I am trying to remember that moment in writing The Innamorati -- constructed mainly around the characters of the Commedia dell'Arte-- when I decided I needed the Siren Herminia to join the cast. I cannot now conceive of the novel without her -- but neither can I recall conceiving the necessity of her in the story either. The very ambiguity of her nature fills her with so many possibilities. She is the ultimate outsider, not a pilgrim, not human, but dependent on the company of humans on a pilgrimage. An incredibly dangerous and potentially destructive creature at home on the sea, she is a mute servant on land, serving a ten year stretch of silence. As a Siren her song is everything, but if she speaks one sound, she loses the opportunity to retrieve the voices of her sisters from Orpheus. And of course, her curse lies in her inability to deny the power of her nature. While the rest of the pilgrims stumble through the maze, Erminia is not subject to its magic and moves through it easily to arrive at her specific destination: the head of Orpheus holding forth on a pedestle in a hidden in a cave in the maze. And it is there she encounters the poet who is dead to his own words, bound up in knots -- and in a most unlike way, the siren must unbind his song inorder to free herself. Here are more notes from de Rachewiltz's De Sirenibus on the Homeric Siren and I see in them the ripples of Erminia's character come to life.
Notes From De Sirenibus II:
Connecting Circe and the Sirens further when Hermes warns Odysseus of her enchanting drugs. The Sirens' bewitching is definitely an act of magic, closely related to Circe's bewitching potions and is performed exclusively through the sweet melody of their singing." Circe describes this danger as essentially a danger which threatens domesticity: "that man...has no prospect of coming home and delighting his wife and little children as they stand about greeting (XII, 42-43) The Sirens' song thus represents a danger to the mind and memory and therefore, social order. And a man without memory or social order is ineffect dying, becoming "boneheaps of men now rotted away, the skins shrivel upon them." (XII, 45-46)
"The flowery meadows of the Sirens' island evoking the meadow by the streams of Okeanos, the dwelling place of the dead." The island appears to be a permanent habitat of the Sirens, they are tied to it, since they do not attempt to move toward the beach, but direct their "sweet song" to Odysessus to draw him near to a "windless calm." The Sirens occupy a place at the extreme end of nature-culture opposition, underscored by the "boneheaps of men now rotted away." The Sirens are death not mediated or ritually modified in any way by culture." Levi-Straussian -- their shriveled corpses "cooked" but not "eaten." At least, Circe changes her victims into pigs which she does eat -- but the Sirens lay waste.
"The concept of lashing, binding, knotting: "The emphasis on bondage and lashings is not without significance for the Sirens' name evokes binding enchantment. (Seirenes derived etymologically from "cord" (Greek) or "song" from Phoenecia -- it suggests Homer's audience would have seen the Sirens as "the binding ones." Again, the relationship to Circe -- mistress of knots (which she teaches Odysessus)...The song of the Sirens is a binding song -- deranging, maddening, will-destroying -- binding the mind and withering the victim.
"The Sirens' song is murderous precisely to the extent that it tends to dissasociate the realm of language from the realm of action...And here we encounter the central enigma of the Sirens...an essential paradox...the perils of unhumanized, unacculturated Nature and at the same time the skills most valued in the social and sacred economies of Greek culture, those arts of language and of song, which the Sirens share with the bard...The Sirens could represent a concept of song as a natural power which has its source in nature -- not a human invention, but rather bound up with the deepest energies of the cosmos.
"Karoly Marot associates both Muses and Sirens with Ukranian water-queens which at night rise to the surface of the sea to sing. The notion of all songs as magic songs, and the role of the poet as listener..a divinely inspired mediator between the real, of the sacred and the human....they appear to be associated with the unmitigated forces of Nauter; on the other hand they seem to embody the seductive lures of Culture-- the pleasures of poetic artifice...the enchanting lies that sweet melodious language can lead us to mistake for truth."