Aglaope’s Last Song

Pencil drawing of a siren flying around rocks
Eduardo Suré; Aglaope, 2018; Graphite

A long time ago, between the Gulf of Naples and the Tyrrhenian Sea, there was a group of beautiful islands. They were each like gardens filled with trees and fields of colorful flowers. Though beautiful, people did not live there. They were too difficult to access because they were surrounded by steep cliffs and ship-wrecking rocks.

The islands, however, were inhabited by the Sirens. There were three, and they were named Peisinoe, Aglaope, and Thelxiepeia. The Sirens had the bodies and heads of women; but they also had wings, talons, and beaks. They sang beautifully. Their voices were irresistible to mortals: no matter what it took, mortals would go to the Sirens if they heard their song.

The Sirens were born deities. They were the daughters of the river god Achelous and the muse Melpomene. After failing to perform a task assigned to them by Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, she cursed them to live until mortals who heard their song could pass them. So, the Sirens lived on the islands to be near mortals and try to free themselves from the curse. They lived there in misery from a long life of isolation, failure, and the rot that grows inside oneself when one is the cause of death and destruction.

The Sirens had tried many times to free themselves from the curse. They had flown over the sea between the islands and perched on the edge of the cliffs watching for passing ships. The cliffs and rocks provided them protection from injury and capture. Unfortunately, mortals could not resist their song and sailed into the rocks that surrounded the island destroying their ships and drowning the crew.

After too many sailors and ships had been lost, mortals found different routes. Many years had passed without seeing a ship, so the Sirens had stopped searching. New generations of mortals had been born who had never heard of them.

On a coast across the sea, there was a young man named Hesiod who dreamed of sailing the circumference of the Tyrrhenian Sea. With focus, tenacity, and the sweat of his brow he succeeded in gathering materials and building a ship. It was a small boat that he could sail around the sea with a small crew or alone if he had to.

Hesiod wanted to share his adventure with everyone he could. He spoke to his friends to try to convince them to join him. They reminded him of their families, work, and other obligations. Since he was a good young man, they sincerely expressed their regrets that they could not go and wished him luck.

Hesiod’s parents did not want him to go. They begged him to be practical, stay, and use the boat to make a living. They argued that while he worked, he would sail with an experienced crew.

Hesiod replied with his old argument: he was not ready to be tied down by a job without having had an adventure. He told his parents that making a living was not actually living. So, with many hugs they wished him well and prayed to their gods for his safety.

Aglaope’s frustration reached a peak and she could only find temporary peace through action. She asked Peisinoe to fly with her around the islands and help her find mortals to sing to. Peisinoe did not see a point, and suggested that she ask Thelxiepeia just so Aglaope would leave her alone. And so she did and flew off to find Thelxiepeia.

Thelxiepeia also refused to help Aglaope. She argued that she was no longer sure what would happen if they were able to end the curse. Would their existence go back to what it had been before they were cursed, or did their release mean they would be allowed to die? She said she was done chasing an uncertainty, and was trying to find peace with her situation.

So, Aglaope flew around the islands alone. She flew many days and nights. For as long as she flew, she did not see any ships pass by the islands.

Frustrated, she landed one morning on some rocks and watched waves slam violently against them. The waves roared and sprayed water upward making it sound like heavy rain when the drops hit the ground. While she sat, she began to feel that Peisinoe’s and Thelxieeia’s attitudes were right. She felt she should make peace with her situation rather than pursue an uncertain end. Then, she looked up and saw a small ship sailing near the island.

Aglaope’s hope shot through her body and burned hot in her veins. Even though she was not driven by a firmly held belief or opinion about the end of the curse, she sang. She sang beautifully and loudly so the sailor heard her song. She hoped to see the small ship pass, so she sang and watched and the ship as it stayed on its course. With great excitement as she sang, she watched it appear smaller and smaller until it disappeared in the horizon.

When it was gone, she stopped singing. She paused to look inside herself for the end of the curse and did not feel different. She was sure the sailor had heard her and so the curse must have been broken. She composed in her mind what she would say to Peisinoe and Thelxieeia. Then, the roaring waves placed a young man on the rocks at her feet.

Aglaope was deeply upset. She flew away crying and left the young man on the rocks. She would not tell Peisinoe and Thelxieeia what had happened. Like them, she would never try to free herself again. She would find peace with her situation.


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