There are plenty of different mythical and legendary creatures that have captivated our imaginations for hundreds or even thousands of years. However, two of the most popular creatures that we often read in myths are sirens and mermaids. While a lot of people think that sirens and mermaids are generally the same, they are not. So, what are the differences between sirens and mermaids?
Sirens are often depicted as creatures that live on islands but sometimes dwell on land and are also considered to be evil temptresses. They are also actually half-human and half-winged creatures. Mermaids, meanwhile, are half-human and half fish and are generally peaceful and non-violent.
While plenty of different people believe that sirens are actually the same as mermaids in the sense that they are also half fish, that is not true. The original stories regarding sirens depict them as half-winged creatures. That is what truly differentiates them from mermaids, even though they are often considered the same creature with different names.
Main Differences Between Sirens and Mermaids
To better know how sirens are actually different from mermaids, here are some of their main differences:
1. Also known as…
The thing you need to understand about mythical creatures is that they are given plenty of names that are apt based on how they are described in books and other forms of literature. Of course, sirens and mermaids are no different because they are also given plenty of different descriptive names that best describe what they look like and what they do.
Sirens are often called different negative names such as enchantresses, temptresses, and charmers because of how they are depicted to be creatures that like to lure and tempt men to their deaths. This is why sirens are usually synonymous with plenty of negative names.
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On the other hand, mermaids are given plenty of neutral or positive names, such as water nymphs and water deities, because most depictions of mermaids are actually far from negative. Most stories about mermaids describe them as beautiful creatures that tend to dwell in the seas, and that is why they are not given the same kind of negative names that sirens are often given.
2. Story Origins
Different mythological creatures have different story origins. After all, they would not be talked about today had they not been written by different authors and storytellers throughout the history of the world.
Sirens are actually found only in Greek mythology. They can be read in Homer’s Odyssey, which tells the story of King Odysseus and his journey back home after the Trojan War. In the story, sirens are depicted as creatures living on an island near Scylla and Charybdis and are fathered by the river god named Achelous. No other mythology around the world talks about sirens.
On the other hand, stories about mermaids can be found from different cultures all over the world. And this can be attributed to how sailors and explorers around the world might have passed on the story in every country or land they visited. This is why there are stories about mermaids in ancient Europe and Asia.
This is usually the part where people often mistake sirens and mermaids as one and the same creature or, at the very least, similar creatures with different appearances. That is because they are often depicted as creatures living in the ocean, but that is actually far from true.
Sirens are actually land-based mythical creatures that live on an island that can be found near Scylla and Charybdis, according to Greek myth. They can also fly, but they mostly inhabit the said islands. That means that sirens are not actually sea creatures but are island-dwelling mythological creatures instead.
Meanwhile, mermaids are actually the ones that dwell on the seas. They are said to be seen inhabiting the different seas found all over the world but can also be found dwelling on small island shores from time to time.
The personality differences between sirens and mermaids tend to be night and day. And this is where most stories about sirens and mermaids are usually right.
Sirens are depicted to have negative personalities that describe them to be evil temptresses that want nothing but to temp men to their death using their beauty and their voice. Most depictions of sirens, even though they describe them as half-fish creatures, usually get their negative personalities right.
Then there are mermaids, which are also usually depicted the right way. Mermaids are usually described to have peaceful and neutral personalities. They usually want to stay away from the affairs of people but are not afraid of retaliating when they are forced to do so. In that sense, mermaids have personalities that are the opposite of sirens.
5. Physical Description
This part is another one of the different things that people often get wrong because they describe sirens as creatures that are similar to mermaids in appearance. But the truth is that they are really not the same in appearance except for the fact that they are both depicted as beautiful half-women.
Sirens are not sea creatures or half fish. While it is true that one part of a siren is a woman that is beautiful enough to be able to tempt men, the other part of a siren is actually that of a winged creature. As such, they are not fish-like creatures but are actually bird-like in their physical traits and characteristics.
Mermaids, on the other hand, are actually the half-human and half-fish creatures that we often read about. Like sirens, they are described to be beautiful women on their upper half but have fish tails instead of legs.
It is important to know how sirens and mermaids are often used in stories, movies, and TV shows because you may want to keep your children away from different forms of media that may contain stories that are not appropriate for them.
As mentioned, sirens are depicted as evil temptresses that love to tempt men to their death. This is why sirens are usually used in stories with themes of horror and death. You do not want your kids around stories that involve sirens because of how dark and mature the themes can be.
Meanwhile, mermaids are often used in a lot of different forms of media, but they are generally friendly. This is why there are plenty of different movies, stories, toys, and games about mermaids that are aimed towards young girls. In that sense, stories about mermaids are almost always appropriate for children.
7. Mode of Attraction
The amazing part about stories regarding sirens and mermaids is that they are often regarded as creatures that love to attract men. This can be attributed to how the cultures of old tend to be patriarchal in nature, as women were often depicted to be temptations in the life of a man. Still, there are stark differences in the way sirens and mermaids tend to attract men.
Sirens are said to attract men using their beauty and voice. As evil as sirens may be, they are very beautiful creatures that are capable of tempting men using their looks alone. However, they also use their tempting voice to try to lure men over to them.
Mermaids are also creatures that are said to be beautiful enough to attract men. In terms of their physical attributes, their looks are actually the only thing they use to attract men. However, there are some stories that suggest that mermaids are also capable of attracting men using their love and affection.
8. Reason for Attracting Men
Again, sirens and mermaids are also different when it comes to why they want to attract men in the first place.
Sirens, as evil as they are, prefer to attract men using their looks and voice so that they can lure them to their death. They usually attract sailors who somehow stumble to their island. Killing these sailors is actually the only reason why they want to attract them.
Meanwhile, mermaids differ from one story to another when it comes to why they want to try to lure men. Some stories depict mermaids as loving creatures that simply want to provide lonely sailors with love and affection. However, there are some stories that depict them to be quite similar to sirens in the sense that they want to lure them just so they could drown them in the ocean.
9. In Folklore and Stories
There are different tales and folklore regarding sirens and mermaids.
Sirens, because they can be found only in Greek mythology, are usually depicted in Greek lore as creatures that are going to die if any man would be able to hear them singing and would live to tell their story. This is one of the reasons why sirens want to lure sailors over to their death.
On the other hand, mermaids have different stories all over the world. But one of the more popular stories about them includes the sister of Alexander the Great. It was described in folklore that she became a mermaid upon her death and went on to live in the Aegean Sea.
10. Real-Life Basis
The truth is that mythological creatures have their real-life basis. This is where the stories about them sprung up as those who wrote about sirens and mermaids either mistook these certain animals to be these creatures or just simply allowed their imaginations to run wild.
Sirens, being half women and half winged creatures, are probably based on large preying birds or raptors such as eagles. However, because of how close Greece is to the African continent, it would not be a surprise that sirens were actually based on large land-based birds such as ostriches.
On the other hand, stories of mermaids are said to have sprung up from the tales of lonely sailors who spent months or even years at sea without ever seeing a woman. This is why they might have imagined beautiful sea creatures such as dolphins, manatees, or seals as mermaids.