Mythic Monday: Lorelie and the Siren

I have to say, I chuckle a bit to myself every time I hear this name. Lorelai/Loralie/Lorelay…doesn’t it sound beautiful? It rolls of the tongue like a melody.

I suppose that’s fitting, considering the Lorelie is a Germanic Siren.

The Siren: supernaturally gorgeous women with voices impossible to ignore, who lure men to their deaths, generally by drowning. If you recall your middle school reading of The Odyssey, you’ll remember that during his decade-long journey to return to Ithaca, Odysseus passed the Sirens’ island. Odysseus was a famously (notoriously) clever man…we’ll get to him in a future post, as he’s one of the most fascinating characters in ancient history. Anyway, he’d heard the stories, and there was no way he’d get caught up like all the rest. Sirens enjoyed the havoc and death they wreaked by luring sailors with their honeyed voices and overwhelming beauty…they enjoyed luring the sailors close a rocky shore that sank ships and killed men.

Sirens were a beautiful, irresistible death.

So, the Lorelie.

Germanic myth says Lorelie was a young woman who, upon discovering her lover was faithless and broke her heart, threw herself into the Rhine. Her anger and despair were so great she turned into a siren: a monster (in some renditions a mermaid) who can be heard singing from a specific rock along the Rhine. Her song lures sailors on the river and men on the bank to the water, where they’re drowned. In some versions, she mirrors the Waterhorse by dragging her victims to the depths of the swirling river, taking her vengeance out on rather hapless victims. In others, she just happens to be there singing her laments and the rough waters at the specific area of the river take care of the victims for her.

Personally, I find the Siren and Lorelie’s powers just as creepy as Dracula’s powers to subvert Mina’s will with his gaze. The horror of the Lorelie isn’t the drowning death: it’s the concept that a man’s will can be so totally subsumed with her power that he is literally incapable of preventing his own death, regardless of his love or loyalties. Marvel, incidentally, loves the Lorelie. In the Marvel universe, Lorelei is an Aasgardian with (unsurprisingly) the disturbing power to convince men to subvert their will to hers…using her voice. She and Sif (powerful warrior who eventually marries Thor) have an ongoing argument in Marvelspace.

In addition, the Lorelie is a tragic character in myth: unlike the Greek Sirens, Lorelie doesn’t seem to take any pleasure in her victims’ deaths. Instead, it seems an unpleasant result of her suicide, or at the very least a dark misery that didn’t die when she killed herself. There’s no real punishment aspect to Lorelie’s fate: it’s more tragic sadness than puritan anti-suicide warning.

If you want a hauntingly beautiful Lorelie poem (translated from German to English by Mark Twain, because OF COURSE it is), go here. It’s wonderful. And terribly sad.

If you want to see some lovely Lorelie art, look here.

In any case, the Lorelie is associated with a particular “echoing” rock near Sankt Goarhousen (St. Goar), Germany. It’s a rocky cliff where (presumably) quite a few ships have gone down and sailors lost. As such, of course, Lorelie is a name that’s associated with deadly, dangerous allure.

Not exactly a name I’d give my kid, but hey…femme fatale isn’t a bad reputation to have. I definitely wouldn’t give that name to a German restaurant…but someone did. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, you MN and WI peeps of mine. If you ever check it out, give me a review!

3 thoughts on “Mythic Monday: Lorelie and the Siren

  1. first link went nowhere for me- second worked. reminds of a rusalka, from slavic/russian folklore? good article!


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