Many civilizations have believed that life began in the sea, so water has been identified as female. Associated with the female spirit of water are legends of women half human and half fish, mermaids, sirens, undines, ladies of the lake, nixies, or water nymphs. Mermaids are associated with Goddesses worldwide: Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love, and Yemeya, the African Ocean Goddess.
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were sea nymphs who lived on an island surrounded by cliffs and rocks. Approaching sailors were drawn to them by their enchanting singing, causing them to sail on the cliffs and drown. Odysseus escaped the Sirens by having all his sailors plug their ears with wax and tie him to the mast. He was curious as to what the Sirens sounded like. When he heard their beautiful music, he ordered the sailors to untie him, but they ignored him. When they passed out of earshot, Odysseus stopped thrashing about, calmed down, and was released.
In early art, the Sirens were represented as birds with the heads of women. Later, they were described as female figures with the legs of birds, with or without wings. Birds were chosen because of their characteristic beautiful voice. However, later in history, Sirens were sometimes depicted as beautiful women (whose bodies, not only their agents, are seductive) or mermaids (half woman, half fish). The fact that in some languages (such as French), the word for mermaid is Siren adds to this confusion.