Kafka and the COVID-19 epidemic: Why the Sirens’ silence is more deadly than their song

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Seeking to examine the implications of social distancing, isolation and the silencing of public spaces brought about by the COVID-19 epidemic, I offer an interpretation of Kafka’s short story ‘The Silence of the Sirens’ contrasting it to the Homeric original. In Homer’s story, Odysseus resists the temptation of the Sirens’ deadly song by having himself tied to the mast of his ship, while his oarsmen, ears blocked with beeswax, sail quickly by. By contrast, in Kafka’s telling of the story, the Sirens fall silent. A solitary Odysseus, indifferent to them, sails by peacefully, his ears blocked, his ‘great eyes’ staring in the distance. Homer’s story has long been seen as a warning against the seductions of Siren voices like those of opportunist demagogues. Throughout the Odyssey, Odysseus himself offers a complex archetype of heroic leadership, navigating adroitly and prudently the dangers of stormy seas. Kafka’s character, by contrast, proposes a different archetype, one akin to the Stoics’ homo viator, the individual who sails through life’s adversities by accepting them and turning them into a source of inner strength and wisdom. In this way, Kafka offers two things: first, an insightful explanation of why silence and isolation can be deadly when they leaving us alone with our darkest fears and fantasies, and second, an archetype of hope that is attuned to our times on how to cope with pain and anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-330
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Early online date20 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to acknowledge the support and insightful comments of the helpful reader whose ideas greatly contributed to the argument presented here.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • COVID-19
  • epidemic
  • implications
  • Kafka
  • pandemic
  • Sustainability
  • Community

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management


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