Tears of Parthenope
"Obsertatis auribus" (They stopped their ears)
The mythical founder of Naples is the siren Parthenope who played her sweetest music to win the affection of the sailor Odysseus. But he had been warned by the witch Circe that sirens would use their song to lure him off course and crash his ship into the rocks. Odysseus plugged his ears with beeswax and had his seamen tie him to the ship's mast. Siren sisters Ligeia, Leucosia and Parthenope sang their sweetest songs, but alas, were never heard. Parthenope cried so much her tears filled the Bay of Naples.
The tragic beauty of the Parthenope myth inspired the "Tears of Parthenope" necklace by writer, artist and futurist Rita J. King. Her Treasure of the Sirens pendants were inspired by amphora deposited on the seabed near Naples during ancient shipwrecks.
Between the 9th and 7th century, Greek sailors founded a settlement on the small island called Megaride. They renamed it Partenope for the dead siren they found in the sea and carried to shore to entomb. The settlers expanded onto the mainland and created a city grid which is still in use today. They named it "Neopolis" (new city) which eventually became Napoli.
Their earliest coins from the 4th century B.C.E. were minted with Parthenope's image. In 1799 when the Bourbon rulers of Naples were ousted, French forces swept in and established the "Parthenopean Republic". Only six months later King Ferdinand sailed into Naples on a ship named "Sirena" and took back the city.
"Contemnit tuta procellas" (She defies the tempests)
The earliest descriptions of sirens give them female heads and avian bodies. During the Renaissance depictions of sirens evolved into beautiful mermaids. By the 19th and 20th century, they became sensual nudes whose appearance was as physically attractive as their enchanting song.
Today, Parthenope can be found everywhere in Naples, on fountains, signs and monuments both ancient and modern. The Lungomare near Castel dell'Ovo is called Via Partenope and myth says the castle was built directly atop her tomb. The university is named for her and its main doors are flanked by two giant sirens. More than 3,000 years later Parthenope continues to be the perfect symbol for Naples, a city so beautiful it breaks your heart and so tragic it inspires great passion. Parthenope's vulnerability gave her infamy. She gave herself feverishly to love, and though it did not win the object of her desire, her song continues to haunt Naples.
Naples is one of the oldest continuously habited cities in the world. It has survived centuries of invaders, earthquakes caused by volcanic eruptions, outbreaks of disease, Nazi bombs and the Camorra. Parthenope has remained its one constant symbol.