Sirens and Ondines

Herbert James Draper (1863 – 1920) By Summer Seas
(oil paint on canvas, 1912)

In mythology it was always best to avoid the seduction of women encountered beside water, as they invariably adopted the cold engulfing nature of the element. However there were two types of sea-nymph, the siren and the ondine, the former murderous and cold-hearted and the latter, a playful and alluring spirit of the ocean. (Simon Toll, Herbert Draper; A Life Study, Antique Collector’s Club, 2003, p. 59).

But how can you tell which of the two types is involved when you find beautiful and scantily clad girls on the shore of the sea?

A famous veteran from the Trojan War has for many years tried to reach his beloved homeland again. However, due to the sea God Poseidon, he was shipwrecked and washed ashore in Crete. There he finds Ariane and her maidservants bathing in the Timpaki River.

The castaway, who has already had a lot to do with seductive women, wonders whether he is dealing with sirens or ondines here. However, he casts aside his reservations with the nymphs. He contacts them, after which he is received hospitably in the palace of King Minos. He ensures that the stranger is finally returned to his own kingdom after many wanderings.

The scenes with the castaway and his experiences at the court of the King are largely taken from Homer's Odyssey (especially Chapter 6).