Ulysses and the Sirens (1909) by Herbert James Draper. The philosophy of split personality is a topic which has fascinating implications in ethics.

Have you ever heard about Odysseus (‘Ulysses’ in Latin) and the Sirens? This story, which delivers a great lesson on how people can be divided (mentally, not physically), is part of the lyrical epic Odyssey, a work attributed to Homer, a presumed-blind bard of Ancient Greece.

Odysseus faces many tests of his moral endurance during his ten-year voyage back home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. One is posed by the dangerous but temptatious songs of the Sirens.

The Sirens were dangerous creatures who had a penchant for luring sailors towards their island with enchanting music. Bewitched, the sailors would be lulled to sleep, allowing the Sirens to tear them to pieces and consume them. Odysseus knows of this—he was warned by the goddess Kirke—but, in his curiosity, he is still eager to hear their reputedly irresistible songs.

Now here’s the interesting part: Odysseus makes a commitment which will undermine his future self. Before the ship skirts the land of the Sirens he asks to be tied to the ship’s mast and the sailors to plug their ears with beeswax for their own protection. If he begs to be untied, they must ignore him, he commands: upon hearing the Sirens’ call he will want to drown himself.

Duly, as the Sirens sing, he begs to be untied and the sailors are forced into a moral dilemma: (1) fulfil their promise to the first Odysseus, even though the first Odysseus is no longer present, or (2) obey the second Odysseus, who is clearly demanding to be untied.

They must betray one.