Greek Sirens: Parthenope, Aglaope, Leucosia, Ligeia, Molpe, Peisinoe & Thelxiope

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson introduces one of the most famous, yet mysterious, creatures of Greek mythology, the Sirens. Within, you'll discover the variety of parentage, appearances, identities, and potential fates associated with them.


One of the most well-known creatures from Greek mythology is the Siren, a theme revived in countless television programs and films. What do we really know about the sirens, though? Looking over the entirety of classical literature from Greek and Roman writers, we find a great deal of conflicting and confusing information. Sources disagree on the Sirens' parents, appearance, and even how many Sirens there were. However, they all agree that the Sirens are monsters, even if they are beautiful women or hybrid-women, who live on a rocky island and lure sailors to their death with a song. So let's dive into these mysteries and see if we can piece together the clues.


Number of Sirens and Their Names

Here's where we get the really confusing information on Sirens. We have no idea how many there were and the best guess of scholars is that there are between 2 and 5 sirens. Homer, one of the earliest writers to mention the Sirens, only writes about two of them. Later, writers mention three Sirens, but there are a total of ten names.

  • Thelxiope: Charming Voice
  • Thelxinoe: Charming the Mind
  • Thelxipea: Charming Song
  • Molpe: No meaning given for this name
  • Peisinoe: Affecting the Mind
  • Aglaophonus: Splending Sounding
  • Aglaope: Splendid Voice
  • Ligeia: Clear-Toned
  • Leucosia: White Substance
  • Parthenope: Maiden Voice

Now, if we apply a little logic, we can easily believe that this list of ten does not represent a total of ten sirens and more likely represents some translation errors in naming. The first three, Thelxiope, Thelxinoe, and Thelxipea are probably the same character. Likewise, Aglaophonus and Aglaope might be two names for the same siren as well. No ancient writer discussed more than three sirens in their stories, even if they used a variety of different names.

Mom & Dad

Right from the beginning, we have uncertainty about the parentage of the sirens. Not all myths name their father, but some identify him as either Achelous, the god of rivers, or Phorcys, a Titan who also fathered the Gorgons. As for their mother, legends vary between Gaia, Sterope, or one of three different Muses, Melpomene, Calliope, or Terpsichore.

Song of the Sirens

The one detail that all stories agree upon is that the sirens had beautiful singing voices. So beautiful, in fact, that they even challenged the Muses to a competition. They narrowly lost and one myth states that the Muses plucked out the feathers of the Sirens.

Muses Plucking the Sirens
Muses and Sirens

Their musical gift was the source of their power. When the Sirens sang, anyone who heard their song would fall under their spell, drawn to them. This became particularly dangerous because the sirens lived on an island surrounded by submerged rocks and cliffs.


The appearance of the Sirens is yet another mystery. In some tales, they were large birds with the heads of women. Other stories give them the bodies of women with bird legs, sometimes even wings. Later writers discarded the bird-like features altogether and make them into beautiful women who cruelly tempted their victims to their deaths.

Legends About the Sirens

While the Sirens appear in many classical Greek myths, including the one mentioned above about their competition with the Muses, two tales gave them their biggest claim to fame.

Jason and the Argonauts

The first Greek hero to encounter the Sirens was Jason, the famous character from Jason and the Argonauts. While on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece for Iolcus, Jason and his crew had to sail past the island of the Sirens. Rocks surrounded the island and the shore was made from sheer cliffs. It is said the sirens sat atop mountains made the of bones from these crews.

Sirens Amid Their Victims
Siren Island

As Jason's ship, the Argo, sailed by, the legendary musician named Orpheus played his music loudly to mask the Sirens' voices. One crewman named Butes still heard the song and jumped into the water to get closer. Luckily for him, the goddess Aphrodite found him appealing. She rescued Butes and spirited him away to be her lover.

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