One of the more interesting developements in the legacy of the Sirens comes after Homer has installed them in his epic poem as "malleable" figures. Having appeared as characters with an ambiguous history, others soon arrived to fill in the gaps of knowledge with inventions of their own. It is in this process of rounding out the Sirens that each century seems to imbue them with an extended patrimony, a more complicated history, a love and hate relationship (typical for male scholars centuries after their apprearance still afraid of their potentially destructive power) to this band of Sirens. And poets, philosophers, historians begin by giving them names so as to see them as individual personalities, rather than nameless bird/mermaid/women/temptresses on the shore of a small island of bones and corpses. And along the way the Sirens travel far from Homer's original island -- and become characters and actors in a wide variety of myths and rituals.
Notes from De Sirenibus, de Rachewiltz III
Hesiod, in his efforts to systamatize mythology (make it logical to himself at least) claims to have discovered the island of the Sirens on his map -- off the west coast of Italy: Antemoessa, "rich in flowers." The continuing confusion between determining the Sirens were "soul catchers" or muses such that Pindar compliments the girls of Thebes "who singing is like that of the Sirens." There is also a wonderful conusion in 8th century B.C. comparing the Sirens' song to those of funeral dirges and by the end of the 4th c BC the foreign enchantresses of the Odyssey had become the respectable personification of the lament for the dead...and they became in their female head and bird shapes as funeral monuments. The highpoint of this "Kitsch" is reached by Alexander the Great who "over the grave of his beloved Hephaestion, raised hollow Siren-figures in which were hidden the musicians who were to make lamentation." (51)
Plato frees the Sirens from the funeral parlor and relocates them into outer space to intone the music of the spheres and assist souls and the fates arriving in a very elaborate cosmos. (52)
The malleable sign of the Siren could be easily detatched from its context and made to function in a new one -- due to Homer's ambiguity as to their actual narrative -- which appeared to give them a lot of freedom and poets/authors/and others to experiment with them. A sort of "cargo cult of the sirens spreads through out the Hellenic World:
Legends of the time have the Sirens commit suicide after being defeated by the music of Orpheus (while other credit Odysseus for having caused their death). Their bodies washed ashore and their has been a fierce competition as to has the true relics of the Sirens: Naples, Posidonia, Terina. (53)
Siren Names -- all of which suggest the ambiguous relationship between humans and Sirens, alternating from a fear of and an adulation of the Siren's unique position. Each century seems to rediscover her and her function as needed.
Southern Tyrrhenian coast of Italy: Parthenope ("the virginal"), Leucosia ("the white goddess") and Legia ("she of the bright voice.")
The Greek Sirens: Himerops ("she whose voice awakens desire"), Thelxinow ("the enchantress"), Aglaope ("she of the glorious voice") and Peisinoe ("the seductive." ) (54-55)
And they start showing up in everybody's tale: they are now the daughters of the river-god Achelous with the body of a dragon fish and horns -- and the Sirens were born from the blood from one of his horns, lost during a battle with Heracules. They show up in the Argonautica, singing out to the argonauts until Orpheus shuts them down his lyre. (He is almost always seen as the enemy of the Sirens -- the male voice of seduction versus the female voice. ) The Sirens show up briefly in the Persephone tale in Roman times, transformed into bird forms by Demeter for failing to protect her daughter from the rape and abduction. Ovid suggests they asked for the transformation into birds that they might search for their ravished companion. (56-57)
And then the silly reductionists: Virgil imagines them a rocky cliff of death (created when Orpheus -- damn that man -- defeated them. Again, the sing-off! And parenthetically how important the ownership of poetry and song, fair in the mouth of a man, and foul (bad pun) in the mouth of women. Explicators and ccommentators with little imaginations wanted the Sirens to be rationalized and were bothered by the idea of they were omniscient, why didn't they see their downfall in advance. Naturalists wondered what kind of bird they were. And Pliny the Elder moved them to India where they lulled men with their charms and then tore them to pieces. (57-58)
And lastly, in a 12th century commentary on the Odyssey by Eustathius, archbishop of Thessalonica, demoted them even further to "flute plaing whores who robbed travellers of their money." (59)