The Harpy And Siren
The conjunction of the human form with birds is very easy, wings being
fitted to it, as in the case of angels--and as applied to beasts, this
treatment is very ancient, vide the winged bulls of Assyria, and the
classical Pegasus, or winged horse. With birds, the best form in which
it is treated in Mythology is the Harpy. This is taken from Aldrovandus,
and fully illustrates the mixture of bird and woman, described by
akespeare in Pericles (iv. 3):--
"Cleon. Thou'rt like the harpy,
Which to betray, dost, with thine angel's face,
Seize with thine eagle's talons."
Then, also, we have the Siren, shown by this illustration, taken from
Pompeii. These Sea Nymphs were like the Harpies, depicted as a compound
of bird and woman. Like them also, there were three of them; but,
unlike them, they had such lovely voices, and were so beautiful, that
they lured seamen to their destruction, they having no power to combat
the allurements of the Sirens; whilst the Harpies emitted an infectious
smell, and spoiled whatever they touched, with their filth, and
Licetus, writing in 1634, and Zahn, in 1696, give the accompanying
picture of a monster born at Ravenna in 1511 or 1512. It had a horn on
the top of its head, two wings, was without arms, and only one leg like
that of a bird of prey. It had an eye in its knee, and was of both
sexes. It had the face and body of a man, except in the lower part,
which was covered with feathers.
Marcellus Palonius Romanus made some Latin verses upon this prodigy,
which may be thus rendered into English:--
A Monster strange in fable, and deform
Still more in fact; sailing with swiftest wing,
He threatens double slaughter, and converts
To thy fell ruin, flames of living fire.
Of double sex, it spares no sex, alike
With kindred blood it fills th' AEmathian plain;
Its corpses strew alike both street and sea.
There hoary Thetis and the Nereids
Swim shudd'ring through the waves, while floating wide
The fish replete on human bodies----. Such,
Ravenna, was the Monster which foretold
Thy fall, which brings thee now such bitter woe,
Tho' boasting in thy image triumph-crowned.