Parthenope

Shown: silver coin of Naples from beginning of 4th Century BC, with head of Parthenope

Wilfred Bion wrote in All My Sins Remembered (1991) about raising his baby daughter as a widower:

“Parthenope?

It was the name that Betty and I had decided should be the child’s if it were a girl. Immediately after the event I wanted the name to be her mother’s; then, that the name which had been born in the last agreed action of our life together should stand. “Illo Vergilium me tempore dulcis alebat Parthenope…”* All that I had to do was to equal Virgil to fulfil any part of the contract – another certain failure, but that one I could not mind!”.

*This sphragis from the closing lines of Virgil’s Georgics 4 (c29 BC) is analysed by Professor Andrew Laird:

“The utterance of line 563, (“At that time it was me, Virgil, sweet Parthenope was nursing”) represents a point at which the distinction between Virgil the poet and anyone else reciting these lines would become very pronounced.”.

On the Napoli unplugged site, Bonnie Alberts writes that, according to legend, Parthenope and her Siren sisters lived in the Tyrrhenian Sea. They haunted the shores of Campania, using their voices as weapons of seduction that lured unsuspecting sailors to their deaths. With the exception of Orpheus, who drowned out the Sirens’ song with the sound of his lyre, only Odysseus evaded the trap, by plugging his ears with beeswax. Parthenope drowned herself in despair, and her body was washed up on the shore of Megaride.

The Greek presence expanding into Southern Italy in the 8th and 7th Centuries BC included a small settlement on the tiny island of Megaride. They named it Parthenope in honour of the Siren whose tomb they believed had been venerated there.

By the 5th Century BC, the Greeks had built a new city, Neapolis, and Parthenope came to be known as the old city, Paleopolis – though Neapolitans still refer to themselves on occasion as Partenopeans.

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