Every reader of Homer’s Odyssey knows what this painting depicts – the seductive young women who appeared on board ship and lured sailors to their deaths being manfully resisted by our hero, Ulysses, who’s prepared himself for the ordeal in advance by having his men lash him to the mast. Quite what that particular symbolism means I’m sure I have no idea at all (but don’t mention femmes fatales and sirens to a film noir enthusiast in the same breath), but if you’re confused about the story, the symbolism, or why Ulysses is tied to the mast while his men have wax in their ears then you’re either going to have to read Homer’s Odyssey, which for the right kind of person should be pure pleasure, or try Lindsay Perigo’s much shorter but no less delightful presentation on ‘Swamp Sirens’ to get the drift of it all.
Suffice to say that one should beware of young women who appear on one’s deck dressed in little more than fish scales and singing a siren song. Should that happen to you, then make sure to tie yourself to the nearest pole. Carefully.
In the meantime, just enjoy Draper’s seductively painted warning. Or succumb.