De Sirenibus: An Inquiry Into Sirens From Homer To Shakespeare
Harvard: Harvard University, 1983
PhD dissertation at Harvard University.
"The motif of the Sirens is examined from several different perspectives and in a number of cultural and historical contexts. Chapter I is devoted to a close analysis of the Siren episode in the Odyssey; it is argued that the Sirens not only represent a problematization of the Nature/Culture opposition, but also embody a mode of song which threatens the very narrative structures and conventions of the Odyssey itself. Chapter II explores the various literary and iconographic metamorphoses which the Sirens undergo in post-Homeric classical tradition. Chapter III, devoted to the Christian interpretations of Sirens, deals with patristic writings, with allegorical bestiaries, and with the iconographic traditions of medieval ecclesiastical art: it traces the gradual transformation of the Siren from birdmaid into mermaid and her emergence as a symbol of heresy. Chapter IV builds on this context of Christian interpretation in order to analyze the Siren in Canto 19 of Dante's Purgatorio: it is contended that she represents a particular fusion of the classical Siren with the medieval notion of worldly blandishments. Chapter V examines Platonic and neo-Platonic versions of the Sirens as heavenly muses in reference to the poetry of Petrarch, Bembo, and Aretino. Chapter VI in turn discusses Boccaccio's treatment of the Siren myth in his Genealogia and its influence on Renaissance mythography. Chapter VII follows the various avatars of the Siren as enchantress in the romances and epics of Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser, and Camoens. Chapter VIII discusses the Siren as emblem and the emblem as Siren in the Renaissance and touches on the Siren as common printer's mark of the period. Chapter IX treats Shakespeare's image of the Siren/mermaid. Also included are the following appendices: a brief survey of Siren scholarship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, an excursion into the motif of Sirens in folklore, and a representative sampling of Siren iconography from Greek antiquity through the Renaissance." - abstract
Last update December 6, 2021