Difference Between Siren and Harpy

Greek mythology is a very interesting subject with numerous mythical creatures and several theories behind their existence and death. Sirens and harpies are Greek mythological creatures that are best described as half-humans and half-animals/birds.

Their existence is bound to literature, music, and art and there is no evidence of them existing in the real world. 

Siren vs Harpy

The main difference between siren and harpy is that sirens are mythical aquatic creatures who were known to lure sailors and crash their ships upon the rocky cliffs. They are very aggressive creatures known for killing and eating these sailors. On the other hand, harpies are mythical wind creatures who tend to punish people by the order of Zeus. 

Siren vs Harpy

There is mention of sirens in literature especially in poetry during the European Renaissance. Sirens are known as merciless predators who lured sailors by their enchanting voices and kill them.

But, if anyone would survive the enchantment of the sirens, then the sirens would cease to death. 

When the idea of a mythical creature like harpy emerged in Greek mythology, it was simply a personification of the wind, calm, and chaos co-existing. But it is believed that later for the sake of story-telling and giving harpies a physical shape, they were depicted as half-woman and half-bird. 

Comparison Table Between Siren and Harpy

Parameters of ComparisonSirenHarpy
DefinitionSirens are mythical aquatic creatures known to lure sailors by their singing, therefore, sinking the ships. A harpy is a mythical creature that is best described as a winged beast similar to the size of an eagle. 
OriginAmong several theories, it is believed that sirens emerged mainly as the precursor of the Northern European mermaids who lured, drowned, and ate sailors. There are several theories but many people believe that harpies were sent by Zeus to kill the prophet Phineus. 
EtymologyThe word siren which is used in modern English today is derived from old French, Greek, and Latin all referring to an imaginary creature. Harpy is originally derived from the Greek word Harpuia which means snatchers. But, in modern English Harpy is referred to as whirlwinds. 
AppearanceThough there are various descriptions of sirens from half-birds half-human to scaly creatures, they are most commonly depicted as beautiful women with fish-like tails. Harpies are considered immortal creatures with hooked claws and beaks of a bird but later in history was portrayed with the head of a human being. 
BehaviorSirens are known as very aggressive and dangerous creatures who lured the sailors to death. Harpies are portrayed as the spirits of wind capable of chaos and destruction. 
ImportanceIt is believed that sirens are temptress but if anyone survived their singing, the sirens would die. It is believed that harpies abducted and punished those who angered the gods. 
MythologyThe Sirens were originally the playmates of Persephone who were turned into ugly creatures by Demeter, mother of Persephone. The Harpies are often known as “The Hounds of Zeus.”

What is Siren?

Ancient mythical creatures have several theories behind them because nobody saw them in the real world. This is the reason most such creatures are given several physical forms in literature, history, etc in different periods.

Sirens, creatures from Greek mythology, have their most distinctive in Homer’s Odyssey (literature). Since sirens are known for enchanting sailors with their tempting voice, in Odyssey, the hero was portrayed as a person who successfully escaped the enchanting calls of the sirens.

And, if someone can resist the singing of the sirens, the latter are fated to die. 

One of the most famous stories regarding the origin of sirens is the story of Persephone. Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and she was abducted by the god of the underworld, Hades.

When she was abducted by Hades, Persephone was playing with the nymphs, her playmates. But after Demeter found that they were unable to protect her daughter from Hades, in rage she turned them into ugly creatures called sirens. 

Some believe that sirens may have been the precursor of mermaids because of the similarities in their physical appearance. Sirens are depicted as evil characters, creatures that looked like mermaids but were dangerous predators. 

What is Harpy?

Described as a half-woman and half-bird creature, harpies are believed to be spirits of the wind. Though the origin of the harpy is debatable, the symbolization of wind through the harpies expresses its duality nature.

Wind can be both soothing and chaotic, changing from time to time. Similarly, harpies were chaotic but not dangerous all the time.

They were sent into the world to punish those who angered the god, their purpose was to seek vengeance. Some poets expressed harpies as nasty and filthy creatures while some described them as winged creatures with beautiful long hair. 

Various writers wrote about harpies but they believed in different origins of the creatures. For example, many poets wrote that harpies were daughters of Thaumas (son of the sea) and Electra (daughter of the ocean).

Since the wind has different behavior at different times, many writers also believed there were different harpies with different personalities. 

Though harpy is originally derived from a Greek word, its mention in the literature of mythology is not limited to Greek. Harpies are also mentioned in the history of Roman and Byzantines ugly creatures.

In the pages of history, sometimes disappearances of people were validated as the act of harpies. Because harpies served Zeus and whenever there was wrongdoing, harpies took people away for punishment. 

Main Differences Between Siren and Harpy

  1. Sirens are mythical aquatic creatures known to lure sailors by their singing whereas a harpy is a mythical winged beast similar to the size of an eagle.
  2. Sirens emerged in the Northern European folklore as a precursor of mermaids whereas harpies were sent by Zeus to kill the prophet Phineus.
  3. The word siren has emerged from several languages like French, Latin, and Greek whereas the word harpy has merged from the Greek word harpuia.
  4. Sirens are most commonly depicted as beautiful women with fish-like tails whereas harpies are portrayed with hooked claws and beaks of a bird with a human head.
  5. Sirens are seductive and dangerous predators whereas harpies acted upon the order of gods.
  6. Sirens are creatures of the water whereas harpies are creatures of the wind. 
Difference Between Siren and Harpy

Conclusion

Though there is no solid evidence that can prove the real-world existence of these mythical creatures, many historians and researchers are looking into it. Though sirens may not exist, harpy eagles today are one of the most endangered species fighting the battle of existence.

When a physical form was given to the harpies, it was also made a half-woman half-eagle. So, what we see in the modern world today is undoubtedly connected to the ancient period and there is room to explore more.

Fictitious characters like these are also used in movies and television series nowadays extensively. 

References

  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00264-018-3776-3
  2. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-hellenic-studies/article/harpies-in-greek-art/534CC40A376CCBBE1FD457344683503F
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