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Circe warned him: the sirens—half woman, half bird (or sometimes half fish)—would try to seduce Ulysses and his crew with their sweet voices when he set out on his return voyage to Ithaca. Upon hearing their singing, Ulysses and the rest of his men would fall victim to the spell. So captivating were their melodies that Circe knew the men—and even the king himself—would be capable of throwing themselves overboard to try and hear the sounds from up close. The best course of action, then, was to avoid the temptation altogether. Thus, the goddess advised Ulysses to seal the sailors’ ears with wax as a preventive measure. Only Ulysses himself would be allowed to hear the sounds but on condition that his hands and feet were to be bound to the ship’s mast. No matter how tempting the singing, he would not be able to free himself from the ropes.

Out on the high seas, their ears covered and Ulysses bound tight to the mast, he began to feel the rapture. Unable to detect the source of those voices and captivated by their beauty, he frantically struggled to untie himself to go in search of the sirens. But so tightly was he bound, no matter how hard he tried, he was unable to escape their grip. And nor could the crew hear his desperate cries as he begged them to free him so he could go in search of those voices.

A few minutes later, all was silent. The voices had stopped and Ulysses ceased his struggle. The hero had managed to hear the sirens without it costing his life. His men too had survived, all thanks to Circe’s counsel. What the goddess didn’t tell them, however, was that their feat would have consequences for the sirens. And one in particular. The fact that no mortal had succumbed to the charm of their voices meant that one of them would have to be punished by death. On this occasion, it was Parthenope. Her dead body was pulled out to sea and dragged by the currents until it washed up on the coast. The Mediterranean city of Palepolis (Old City)—also known as Parthenope in honour of the fallen siren—was founded on the spot where her body washed up. Shortly after, the city’s inhabitants decided to move to a nearby area. And so Neapolis (New City)—now known as Naples—was born.