Location

Portland State University

Start Date

7-5-2019 1:30 PM

End Date

7-5-2019 3:00 PM

Abstract

During the Middle Ages, the siren transforms from its classical status as grotesque bird-woman into an alluring mermaid. A female monster, the siren represents what is considered monstrous in women. I plan to examine the unstable image of the siren in order to better understand the religious and social status of the medieval European woman. The siren is contextualized among contemporary secular images of female sexuality and the writings of religious authorities such as Leander of Seville, who wrote that all women were either nuns or sirens. I plan to analyze the implications of the nun-siren binary created by Leander of Seville through analysis of the changing image of the siren. My argument contextualizes the siren more largely within the world of the medieval monsters and their role in Christianity. I compare images of the medieval siren from bestiaries, religious sculptures, and illuminated literary manuscript to acknowledge her varied forms. The division between the bird-woman siren and the mermaid siren blurs at times. This suggests that the transformation of the siren was a gradual, rather than a sudden shift. Thus, what was considered monstrous in women gradually changed; beauty and sexuality become vilified in the body of the beautiful siren.

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May 7th, 1:30 PM May 7th, 3:00 PM

From Bird-Woman to Mermaid: The Shifting Image of the Medieval Siren

Portland State University

During the Middle Ages, the siren transforms from its classical status as grotesque bird-woman into an alluring mermaid. A female monster, the siren represents what is considered monstrous in women. I plan to examine the unstable image of the siren in order to better understand the religious and social status of the medieval European woman. The siren is contextualized among contemporary secular images of female sexuality and the writings of religious authorities such as Leander of Seville, who wrote that all women were either nuns or sirens. I plan to analyze the implications of the nun-siren binary created by Leander of Seville through analysis of the changing image of the siren. My argument contextualizes the siren more largely within the world of the medieval monsters and their role in Christianity. I compare images of the medieval siren from bestiaries, religious sculptures, and illuminated literary manuscript to acknowledge her varied forms. The division between the bird-woman siren and the mermaid siren blurs at times. This suggests that the transformation of the siren was a gradual, rather than a sudden shift. Thus, what was considered monstrous in women gradually changed; beauty and sexuality become vilified in the body of the beautiful siren.