Mythology of Lorelei


Who is Lorelei (sometimes Loreley)? Some say she is a mermaid, for some she is a nymph, for some a waer spirit or siren. Lorelei is actually a huge rocky cliff (about 120 m above the level of the water) in Germany. It's placed on the left bank of Rhine and inspired one of the most popular legends in Germany.


Story of Lorelei is not easy to reconstruct. There are many more or less reliable sources. Essential elements of the legend of Lorelei are attributed to romantic poet and novelist Clemens Brentano, but it became famous after Heinrich Heine published a poem Die Loreley.


In this ballad Lorelei (Loreley) is a daughter of old Father Rhine, lives in a depths of the rover and singing tempting songs in the evenings, sitting on the rock. Boatmen who heard her song, became so enchanted, they forgot about time and place until their vessels crashed and they drowned.


Lorelei was immortal creature, but even her wasn't imune to Cupid's arrows. She saw a fisherman, felt in love, he returned the feelings and they had a romance for several weeks. Lorelei even helped him at fishing. But happiness lasted only until she heard about a young girl who also liked the handsome youngster.


One evening Lorelei grabbed her lover and dragged him into her underwater palace so he, drowned, could stay with her forever. This wasn't enough. She continued with her lurking singing and many men lost their lives until Prince Palatine's only son Count Ludwig heard about Lorelie.


He wanted to see her by his own eyes. Like others, he was spellbound, he lost a ship, his crew and his life. When his father found out, he immediately decided to end Lorelei's games.

loreley germany

Prince's army surrounded Lorelei, but she didn't really care. She laughed at them, believing her father will rescue her from any kind of danger, then she dropped the perls from her necklice one by one into the depths of the water and finally a chariot came to drive her away, under water, not to be seen anymore.


A distant murmur of her song can still be heard at the rock of the Loreley, Rhine, Germany ...

Unreliably mythology of Lorelei

Short research shows us different variations and interpretations of Lorelei's legend. Let's take a lok at only main branches.


1. In some versions she is so jealous she kills her lover before he gets a chance to cheat on her, in others he leaves her and Lorelei started with her deadly singing ritual only after she waited for his return.


2. In some versions she throws herself in water to escape the warriors, on others she is a mortal who drowned, when she tried to escape her prisoners and returns in the form of vindictive mermaid.


Well, we can debate even about her hair which is sometimes golden and sometimes copper red, but knowing the folkloristic explanations of the legends, we would probably end with the color of sunrays in both cases ...

lorelei and other water nymphs
Loreley Fountain in Kilmer Park, USA

As you may expect the mythology behind the Lorelei inspired hundreds of artist to create their own visions of the story. Composers, dramatists, painters and poets made many new interpetations and it seems we'll see even more of them in the future.


To get the taste there is a series of paintings below.

Heinrich Prohle (1822-1895)
Emil Krupa Krupinski (1872-1924)
Howard Pyle (1853-1911)
Hans Makart (1840-1884)
Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

The meaning of the name Lorelei

Lorelei, sometimes spelled Lorelai, Loralei or Loreley is girls name which can be literally translated as 'murmuring rock' or 'lurking rock' depending if we explain the first part of the name with 'lureln' or 'luren'. Probably best possible translation would be 'Temptress'.


The name of Lorelei (with variations) can be easily found in pop culture as well. Probably the most known is Lorelei Lee, character played by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In popular TV show Gilmore Girls we can find three ladies sharing the name Lorelai: grandmother, mother and daughter. In the series they are distinguised by nicknames.


It seems at least one Lorelei can be foud in every generation.