After sacking Troy the warrior king Odysseus, in Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey” (8th century BC.), embarked on an adventurous ten-year journey home. Along the way he encountered sea monsters, a Cyclopes, a witch-goddess, and a few seductive bird-women called: “Sirens.”
The Sirens sat on a rocky perch on a Siren’s Isle and lured unsuspecting sailors—like Odysseus—to their deaths with a song so beautiful and seductive, they were at once lulled into a defenseless dream. Asleep, they had no recourse but to shipwreck.
Despite having been forewarned of the Siren’s dangerous intentions, Odysseus was nonetheless curious and thought he might exercise his Captains’ prerogative, and experience the joy of hearing for himself this Sirens’song. He prepared for the encounter by tying himself to the mast of his ship where he instructed his men to leave him, no matter how adamantly he begged to be set free. Next, he ordered them to plug their ears with beeswax, so they would not be lulled and made helpless. When at midday in a windless calm, Odysseus and crew sailed close to the rocky isle, the Sirens strummed a chord and began to work their magic. Odysseus, who was presumably impressed and predictably enchanted, demanded to be untied immediately! But his loyal men, following orders, only pulled the rope tighter. As they rowed out of earshot, a frustrated Odysseus was at last untied.
So it was, thanks to beeswax, a bit of rope, some ineffectual begging, and his men’s ability to follow orders, that Odysseus was able to hear what no living sailor had ever heard. And though there were more strange and dangerous adventures to come, he found himself one beautiful song closer to home.