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When we had got within earshot of the land, and the ship was going at a good rate, the Sirens saw that we were getting in shore and began with their singing.'Come here,' they sang, 'renowned Ulysses, honour to the Achaean name, and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song—and he who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the whole world.'
Like most of my generation, I got
my classical education from the venerable Classic
Comics. I grew up thinking that most of that ancient
Greek stuff happened—well, over in Greece somewhere.
Little did I know that the episode of the Sirens
took place in these waters. There are tiny rocks
sticking up out of the water on the Amalfi side of the
Sorrentine peninsula named for those very Sirens that tempted Ulysses.
One of the Sirens, Parthenope, threw herself into
the sea out of despair over what she believed to be
her lack of allure, and her body washed up on the
coast a few miles away at the spot where mythology
says the city of Neapolis (Naples) was founded.
Actually, that would be the city
of Parthenope, which then became Neapolis;
indeed, modern Neapolitans still refer to themselves
commonly as "Parthenopeans".
I have found what I
understand is the only piece of ancient sculpture in
Naples depicting the siren, Parthenope. It is a
small bust, and is located on the premises of the
Municipio, the City Hall. It was recovered
from the site of the original Greek acropolis
of the city of Neapolis, on the height across from
today's Piazza Cavour. That location is not
currently an active archaeological site, and it has
been covered with centuries of construction, most
recently various departments of the University of
Naples Medical School. On the historic map of
the city (click here) you
would start at #37 and walk up the hill (towards the
top of the map).
(There is also a modern statue of
Parthenope in Naples.)