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.