I originally posted this question in the Spanish StackExchange but it seems it fits more in here, even though the significance of the word looks more direct in Spanish than English.

My doubt rose up after vaguely remember the words of a professor I had some years ago at the University, but I've been unable to find the source of the history on Internet.

What I remember about what he said is that the story began with a God who is in love with a river and from that relation emerged the mermaids, from which arise the word "encantar" (from the word "cantar"-"to sing" in spanish). This behaviour of seducing people by singing (apart from the extremely beauty of mermaids) is then related with a person who can extract you from this monotony and commonly distraught reality (associated with the life of sailors in a boat) and take you to a new more spiritual and joyful reality without the delusions of the other (associated with the place after death in the case of the sailors).

My question then arises as if anybody can recognize this (intent of) cite and point out the classic text in which it's narrated (or maybe not a classic text but a posterior analysis and analogy of some classic text). I think this history is really beautiful, and wonderful to dedicate to a person who you really love and appreciate :)

  • from the point of view of the greek language charm is very close to χαρμα from Perseus "source of joy, delight" perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=xarma&la=greek
    – anna v
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 15:23
  • 2
    Are you sure you don't mean "enchant", rather than "charm"? The etymology is similar, but as far as I can tell: Encantadora and enchant both derive from the latin "incantare", while charm derives from the latin "carmen".
    – femtoRgon
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 16:02
  • @femtoRgon nice point, but it might not be a mistake: even in Italian "incantare" ("to enchant") also kind-of means "to charm".
    – o0'.
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 17:27
  • @Lohoris - The same can be said of the english words, and the meanings of the latin root words are similar as well. I don't necessarily know whether it's a mistake, but I think it could stand clarification.
    – femtoRgon
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 17:35

2 Answers 2


I can find no other story than the Sirens. They agree with the above by all aspects, that is:

  • Their father is either Acheloos (the river god) or Forkys (a sea deity) and their mother is either Chthon (Earth) or a Muse (usually Terpsechore).
  • They are not necessarily beautiful but their singing is delightful. I think I need not repeat the story from Odyssey where it describes that seamen were drowning in their attempt to reach for the sirens and how Odysseus himself got away with it.
  • According to a theory the name "Siren- Σειρήναι" comes from the phoenician root "sir" - to charm - as the myth itself is of asian origin (here is the connection with charm).
  • There is also a theory that Sirens are the "Muses of the underworld", i.e. spirits of the world beyond, holding superhuman knowledge.

Sources: Elliniki Mithologia (Greek Mythology), Ekdotiki Athinon, vol.2 Gods The two theories are attributed to the names Marot (etymology/origin) and Buscher (Muses of the underwold).

  • I think I have a lot to read! Thank you very much for the sources! :) Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 14:37

Unfortunately, your Spanish teacher was wrong. Look under Lewis and Short II.C to see that canere (the ultimate root of enchant > incantare > in + cantare = frequentative of canere) was often used in Latin for spells. Under cantare III you'll see enchant that goes all the way back to the first prose writer in Latin, Cato the Elder (De Re Rustica 160.1).

The myth of the Sirens (as theodojo mentioned) was probably not the origin of singing = enchanting, but rather the other way around. For the power of music over humans, one need not look much further than Demodocus in the Odyssey whose singing made Odysseus weep (8.62-67). Furthermore, song, especially formal epic song, always began with an invocation to the Muses, daughters of Apollo and thus song was both religious and prophetic (remember Apollo was the god of prophecy, among other things).

For Hesiod, not only is the poet a "servant of the Muse" (Hes. Th. 100), but the "divine gift" (Th. 93) of the Muse allows the poet to speak of things of the past and the future: "they breathed a divine voice into me, so that I might glorify what will be and what was before (Th. 32).

Sources: Apart from Hesiod and Homer, good starts would be Stoddard's "The Programmatic Message of the "Kings and Singers" Passage: Hesiod, "Theogony" 80-103" in TAPhA 133 (2003): 1-16. See also Greg Nagy's "Ancient Greek Poetry, Prophecy, and Concepts of Theory" in Kugel's Poetry and Prophecy: The Beginnings of a Literary Tradition, Cornell University Press, 1990.


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