The hidden third siren of the orphic argonautica

Alexandra Madeła*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The Orphic Argonautica features a scene involving a group of Sirens. Their number is assumed to be two, since the text mentions one each throwing away a flute and a lyre. This paper argues that the author leaves open the possibility and even hints that there are in fact three Sirens, one of whom holds no instrument. This conclusion is supported by numerous-both literary and artistic-representations of three Sirens, which include one bare-handed such creature and two holding flute and lyre. It also finds confirmation in an allusion to an epigram by Antipater about three Muses, as well as some intra-textual parallels. The final part of the article discusses the implications of this ambiguity, such as reconciling the Homeric tradition of two Sirens with the number of three that was current in the author's lifetime, but also allowing for an allegorical reading of the episode.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-122
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Late antiquity
  • musical instruments
  • Orphic Argonautica
  • Sirens


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