The Sirens of Greek mythology are sometimes portrayed in later folklore as fully aquatic and mermaid-like; the fact that in Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Romanian and Portuguese the word for mermaid is respectively Sirena, Sirène, Sirena, Syrena, Sirenă and Sereia, and that in biology the Sirenia comprise an order of fully aquatic mammals that includes the dugong and manatee, add to the visual confusion, so that Sirens are even represented as mermaids.However, “the sirens, though they sing to mariners, are not sea-maidens,” Harrison had cautioned; “they dwell on an island in a flowery meadow.”
Lorelei is a mermaid name that belonged to the mermaid who lured unwary fisherman to their death by singing the most beautiful song they had ever heard.
The name comes from the old German words “lureln” (Rhine dialect for “murmuring”) and the Celtic term “ley” (rock). The translation of the name would therefore be: “murmur rock” or “murmuring rock”. The heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area (still visible in the early 19th century) created a murmuring sound, and this combined with the special echo the rock produces which acted as a sort of amplifier, giving the rock its name. The murmuring is hard to hear today owing to urbanization of the area. Other theories attribute the name to the many accidents, by combining the word “luren” (lurk) with the same “ley” ending, with the translation “lurking rock”.
Original folklore and the creation of the modern mythThe rock and the echo it creates have inspired various tales. An old explanation told of the rock as the home of dwarves.
In 1801 German author Clemens Brentano wrote the poem Zu Bacharach am Rheine (part of his novel Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter) which first created the story of an enchanting female connected to the rock. In the poem, the beautiful Lore Lay is falsely accused of maliciously bewitching men and driving them to ruin; later pardoned and on the way to a nunnery she passes and climbs the Lorelei rock, watching out for the lover who abandoned her, and falls to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards. Brentano had taken inspiration from Ovid and the Echo myth.
Brentano’s poem was followed by many other authors who took his story and wrote versions of their own. Most famous is the poem Die Lore-Ley by Heinrich Heine, which tells of the titular female as a kind of siren luring shipmen to distraction with her singing, who then crash on the rocks in the riverbed. Heine’s poem was labelled as “written by unknown writer” during the Third Reich because it was too popular to ban it completely for its Jewish authorship.
The Loreley character, although originally created by Brentano, has passed into folklore in her Heine form, and is commonly but mistakenly believed to be an old myth. And it influenced the creation of the same title of Guillaume Apollinaire.
A barge carrying 2,400 tonnes of sulphuric acid capsized on January 13, 2011 near the town of St. Goarshausen, home to the Lorelei rock, which marks the narrowest part of the Rhine, blocking traffic on one of Europe’s busiest waterways amid a frantic search for two crew members.
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