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The Web site of aleph · Index
The lethal text
Writing under erasure
Mesopotamian myth
The Gilgamesh legend
The nam-shub of Enki
The Tower of Babel story
The song of the Sirens
Plato's metaphor of the cave
"man's insanity is heaven's sense"
The Ultimate Melody
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
Snow Crash

Once upon a time The Web site of aleph by Michael Chorost existed, but has since ceased. These texts represent a small measure of its content. Image from the short story ARI-L by Caza.

deoxy > philosophos

The song of the Sirens
by Homer

In the Odyssey, the Sirens sing a song so irresistible that none can hear it and escape. Circe warns Odysseus of the danger and tells him how to avoid it. He must plug up his mens' ears with beeswax, and have himself tied to the mast, if he wishes to hear it:

Square in your ship's path are Sirens, crying
beauty to bewitch men coasting by;
woe to the innocent who hears that sound!
He will not see his lady nor his children
in joy, crowding about him, home from sea;
the Sirens will sing his mind away
on their sweet meadow lolling. There are bones
of dead men rotting in a pile beside them
and flayed skins shrivel around the spot.
Steer wide;
keep well to seaward; plug your oarsmen's ears
with beeswax kneaded soft; none of the rest
should hear that song.
But if you wish to listen,
let the men tie you in the lugger, hand
and foot, back to the mast, lashed to the mast,
so you may hear those harpies' thrilling voices;
shout as you will, begging to be untied,
your crew must only twist more line around you
and keep their stroke up, till the singers fade. (Book 12, 41-58)

As with the lethal text, the implication is that the song has irresistible force. Unlike ordinary language, it cannot be merely heard: it must also be obeyed. Also like lethal texts, it is self-reflexive, in that it is about itself:

Sweet coupled airs we sing.
No lonely seafarer
Holds clear of entering
Our green mirror. (Book 12, 173-176)

The Odyssey is unique, however, in actually giving the contents of the lethal text. None of the other works with lethal texts do. They merely describe its outward form. (Apparently the text isn't too dangerous in translation and without the original music.)

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey emits a shrill, siren-like sound when it first sees sunlight. And like the Sirens, it is extraordinarily compelling. None can see it and not be drawn to it. Like the Sirens, it too is a lethal text.