A Sweet Briar College Learning Resource

H2O - The Mystery, Art, and Science of Water

Water in Art
Professor Chris Witcombe

MERMAIDS & SIRENS

A powerful and often feared aspect of women is their ability to seduce men. In mythology, when a divine female seduced a mortal man, it usually culminated in his death and destruction.

Almost every civilization has believed that life began in the sea and so water has been identified as female and associated with women. In mythology, the treacherousness of water is personified as alluring and irrisistible women without souls who lure unwary men to a watery death. They may appear as mermaids, sirens, undines, ladies of the lake, nixies, or water nymphs.


(image source: Carol Gerten)
John William Waterhouse
A Mermaid, c.1901

Sirens are sea nymphs who lure sailors to destruction with their enchanting song


(image source: Carol Gerten)
John William Waterhouse
The Siren, c.1900

To resist the song of the sirens, Ulysses filled the ears of his crew members with wax so they couldn't hear and had himself tied to the mast of his ship.


(image source: Carol Gerten)
John William Waterhouse
Ulysses and the Sirens, 1891

When Hylas, a Greek prince and a companion of Hercules on the expedition of the Argonauts, went to fetch water from the sacred spring of Pegae, he was lured into the water by the water nymphs and drowned


(image source: Carol Gerten)
John William Waterhouse
Hylas and the Nymphs, 1891

The threat posed to men by female water deities, or women personifying some aspect of water, is also seen in the painting The Depths of the Sea by Edward Burne-Jones


(image source: Bob Speel)
Edward Burne-Jones
The Depths of the Sea, 1887



CONTENTS INTRODUCTION PURPOSE SCHEDULE REQUIREMENTS PARTICIPANTS


H20 - The Mystery, Art, and Science of Water
Chris Witcombe and Sang Hwang
Sweet Briar College