The Starbucks Experiment

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Siren's Call

Today my two work-a-day worlds, Starbucks and the Gallery, converged in a rather unexpected way. i noticed that there was another lunchtime "works in progress" talk, a short lecture given by Gallery fellows and staff about their current research projects, so i decided to go. the topic didn't look v. interesting, something about Renaissance bronzes, but i figured it was a good way to extend my lunch break. Lo and behold the subject of the talk turned out to be a siren candle holder, that is a bronze figurine of a siren (a sort of mermaid with a split tail) clutching a candlestick base in each hand. I wish I had a picture but the gallery hasn't yet posted one online. The statue/candelabra is by Severo da Ravenna, who created a number of fantastical sea creatures, such as:

which is also at the gallery. But of course, the last time i saw something that looked like the siren candle holder was yesterday when i was working at Starbucks, because for reasons unknown to 99% of sbux employees (including myself), Starbucks chose the siren for its logo:

you can see the actual siren a bit better on images relating to Starbucks' anniversary blend:

i still have no idea why sbux chose the siren for its logo, but i sure know a hell of a lot more about sirens in general. they are famous of course for trying to get Odysseus off course, but interestingly in the Odyssey they are not mermaid-like at all but birds with female heads. they could attract sailors to their deaths by singing beautifully and luring ships onto the rocks. they didn't even sing about love or sex, but rather about knowledge. they promised Odysseus the knowledge of the gods, in a sort of classical rendition of Eve and the apple. in medieval times sirens were used to represent various sins that could destroy men, and it was during this time that the siren took on her mermaid-like form, which was adopted from an originally Eustracean sea monstress Skylla, who also turns up in the Odyssey. Skylla was a far more violent monster with the upper body of a woman, two fish or dolphin tails, and a "belt" of snarling dogs:

So medieval artists take to this embodiment of the siren, and plaster her on manuscripts and church doorways, and the question is, why use her for a Renaissance candelabra? is it a pun on water holding fire? a reference to the earlier classical notion of the siren as a fount of knowledge, an illuminator? or is she just sexy as hell? it's especially interesting that many images of the Skylla-Siren, including early versions of Severo da Ravenna's bronze, show her holding the end of a tail in each hand, and that is exactly what she appears to be doing in the Starbucks logo. why would you do that sbux? why why why why why why?


At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Danielle said...

GREAT post! Fantastic; Starbucks-cum-art-history. I really enjoyed this one. It's an interesting question, and you'd think that they might enlighten their employees... after all, surely you're not the first person who has pondered this conundrum. I wonder, does the mermaid/siren archetype have some relationship with Seattle or the Pacific Northwest? The mermaid is the historical and official symbol of Warsaw... perhaps there is some sort of bizzare parallel in the city that gave us grunge and overpriced coffee beverages?

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous annie said...

K guess what?? I just got a job at starbucks, and im starting monday, so ill be commenting more often. i bet you didnt even know i was reading your blog!! muahaha

At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Billie from Montana said...

K, I would "kill" for one of the posters of the anniversary blend. I live in Montana... Starbucks are few and far between. I have searched the web endlessly to try to find one, but to no avail. All you Starbucks employees out there want to help me out? I have a "mermaid wall" where I put all my favorite are of the merfolk (particularly redhaired ones). Thanks. Billie from Montana


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