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Kafka’s Realism Regarding the Sirens

Kafka’s rendition of Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens is a realistic approach to Homer’s telling of events. Kafka points out that the song of the Sirens would have been more powerful than anything set in place to block out their song from anyone’s ears, especially the wax Circe advised Odysseus to place in the ears of his men. As Kafka says, “he had complete faith in the handful of wax” (128).

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Herein lies Kafka’s main point, namely that despite the efforts put forth by anyone, even those guided by the gods, no one would have been able to escape the Sirens and their deadly, seductive song; it follows that, Kafka maintains, the Sirens could not have been singing at all (128). Kafka’s interpretation of Homer here goes deeper than merely asserting that the Sirens could only have been silent rather than singing when Odysseus led his men past the shore they inhabited.

Kafka is attributing the existential motif of choice regarding Odysseus in particular by implying that Odysseus, more sound in mind than even the gods, was able to simply disregard the existence of the Sirens and thereby escape. Realizing this to be the case, the Sirens did not even bother to sing, but Odysseus, as Kafka asserts, in attempting to “shield” himself from both the Sirens and the gods, told the story as if they had been singing, and that his wiles were enough to protect both him and his men from the deadly song (128).

In maintaining that the Sirens were singing, when in all probability they were not as their song would have easily penetrated any barrier, Odysseus was able to keep everyone happy—the Sirens included. Kafka is asking his audience to reconsider the likelihood that Odysseus’ instructions, handed down from Circe, actually worked. In contrast to Homer’s version of events, Kafka is maintaining that realistically it would not have been at all possible for anyone, no matter how strong, to escape the song of the Sirens.

Whereas Homer asserts that in fact Odysseus was able to escape the deadly song by filling the ears of his men with wax and then tying their leader up on the mast, Kafka says that Odysseus was merely fooling everyone into thinking that it actually worked, even his men. The implications of the addendum Kafka mentions near the end of his story are that Odysseus was able to close off his inner mind from even the gods, and that they were unable to see in him that in fact the Sirens were silent.

In turn, Homer was able to maintain that Odysseus’ legendary journey was in fact rife with danger at every turn by positing that Odysseus had indeed outsmarted the alluring Siren song. But, as Kafka alludes, it would have been a rather dull journey were Odysseus to have admitted that the Sirens were in fact silent. Odysseus’ survival, not only throughout his journey but after as well, rested in his ability to fool himself and in turn the gods.