Ulysses and the Sirens

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Ulysses and the Sirens
A painting of a boat in which several men are rowing while another man is tied to the mast and three mermaids are in the process of boarding the ship and losing their tails
ArtistHerbert James Draper
Year1909 (1909)
MediumOil on canvas
SubjectA scene from Homer's Odyssey in which Ulysses is tormented by Sirens
Dimensions175.9 cm × 210 cm (69.25 in × 84 in)
LocationFerens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull

Ulysses and the Sirens is a 1909 oil painting by Herbert James Draper measuring 69.25 x 84 in.[1] It is held at the Ferens Art Gallery in Kingston upon Hull, England.[2] The gallery purchased the painting from Draper in 1910 for £600.[3] Draper also painted a reduced replica that is housed at the Leeds Art Gallery.[4] The subject of the painting is an episode in the epic poem Odyssey by Homer in which Ulysses is tormented by the voices of Sirens, although there are only two Sirens in Homer's poem and they stay in a meadow.[5] The painting depicts Ulysses tied to the mast and forcibly attendant to the Sirens' seductions.[6] Although the Sirens were depicted in ancient Greek art as scary, ugly creatures, Draper maintains the spirit but not the content of the story by transferring the Sirens' seductiveness from their song to a visible form, depicting the Sirens as beautiful mermaids who invade Ulysses' ship.[7] The Sirens are nude and their tails disappear as they board the ship.[8] Draper's conflation of Sirens with mermaids and his sexualization of these figures are consistent with other artwork of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.[9] Norwegian social theorist Jon Elster used the name of Draper's painting as the title for his 1979 book about rationality and precommitment.[10]


  1. ^ Menges 2009, p. 56.
  2. ^ Impelluso & Zuffi 2003, p. 293.
  3. ^ "Ulysses and the Sirens". Hull City Council. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  4. ^ Robertson et al. 2007, p. 20.
  5. ^ Scott 2006, p. 107.
  6. ^ Salcman, Michael (August 2006). "Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper (1863–1920)". Neurosurgery. 59 (2): 422.
  7. ^ Baker & Christensen 2013, p. 210.
  8. ^ Robinson 2007, p. 439.
  9. ^ Sax 2013, p. 94.
  10. ^ Halvorsen 2014, p. 281.


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  • Robertson, Alexander; Miller, Connie; Raikes, Sophie (2007). Leeds Art Gallery. Leeds Museums & Galleries. ISBN 9780901981752.
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  • Scott, Derek B. (2006). Blackwell, Alan; MacKay, David (eds.). "The Power of Music". Power. Cambridge University Press: 94–113. ISBN 9781139445597.