The Partenope mermaid and the birth of Naples

Partenope Naples

The birth of Naples is linked to the legend of a love and passion story between Ulysses and the siren Partenope.

The legend tells of three sisters: Leucosia with white limbs, Parthenope with the body of a virgin and the younger Ligea the melodious.
The sisters were three beautiful nymphs, Persephone’s playmates.
One day while the girls were all together, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, the god of the Underworld.
When she heard of the incident, Demeter, Persephone’s mother, as punishment for not trying to prevent the rat, turned the three sisters into sirens and condemned them to live in solitude.

The mermaid is a figure already present in Greek mythology, a divine creature depicted with the bust of a woman and the body of a bird with big wings.
Their singing was irresistible and in this way they attracted to them the sailors who passed by and led them to death.

However, in the Middle Ages the representation of mermaids changed, becoming a maiden from the bust upwards and a fish instead of legs.
The first documentation of these mythological creatures can be found in the 8th century Liber Mostrorum which describes them as “hybrid female fish”.

The history of Partenope and the birth of Naples

As we read in the Odyssey: Ulysses, warned by the sorceress Circe, was aware of the captivating influence of the sirens, of their beautiful but deadly songs.
Those who heard the sirens’ song were bewitched by them, and went to their deaths.

However, Ulysses, curious to hear the song, ordered his companions to tie it to the mast of the ship and the whole crew to put wax plugs in their ears.
When they reached the vicinity of the Gulf of the Sirens, poor Parthenope began to sing to attract Ulysses.

Parthenope knew the risk she was running by singing to such a brave adventurer.
If a mermaid sings to a mortal and he does not fall into your arms, the mermaid dies.
In the beginning the love song was strong, intense and Ulysses listened to it without being able to go into the arms of Parthenope, who little by little let himself die.
In the end the song became a lament.

For the disappointment of not having bewitched Ulysses and his crew the sirens committed suicide by throwing themselves on the rocks.

Leucosia, ended up on the coast of Poseidon, today’s Paestum.
Ligea, on the other hand, was pushed into the Gulf of Sant’Eufemia (Lamezia Terme in Calabria) and found dead on the bank of the Okinaros (today’s Bagni river).
The body of Partenope was pushed into the Gulf of Naples and more precisely on the islet of Megaride (where today stands the Castel dell’Ovo. Here, the body of Partenope dissolved, taking the shape of the city of Naples: its head is the hill of Capodimonte and its tail rests along the hill of Posillipo.

A fountain in Piazza Sannazzaro has been dedicated to Parthenon.

Partenope Naples

The myth of Parthenope and Vesuvius

In 1800 it was said that Partenope was a mermaid who lived on the coasts of the Gulf of Naples.
One day, a centaur named Vesuvius and Eros approached her, throwing his dart, made Vesuvius and Parthenope fall in love.
Zeus, however, being in love with Partenope, decided to separate the two loved ones forever.
The powerful god transformed Vesuvius into a volcano on the edge of the gulf, so that the siren could always see him without being able to touch him.
Parthenope, unable to bear the idea of no longer having his beloved with him, killed himself.
The waves dragged his body to the coast of the islet of Megaride and took the form of an enchanting city.