlds) it is interesting to compare Jenova with FFV's Siren.


As for the Siren-mermaid issue, I wonder how many people out there are aware of the earlier bird-siren appearances then, since the mermaid form might be more prevalent than I had originally anticipated. To me I've always imagined the bird-form first and the fish-form only if specified, but that might only be due to lifelong obsession with Greek mythology and my familiarity with their earlier bird-form appearances.

I think part of this probably does stem from different languages preferring the word siren/sirena/sirene (and so on) for mermaid. That said, even with the terms mermaid and siren both being in circulation they tend to get conflated a lot. This seems to have happened a long time ago too.
 
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