No ancient mariner makes it safely past the island of the sirens until Odysseus does so in Book 12 of Homer’s Odyssey. In this passage, translated by Robert Fagles (Viking, 1996), the hero tells of the supreme effort it took to resist the sirens’ call:
But then—the wind fell in an instant, all glazed to a dead calm … a mysterious power hushed the heaving swells. The oarsmen leapt to their feet, struck the sail, stowed it deep in the hold and sat to the oarlocks, thrashing with polished oars, frothing the water white. Now with a sharp sword I sliced an ample wheel of beeswax down into pieces, kneaded them in my two strong hands and the wax soon grew soft, worked by my strength and Helios’ burning rays, the sun at high noon, and I stopped the ears of my comrades one by one. They bound me hand and foot in the tight ship— erect at the mast-block, lashed by ropes to the mast— and rowed and churned the whitecaps stroke on stroke. We were just offshore as far as a man’s shout can carry, scudding close, when the Sirens sensed at once a ship was racing past and burst into their high, thrilling song: ‘Come closer, famous Odysseus—Achaea’s pride and glory— moor your ship on our coast so you can hear our song! Never has any sailor passed our shores in his black craft until he has heard the honeyed voices pouring from our lips, and once he hears to his heart’s content sails on, a wiser man …’ So they sent their ravishing voices out across the air and the heart inside me throbbed to listen longer. I signaled the crew with frowns to set me free— they flung themselves at the oars and rowed on harder, Perimedes and Eurylochus springing up at once to bind me faster with rope on chafing rope. But once we’d left the Sirens fading in our wake, once we could hear their song no more, their urgent call— my steadfast crew was quick to remove the wax I’d used to seal their ears and loosed the bonds that lashed me.