Siren Land by Norman Douglas

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By Norman Douglas

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The attendant demon is of animistic growth, springing up, independently, in Burma, among the old Irish, the Eskimos, the Chilians. Our particular Sirens are probably of Phoenician origin, while our particular guardian angels come from the Chaldaeans. The crystal spaces of their aether were alive with fluttering divas who grew in holiness as they receded from earth; Hellenic and Roman culture took them over from direct contact with the East, but Christian Europe received them indirectly as a legacy from the Jews who had imbibed this poetic demonology during their Babylonian sorrows and had enriched their sacred books with these terrible and lovely creatures of air, which the Gnostics and Sabaeans elaborated into a glittering hierarchy.

A thousand turbid streams, pouring into Hellas from every side, issued thence grandly, in a calm and transparent river, to fertilise the world. So it was with the Sirens. Like many things, they were only an importation, one of the new ideas that, following the trade routes, crept in to feed the artistic imagination of the Greeks. Now that we know a little something of the ancient civilisations of countries like Egypt and Phoenicia that traded with Greece, we can appreciate the wonderful Hellenic genius for borrowing and adapting.

She was still alive and breathing hard; her face and body were "absolutely human" and not uncomely. Immediately a large concourse of people gathered round, but her sighs and heaving breast plainly showed how embarrassed she was by their vulgar curiosity. Presently she began to cry outright. The compassionate scholar ordered the crowd to move away and escorted her, as best he could, to the water's edge. There, throwing herself into the waves with a mighty splash, she vanished from sight. This one, again, partook rather of the nature of a fish than of a bird.

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