fantasy myth

The Difference between Harpies and Sirens

Sirens always evoke the image of beautiful mermaids luring sailors to their deaths with their song. Although the last part is true, the original sirens were not exactly mermaids. In Greek mythology, they had more similarities with harpies. So, what is the difference between harpies and sirens?

Harpies are creatures with the body of a bird and the head of a woman. Sirens look like harpies but they have a human torso, birdlike legs, and wings of a large bird. Their brains are more human whereas harpies’ brains are more like a bird’s.

the difference between harpies and sirens
Wiki Commons – The song of the Sirens – Keppler.


The harpies of Ancient Greece were terrible monsters who stole food from humans and screeched incredibly loud, not letting their victims eat or rest. They were created by Zeus and were unleashed with the force of the wind.

Theoretically, they were spirits of the wind who later took shape as half-human half-birdlike creatures.

Incredibly cruel, they brought chaos to Earth, would find pleasure in torturing humans, and they killed their victims by tearing them limb from limb. They were among the most feared creatures in Greek mythology.

Creative Commons –


Sirens lured people to their deaths with their song. People were defenseless against their beautiful voices and left everything and everyone behind to follow them, which always led to their deaths. As soon as their human victims were in the sirens’ grasp, they would eat them alive.

Wiki Commons –
The Sirens and Ulysses by William Etty, 1837

Sirens are dangerous creatures and they are often described as brutal and merciless.

In movies, these creatures are portrayed as mermaids. However, in Greek mythology, sirens were birdlike women, and they also appeared in Homer’s Odyssey.

The hero Odysseus stopped the ears of his sailors with wax to prevent them from hearing the sirens’ fatal song. He, however, was curious about their song and wanted to hear it. So, he tied himself to the mast to remain safe and stop himself from steering their ship to their destruction.

Wiki Commons
Ulysses and the Sirens by H.J. Draper

According to Ovid, sirens were human companions of Persephone, who was the goddess of agriculture and the daughter of Zeus. After she was kidnapped and kept prisoner by Hades, the sirens looked for her everywhere and asked for wings to aid them in their search. The gods granted them their wish.

Another version of this story (by Demeter) reveals that they were turned into birds as a punishment for failing in their duty to protect Persephone.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, there aren’t many differences, except for their appearance, killing methods, and strengths. Both are formidable beings and equally dangerous and deadly.

Stories take liberties with each creature, as did I in mine. I think that my harpies physically resemble sirens more – with a personal touch from the author 🙂 Mine are also as deadly as the ones from Greek mythology, but they are still very much in touch with their human side and do not have a birdlike but a human brain.

Greek mythology continues to fascinate many readers. It is something that never seems to lose its allure. Harpies seem to be a little under-represented in modern literature – as far as I have seen – and I hope that my harpies in The Path of the Stone and The Rise of the Stone will do justice to these fantastic beings. 🙂

The Path of the Stone - Christine Duts


7 thoughts on “The Difference between Harpies and Sirens

  1. Femi

    I’ve seen a similitude of the siren in cartoons and movies. Never knew it was coined from greek mythology. In movies, these beings are depicted as being beautiful not knowing they actually have a monstrous look and are cruel and merciless. I’ve always been fascinated by greek mythology. I actually got to know quite a few things about greek mythology through movies. This makes me sometimes to read up on what I see. Great article.


    1. Christine

      Hi Femi,

      Yes, Greek mythology is fascinating, isn´t it? 🙂
      Thank you for your comment!

  2. MnD

    Greek Mythology is a great subject to get into the harpies and sirens. These are the some great ways to explain greek gods and what they did.


  3. Boriana

    I am so glad that I found your article. My daughter has a lesson in school on Greek Mythology and I will recommend that she reads your post. It will be so valuable for her to have your article in addition to her schoolwork. Thank you for presenting this information in such an appealing way!
    Wishing you all the best,

    1. Christine

      Hi Boriana,

      Thank you! I’m happy that this article is of some help to your daughter! 🙂

  4. Ceci

    Hi Christine,
    This is an interesting article and provides clarification about the differences between Harpies and Sirens. I am more familiar with Sirens as beautiful mermaids. I honestly did not know that Harpies were created by Zeus and were spirits of the wind. It is also interesting that both have a linkage to Zeus. They are truly fascinating characters that make Greek mythology so appealing.


    1. Christine

      Hi Ceci,

      I also find them fascinating. Right now, I am incorporating sirens into my manuscript for The Fall of the Stone. It’s the first time I include these creatures in a book 🙂
      Thanks for your comment!

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