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Category Archives: Unusual Greek Myths

Danae’s Destiny

by June 9, 2017

Picture of DanaeDestiny was unkind to poor Danae, or Danaê, depending on the spelling. She, like Oedipus and many other tragic Greek heros, never decided her destiny. The various gods in her life did it for her. What she wanted never came into play. Instead, the tides of fate tossed her and her son through a strange and spectacular tale.

It all started with her father, King Acrisius of Argos, who was disappointed with the lack of a male heir. He journeyed to the oracle to shed some light on the situation, but came away with a frightening prophecy. Apparently the son of his daughter will kill him.

Danae and the Brazen TowerDetermined to not let this happen, he locked Danae away, either in a subterranean cave, if you consult one story, or a bronze tower, if you rely on another. Clearly, the king fancied himself smart enough to circumvent fate. Zeus, however, had other plans and certainly wasn’t going to let a thing like walls get in his way.

So the god of gods decided to visit poor Danae in her father’s prison in the form of a shower of gold. Silver just wouldn’t do. In this magical element he managed to impregnate the girl and she gave birth to a baby boy named Perseus.

Now Danae’s father was faced with a tricky situation. The prophesied patricidal child was apparently part Olympian and the royal grandfather-to-be definitely didn’t want to incur the wrath of an entity who is famous for throwing lightning bolts around. So king Acrisius concluded the best thing to do was to put mother and child into a wooden chest and throw said ‘vessel’ into the sea, leaving their life or death to fate. Not quite Grandad of the year, but at least their blood was not on his hands.

Once again the gods had Danae’s back. Poseidon was in cahoots with Zeus and calmed the seas for the pair. Eventually they found their way safely to the island of Seriphos, where they were taken in by the fisherman Dictys, the brother of King Polydectes. The surrogate father raised young Perseus to manhood but the island’s ruler clearly had a thing for his mother. The feelings were not returned, however, and Danae kept resisting his unrequited advances.

King Polydectes decided, however, that if he got rid of her overly protective son, he could have his way with Danae. Once the interfering bastard boy was old enough, the king sent him on a deadly mission.

Perseus with the head of Medusa

Perseus with the head of Medusa

So where did he send this inconveniently half divine youth? To the foreign land of the Grey Ladies, with orders to slay the hideous, snake-haired Gorgon Medusa.

Yet again, those divinities sitting on Olympus indulged in some human meddling. Athena lent him a shield that could repel the infamous stone changing gaze of Medusa. Perseus managed to use his gift so well that he not only survived, but killed the old hag and even rescued fair Andromeda (his future wife) on his way home.

The original father killing prophesy, however, somehow, still came true. After his success, Perseus participated in a sport competition in Larissa and accidentally killed his real grandpa with a flying javelin.

Too ashamed to return to Argos after stupidly murdering his predecessor and king of the country, Perseus, the rightful heir, gave the kingdom away and took over his kingdom of Tiryns, founding Mycenae and Midea there.

Now, let’s look to a more symmetrical, possible turn of events. In another version, Perseus sought revenge for sea chest dwelling days. He returned to his homeland glorious, carrying the head of medusa. Her powerful gaze, unaffected by decapitation is used on grandfather Acrisius to convert king, and court, to less than organic material.

In the end, Perseus takes his rightful place in the kingdom, all while his mother is aside him. Only then Danae reigns as the queen she is meant to be, finally.

The King Midas Tempting Touch

by February 15, 2017

King Midas

“Be careful what you ask for”, goes the old saying. Apparently though, King Midas never heard it. Truth be told, there are a few King Midas’ in ancient history, depending on which reference you like. However, most stories relate that he was the son of Gordias and hailed from the ancient kingdom of Phrygia, somewhere around modern day central Turkey, close to Ankara.

But that’s not why Midas is a household name. No, we aren’t talking about an oil change either. We are instead referring to the Midas Touch. Most people will think about gold when hearing those two words collocated. But does everyone know the supposed story behind it? If not, read on.

The famous Roman poet, Ovid, narrates the whole story in the poem Metamorphoses. Like many tales gone awry, it begins with a god and in this case a divinity known for getting into trouble. However, this time it wasn’t only the god Dionysus, but his foster father and school master, the satyr Silenus. The old fellow had been enjoying more than enough jugs of his favorite grape drink when he wandered away drunk. Then, depending on the version you read, he either passed out in the King’s garden or was taken there by the peasants of Phrygia. Either way he ended up at King Midas’ feet. Fortunately for everyone involved, the intelligent royal recognized the inebriated satyr and recalled his divine connection. As a result he put on his best spread and entertained Dionysus’ father-like friend for 10 days and nights. Finally on the eleventh day, King Midas brought Silenus back to Dionysus in Lydia, also in central Turkey. The God was delighted to see his mate well and offered to give king Midas whatever he wished.

The avaricious monarch requested that whatever he touches turns to gold. At once Dionysus granted his wish and Midas, not surprisingly pleased, worked at once to stockpile his yellow metal reserves. Still enthusiastic, he ordered his peasants to prepare a great feast for him at the table. “So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold; but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold, cursed his prayer” (Claudian, In Rufinem).

Now the tables had turned and he abhorred his new talents. He begged Dionysus to restore him to his old self and deliver him from the clutches of starvation. The Wine God took pity and instructed King Midas to go to the river Pactolus. There the abundant stream would wash away any gold turning powers and revert items back to their previous state. King Midas happily obeyed, submerged into the waters and saw his divine gift float into the river and turn the sand bank into gold. This explained both why the river, located near the Aegean coast in Turkey, has such yellow coloring and why the dynasty, claiming Midas as their forefather, was so rich.

There is actually another story concerning Midas and some Asses’ ears – but that is for another day.

Interestingly enough, King Midas probably did exist and his (or his father’s) supposed funeral mound was discovered in the late 50’s. It was a huge burial, with the best Iron age drinking vessels ever recovered. In addition, the body of his majesty measured only 1.59 meters, or 5’2”, and no gold was found at the site.

The Arc of Deucalion

by November 27, 2015

By Nicole Saldarriaga

Name this man: when warned that the earth and all its inhabitants would be destroyed by an enormous flood, he—the only pious man worth saving—and his wife built an ark, in which they both survived the flood. After the waters receded, and once the ark had come aground on the top of a mountain, he and his wife gave thanks for their salvation and proceeded to repopulate the earth.

If you guessed the biblical Noah, then you’re only half wrong. The description above could in fact be perceived as a rough sketch of Noah’s story, found in the first book of the Bible, but in this case I’m not talking about Noah—I’m talking about Deucalion.

the floodDeucalion was surviving divine floods before it was cool

Let’s backtrack a little. Creation myths are, as the name suggests, largely symbolic stories that narrate the creation of the world and the human species. Almost every culture has its own version of an ancient creation myth (some taken more seriously than others). Ancient Greek culture in particular has several creation myths with which we are relatively familiar, thanks to middle-school “Social Studies” lessons about the Greek pantheon (not to mention popular culture, and/or newsletters like this one!).

Deucalion has a major role to play in the creation myths of Ancient Greece, but before we can talk about his contribution, we need to briefly take a look at his father, the much more famous Prometheus.

The Benefactor of Mankind

Prometheus is known in the myths (many of which are preserved in texts such as Hesiod’s Theogeny and Ovid’s Metamorphoses) as the creator of mankind. Though the details vary across sources, it is generally agreed upon that Prometheus, though he was a Titan, was not punished by the Olympian gods (Zeus, etc.) after they seized

If you guessed the biblical Noah, then you’re only half wrong….

power because he (and his brother, Epimetheus) had chosen not to fight in the war between the Titans and Olympians.

Zeus then gave the two brothers the task of populating the Earth. Epimetheus created the animals, happily (and somewhat recklessly) endowing them with gifts like swiftness, hard shells, claws, and more—in fact, by the time Prometheus had finished forming man out of clay, there were no gifts left to give him. Seeing that this was the case, Prometheus decided to fashion man in the image of the gods—he gave man the ability to walk upright, so that he could keep his gaze on the heavens, he gave man the gift of reason, and (this is, of course, the gift for which Prometheus is most famous) gave man the gift of fire, without which mankind could never have survived.

the flood
Prometheus giving the gift of fire

Some sources say that Zeus had already taken fire away from mankind, and that Prometheus stole it back, or that Zeus had never wanted humans to have fire in the first place—either way, Prometheus defied him, and was horrifically punished: he was chained to a rock, where he would be defenseless against the eagle that slowly picked out and ate his liver over the course of the day. At night, his liver would grow back, and in the morning the whole grisly process would start again.

So, thanks to the valiant Prometheus, man was made out of clay and, with the gift of fire, was able to grow and flourish and form civilization—but, so the legend goes, mankind also began to quickly fall into a state of utter depravity. Zeus (never a fan of humankind to begin with) was appalled by their behavior, and by the time Lycaon, the king of Arcadia (in an effort to test whether Zeus was really omniscient) killed his own young son and served the boy’s cooked flesh to the god at a banquet, Zeus’ patience had already worn thin. Enraged by Lycaon’s degenerate actions, Zeus made the decision to destroy all of mankind.

After all, why bother throwing out the bad apples when you can just as easily burn the whole orchard?!

I Never Liked Those Human Anyway…

According to Ovid, Zeus almost destroyed humankind by barraging the Earth with lightning bolts, but stopped when he realized that the resulting fire would probably destroy all of creation. Instead, he chose a punishment that would wipe out the humans, without causing much permanent damage to the earth itself: a flood.
He and Poseidon worked together to create a sudden and massively destructive flood, with Zeus controlling the storm clouds and Poseidon commanding the rivers and oceans to overflow. The entire ordeal lasted about nine days, and by the time the waters receded, all of mankind had drowned.

All, that is, except one married couple: Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha. Some sources say that, because of Deucalion’s piety and loyalty to the gods, he was warned (either by his father or by one of the Olympian gods) about the flood, and told to build a sturdy ark. Other sources (like the Metamorphoses) imply that Deucalion and his wife simply got lucky, managed to find a boat, and were allowed to live because they humbly gave thanks to the gods for their survival.

Their little boat ran aground on the only dry spot on earth: the very top of Mount Parnassus (though the mountain differs from source to source). As the waters receded and the elderly couple abandoned the boat, they were suddenly faced with the daunting realization that it would be their job to repopulate the earth.

Understandably terrified by this prospect, they decided to ask the “goddess of prophecy,” Themis, for advice. They travelled to the site of her oracle and prayed for guidance. Moved by their piety, Themis gave them this divine message:

Leave this sanctuary, cover your heads and ungirdle your garments, then cast the bones of your mighty mother behind your backs. (Ovid, 1.382-383).

 

After a few moments of confusion (in which Deucalion and Pyrrha were rather shocked at the unholy prospect of disrespecting their mothers’ bones), they realized that Themis meant their common mother, Mother Earth. Deucalion reasoned that the bones of Mother Earth must be the stones on the ground, and so they followed the divine advice and threw stones over their shoulders. All the stones thrown by Deucalion transformed into men, and all the stones thrown by Pyrrha transformed into women; and so, says Ovid,

…our race is a hard one; we work by the sweat of our brow, and bear the unmistakable marks of our stony origin (1. 414-415).

 

In this way, Deucalion and Pyrrah were able to repopulate the earth—and, even in their old age, they were also blessed with their own children, many of which came to be regarded as extremely important in the creation myths of Greece. In fact, one of their children, a boy named Hellen, is considered the mythical ancestor of the entire Greek race, and is the origin of the demonym, “Hellenes,” by which the Greek people are still known.

The Top 5 Dragon Slayers from Greek Mythology

by August 22, 2014

By John Mancini

The original sword-wielding dragon slayer of legend was not the knightly Orlando saving Angelica, nor was it Sigurd killing Fafnir… And it wasn’t even the Archangel Michael or St. George.

It goes much further back than all of those… straight to the Ancient world.

In fact, the ancients had a fairly well-documented obsession with snakes, especially the large fire-breathing winged variety. From India to Egypt to Peru, a plethora of cultures around the world had some version of a snake-myth.

It was in Classical Greece, however, that the story elements were arguably perfected (at least in our opinion). There, the dragon-serpent antagonist was none other than the primeval water god, Poseidon, a close relative of Gaia, the earth goddess. He was, you could say, from the beginning of their time.

But what good is a story with the ideal ‘bad guy’ without the perfect hero?

Not much according to Ancient Greek mythology, which supplied some fantastic examples of monster vanquishing champions for us to cheer on.

So, without further adieu, let us look at the five original weapon-wielding dragon slayers ​from Greek mythology…

1. Apollo

Our first hero was more than just a man, but a god all together. Where better to start really, than with one of the most famous and favored of the Olympians, Apollo, the god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, healing, plague, music, poetry, etc, etc.

Apollo

His story begins with his house of worship: the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Appearing on coinage for centuries and supremely important to every culture that knew it, the temple was rebuilt five times in its several thousand year history.

In fact, the earliest version of the temple predated Homeric poetry and was likely devoted to an earth deity, not so dissimilar to our antagonist Poseidon, who was thought to be the most ancient possessor of the oracle.

Funnily enough, it was also supposedly the “earthshaker” Poseidon who was responsible for the earthquakes that destroyed the temple time and time again.

According to the mythology, a spring nearby the location of the temple was guarded by the large Python or she-dragon, which Apollo slayed upon arrival, thus freeing the people from their fear of the earth and its power.

Omphalos

After Apollo’s triumph at Delphi, the traditional omphalos (a rounded stone artifact and early focal point of the temple) came to feature a snake wrapped around it.

This marked it as a symbol of Apollo, the dragon slayer, god of wisdom and healing. The last trait he passed on to his son, Asclepius, who, according to Ovid, transformed into a snake and founded Rome.

2. Cadmus

The second dragon slayer on our list is Cadmus, a Phoenician prince who introduced the alphabet to Greece around 2000 B.C. On a quest to find his sister, Europa, he stopped at the Delphic temple to consult Apollo’s oracle, which led him to found the city of Thebes.

While building the Theban temple, Cadmus’ assistants were slain by a dragon as they attempted to collect water from a nearby spring. (Apparently dragons like hanging around springs.) Athena instructed Cadmus to slay the dragon and then sow its teeth into the ground like seeds. These seeds then grew into a fierce army.

Following Athena’s orders yet again, Cadmus threw a stone into the center of the advancing warriors, causing them to attack each other until only five remained. With these men, or Spartoi, he was able to complete the citadel.

Cadmus

Unfortunately for Cadmus, this wasn’t just any dragon; it had been sacred to the god Ares.

After its death, Cadmus had to do eight years penance, but was plagued nonetheless by the slaying. Cadmus’ family, as well as the city of Thebes, was cursed with innumerable tragedies, including the death of his four daughters and the fate of his grandson, Oedipus.

Eventually, overcome with his misfortune, he exclaimed that if the gods loved snakes so much, then he wished to become one. Ovid claimed that Cadmus and his wife Harmonia then turned into the reptiles and slithered away into the forest together. Other versions of the myth, however, say that the gods transformed them into snakes as punishment.

3. Jason

Our next dragon slayer is just like a comic book hero. His team, the Argonauts, were a seafaring crew that included Heracles, Asclepius, Orpheus, and Atalanta, among dozens of others. These larger than life lads accompanied Jason in his heroic quest for the Golden Fleece, which was, of course, guarded by a dragon.

Jason

Jason was sent by Poseidon’s son, Pelias, to fetch the Golden Fleece. Along the way, he acquired additional tasks: to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen, to steal a tooth from a dragon, and to slay the dragon that guarded the fleece.

Luckily for Jason, his lover Medea was trained in Hecate’s dark arts and gave him an ointment that would keep him from being burned by the oxen, in addition to a herbal potion with which he could put the dragon to sleep.

He did as advised and stole the tooth from the sleeping monster. Then, like Cadmus, he sowed the dragon tooth into the field, which grew into an army… and, again like Cadmus, he threw a rock into the middle of the crowd. Not knowing where the blow had come from, the army once more turned on each other and self-destructed.

In one version of this myth (and there are many), Jason is swallowed and then regurgitated by the dragon, thus reborn a bonafide hero.

4. Perseus

Next up is Perseus, the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty of Danaans. In fact, Perseus’ deeds were so grand that they went on to provide the founding myths of the Twelve Olympians, a first of the heroes of Greek mythology.

Of his conquests, one of the most memorable is the beheading of Medusa, the snake haired gorgon, with the aid of Athena’s polished shield. Afterwards, Perseus went on to slay another monster, the sea serpent Cetus sent by Poseidon.

This time it was to save Andromeda, his prize for slaying both dragons.

It is interesting to note that Cetus is essentially another aspect of Poseidon (being sent by him) and Medusa is often thought to be representative of nature’s wrath, something for which the sea God is notorious.

5. Heracles

The most accomplished of the Greek dragon slayers, Heracles, strangled his first snake when he was still just a baby in the cradle. Exhibiting strength, courage and ingenuity, he is considered the greatest of the Greek heroes, especially by the many Roman emperors who came to identify with him.

Heracles

Heracles, in Greek, is another name for the sun. He is the ruler of the zodiac who rings in the new season by continuously slaying the old. Throughout his twelve labors he conquered two multi-headed snakes, including the Hydra and the Ladon.

In an interesting relationship to Jason’s and Perseus’ story, Heracles was instructed for his tenth labor to capture the “golden haired” cattle of the triple-headed Geryon (the son of Chryasaor, who, like his grandmother Medusa, lived on an island at the far edge of the western sea).

Besides mirroring Perseus’ earlier victory over Medusa, Heracles’ slaying of the Geryon follows as all his labors do… the archetypal pattern of the hero’s journey to slay the metaphorical dragon.

This, of course, begs the question: what does dragon slaying represent?

Of course we can never be certain, but it could be seen as a symbolic act of taming the wild, the natural, the demonic. Living in water but breathing fire, with the ability to swim as well as fly, the dragon embodies all the natural forces the ancients would have feared. Slaying them, meant slaying fear itself.

Top Ten: Most Terrifying Monsters Of Greek Mythology

by October 31, 2013

10. The Sphinx
Known from: The Legend Of Oedipus
Confronted by: Oedipus

sphinxThe first creature on our list is the sphinx; a monster that was said to have the body of a lion, the head of a woman, and the wings of an eagle.The sphinx is perhaps known best for her role in the legend of Oedipus.The story goes that as Oedipus was traveling down the road to Thebes, he is confronted by the mysterious creature. The sphinx blocks Oedipus’ path and confronts him with a riddle. Although the exact riddle is not mentioned in early Greek legend, the popular version of the story tells that the Sphinx poses the following riddle to the young traveler…

What is that which in the morning goeth upon four feet; upon two feet in the afternoon; and in the evening upon three?”Oedipus correctly answers the riddle: Man- who crawls on all fours as a child, then on two feet as an adult, and finally (with the help of a cane) on three feet during the sunset of life. Having been bested at her own game, the Sphinx throws herself from a high cliff. In some versions, the Sphinx devours herself out of anger and frustration. Had Oedipus not answered the riddle correctly, he would have been strangled and devoured by the creature, which had been the fate of so many travelers before him.

9. The Cyclops
Known from: The Odyssey
Confronted by: Odysseus

cyclopsThe cyclops were primordial giants that were said to have been born from Gaia, the earth. They were said to possess great strength and ferocity, with one bulging eye protruding from their forehead.  Fearing their power, the cyclops were thrown into the pits of Tartarus by their father Uranus. The monsters remained imprisoned when the titan Cronus overthrew Uranus and took his place as ruler of the universe. It was only when the Olympians came to power did the cyclops find freedom. The mighty Zeus released the monsters, who in turn would craft thunderbolts for the young Olympian.

Perhaps the most famous story involving a cyclops involves Odysseus and his woeful travels. In book 9 of The Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew find themselves trapped in the cave of the mighty cyclops, Polyphemus. The monster blocks their escape and devours the flesh of his captives day after day. Being known for his cleverness, Odysseus devises a plan to escape.

Odysseus offers to Polyphemus wine that the traveler brought along from his ship. The cyclops indulges and is soon very drunk. Feeling joyful,polyphemus the monster asks the man his name. Odysseus replies that his name is “nobody.” When Polyphemus falls asleep from intoxication, Odysseus and him men blind the cyclops by stabbing him in the eye with a sharpened staff. Polyphemus, now enraged, cries out to the other cyclops of the island that “Nobody” has blinded him.

Odysseus and him men then escape from the cave of the monster by harnessing themselves to the under bellies of the numerous sheep that Polyphemus shepherds. Now completely blind, the monster feels the backs of the animals as they leave to graze; the cyclops is unaware that his captives are escaping silently, hiding under his flock. As Odysseus sails away, he boasts to the defeated monster who in turn attempts to sink the man’s ship by hurling boulders from a high cliff. 

8. The Chimera
Known from: The Legend Of Bellerophon
Confronted by: Bellerophon

The Chimera was a ferocious, fire breathing monstrosity that possessed the body and head of a lion with the head of a goat protruding from it’s back and a snake for a tail. The brief description of the Chimera in the text of The Iliad is the earliest surviving record of the creature. The Chimera is traditionally considered to have been a female, and was said to have given birth to the Sphinx and the  Nemean lion. The monster was feared and believed to have been an omen for storms, shipwrecks and other natural disasters.

ChimeraThe Chimera is best known for its role in the legend of Bellerophon. A hero born to the city of Corinth, Bellerophon would be ordered by king Lobates of Lycia to slay the monster in order to atone for his past sins. Bellerophon, knowing he would need assistance for such a task, prayed and then slept in the temple of Athena. Upon waking he saw the goddess before him, leading the mythical horse Pegasus, who possessed the ability of flight.

With Pegasus saddled, Bellerophon flew to the lair of the Chimera in Lycia. Knowing that the creature was ferocious and would not easily be defeated, Bellerophon devised a plan. He attached a large chunk of lead to the end of his spear. Riding Pegasus, he flew towards the monster. Just as the Chimera opened it’s mouth to scorch the hero with fire, Bellerophon drove the lead into the creatures mouth. The fiery breath of the Chimera melted the lead and caused the creature to suffocate and die.

7. The Empusa
Known from: General Mythology

Unlike the other creatures on this list, The Empusa is perhaps little known and does not appear in any traditional epic or popular legend. However her frightening appearance, and her ghastly tendency to feast on human blood and flesh, more than warrants her place as number seven on our list.

The Empusa is often depicted as a beautiful woman, who transforms into a creature with sharp teeth, flaming hair, and (in some interpretations) bat wings. Empusa was said to be a demigoddess under the control of the goddess Hecate, a being that is often associated with crossroads and entrance ways.

The Empusa would often seduce young men traveling alone. Once the unsuspecting youth was fast asleep, the creature would shift to her hideous form and devour the boys flesh and drink his blood for sustenance. The Empusa is probably best known for her appearance in  Aristophanes’s The Frogs, where she terrifies the god Dionysus as he travels to the underworld.

6. The Hydra
Known from: The Legend of Heracles
Confronted by: Heracles

Number six on our list is the deadly Hydra, a serpent like water monster with reptilian traits.  A creature who’s venom was so dangerous, that even the breath exhaled by the Hydra could be lethal to any man. Additionally, the Hydra had the confounding ability to regrow any decapitated limbs with alarming speed. It was said that for every head that was severed, two more would grow in it’s place. Its lair was the lake of Lerna in an ancient part of the Peloponnese . The Hydra would hide in an underwater cave that was said to have been an entrance to the underworld.

The Hydra is known for being the second monster that Heracles encounters during his twelve labors. Before attacking the Hydra, Heracles covers his mouth and nose with cloth so that he willHydra remain safe from the deadly toxins the monster emits from it’s many mouths. Heracles originally attacks the Hydra with either a sickle, a sword, or his trademark club. However the hero quickly realizes that for every head decapitated, the creature quickly grows two more. The battle would appear hopeless.

Heracles then devises a plan to turn the tide against the monster. As soon as the hero decapitates one of the Hydra’s heads, he immediately takes a torch to the stump of a neck. The wound is cauterized and the creature is unable to produce anymore menacing heads. Heracles eventually lobs off the final head of the Hydra, effectively killing the creature and completing his second task.

5. The Charybdis and Scylla 
Known from: The Odyssey
Confronted by: Odysseus

ScyllaYou might argue that because the Charybdis and the Scylla are actually two different monsters, that they should not occupy the same spot on our list of nightmarish creatures. However the two creatures, who lived on opposite sides of a narrow strait, have become so synonymous that it is impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other. The Charybdis is never explicitly described, other than saying it is a ferocious sea monster that lives under a rock on one side of a narrow strait. The Charybdis regularly swallows massive amounts of water which create monstrous whirl pools that are capable of destroying an entire ship.

Similarly, the Scylla lives on the opposite side of the narrow strait and is believed to have been a many headed sea monster that fed on the flesh of sailors who unwittingly traveled too close to the beasts lair. The phrase “between a Charybdis and Scylla” now is understood to mean being stuck between two dangerous decisions with no apparent solution.

The Charybdis and Scylla are found within the pages of The OdysseyOdysseus is forced to navigate the narrow strait during his travels and scylla2decides to travel closer to the Scylla, so as to avoid the massive whirlpool of the Charybdis. As the ship sails past, six of Odysseus’ men are swallowed up by the monster and eaten alive. Homer describes it…

“…they writhed, gasping as Scylla swung them up her cliff and there at her cavern’s mouth she bolted them down raw—screaming out, flinging their arms toward me, lost in that mortal struggle.” -Homer, The OdysseyLater in the story, Odysseus is stranded on a raft and must navigate the strait for a second time. This time he attempts to sail past the side where the Charybdis is waiting. His raft is sucked into the massive whirlpool, but Odysseus himself manages to stay afloat by holding on to a fig tree whose branches are dangling from shore. Odysseus eventually recovers his raft and sails away quickly.

4. Cerberus
Known from: General Mythology, The Legend of Heracles
Confronted by: Heracles

Cerberus is a popular creature in ancient mythology. Hades’ loyal guard dog, Cerberus was a massive hound with three heads that guarded the entrance to the underworld. It was said that the beast only had an appetite for living flesh and so would only allow the deceased spirits to pass, while consuming any living mortal who was foolish enough to come near him. It is said that the three heads were meant to symbolize the past, present and future. In other versions of the myth the three heads represent youth, adult hood, and old age.

cerberusWhile Cerberus was a notable creature of mythology, he is probably best remembered as the twelfth and final labor that Heracles most perform. Heracles must enter the underworld, wrestle the beast using no weapons, and then bring Cerberus to the surface world, alive, to present to the Mycenaean king Eurystheus, the man who had originally ordered Heracles to perform these tasks as recompense for his past sins.

Heracles manages to tackle the beast; then using his great strength, throws the animal over his shoulder and drags him to the mortal world. It was said that upon seeing Cerberus, Eurystheus was so terrified that he hid in a large vase and begged Heracles to return the hell hound back to Hades.

3. The Minotaur
Known from: The Legend of Theseus
Confronted by: Theseus

MinotaurA grotesque abomination that possessed the body of a man and the head of a bull, the Minotaur is best remembered for his affinity for devouring flesh and his cryptic home, deep within the confines of the twisted labyrinth. The labyrinth was an impossible maze constructed by the inventor Daedalus. It was said to have been located under the palace of Knossos, the home of King Minos of Crete.

The story goes that King Minos, the ruler of Crete, lost his son Androgeus, when the boy was murdered in Athens. Accounts vary, but one version tells that the prince was murdered because the Athenians were jealous of his many victories at the recent Panathenaic Games in Athens. King Minos would subsequently wage war on the Athenians, eventually finding victory. As penance for the murder of Androgeus, every year the Athenians were forced to send seven young men and seven maidens to the island of Crete, where they would be released into the labyrinth and systematically hunted and devoured by the Minotaur.

It is at this time that Theseus, the hero of Athens, volunteers to be sent to Crete as a sacrifice to the monster. Upon arriving Theseus is aided by  Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos. Before the Athenians can be trapped within the labyrinth, Ariadne releases Theseus from his holding cell and brings him to the entrance of the great maze. Theseus navigates the labyrinth and discovers the Minotaur sleeping in the center of the vast dungeon.

Using the element of surprise, Theseus attacks the Minotaur and dispenses the monster with ease. The hero and the other Athenians, along with princess Ariadne, escape Minos’ palace and make a hasty retreat to Athens under the cover of night.

2. Medusa
Known from: The Legend of Perseus
Confronted by: Perseus

A monstrous creature with the ability to turn to stone any person who gazed upon her face, Medusa remains a popular monster of ancient mythology. Interpretations of Medusa differ. Somemedusa accounts describe how Medusa was born to the archaic marine deity, Ceto. In this version of the tale, Medusa is born with a hideous face and a serpents tail where her legs should be. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Medusa was told to have once been a beautiful maiden who was transformed into a hideous monster after being raped in the temple of Athena by the sea god Poseidon. The one aspect of Medusa that remains consistent through various legends his her hair, which was said to have been composed of writhing, venomous snakes.

Medusa is confronted by the hero Perseus, who was bade by his stepfather to retrieve the head of the monster. Using a mirrored shield that was given to him by Athena, Perseus viewed Medusa’s reflection so as not to look directly at the monster. Perseus slays Medusa and chops off her head. From the neck of the dying Gorgon, sprang the winged horse Pegasus. Perseus would use the head of Medusa as a weapon against enemies; until he eventually presented it to Athena who attached it to the front of her shield.

1. Typhon
Known from: The Theogony
Confronted by: Zeus

TyphonWhen making this list, I gave serious thought to who would occupy the seat as the most terrifying monster of Greek mythology. I asked several colleagues and took several polls. However, when we take time to truly consider all the legendary beast, there can be only one clear winner.

Typhon was known as the “Father of All Monsters.” He was birthed from Gaia (the earth) and Tartarus (the depths of hell). He was said to have been the most ferocious creature ever to roam the earth. Typhon was massive. It was said that when he stood upright, his head brushed against the stars. The lower half of his body consisted of two coiled viper tails that constantly were hissing. Instead of fingers, several dragon heads erupted from his hands. He was said to have wings that, when spread, could blot out the sun. Fire flashed from his eyes, striking fear into the heart of any living creature, even the might Olympians.

Typhon is described in Hesiod’s The Theogony…

“The hands and arms of him are mighty, and have work in them, and the feet of the powerful god were tireless, and up from his shoulders there grew a hundred snake heads, those of a dreaded drakon, and the heads licked with dark tongues, and from the eyes on the inhuman heads fire glittered from under the eyelids.” -Hesiod, The Theogony

Typhon was so mighty, that the only conceivable opponent to defy him was Zeus himself. While the other Olympians ran in fear, Zeus stood firm against the monstrous being. A great battle Typhon and Zeusensued that caused countless earthquakes and tsunamis. The war between Typhon and Zeus was so mighty that it threatened to break the planet in two.

Eventually Zeus would triumph over Typhon. By casting one hundred well aimed thunderbolts to the head of the monster, Typhon was cast down into the pits of Tartarus where he was sealed away for all time. However, the rage of this monster could not be contained. While he was trapped beneath the earth, he occasionally would experience fits of anger . His furry would manifest in the form of volcanic eruptions, and in this way Typhon continues to terrorize humanity from his earthly prison.

Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece: The Colchis Days

by June 26, 2013

We’ve been writing for a while about one of the most famous myths of Ancient Greece, Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece. It’s a story filled with heroes, monsters, triumph and treachery, all while the main man, Jason, attempts to retrieve his rightful place as king of Iolcos.

So far Jason has gathered his infamous gang, which unabashedly enjoyed the man-free island of Lemnos and accidently killed the kind king of Cyzicus and many of his trusted men. One might not be cheering these fellows at the moment, but nevertheless, they continue on their crusade.

This time the group, named the Argonauts after their speedy boat, land in Thrace, at the court of Phineus of Salmydessus. Due to his keen ability of prophecy and his propensity to reveal too much, the poor King Phineus had incurred the disfavor of Zeus. The God of the Gods responded by blinding the foreseeing royal and placing him on an island in front of a buffet of food. But with his twisted ways, Zeus also sent Harpies, or mythological winged spirits, to steal Phineus’ food everyday.

220px-HarpijWhen Jason chanced on the emaciated king, he took pity on him and killed the Harpies. As thanks for this good deed, Phineus revealed the next set of clues for Jason: the location of Colchis, where Jason would find the elusive Golden fleece, as well as how to pass the Symplegades, or The Clashing Rocks.

This passage was surrounded by huge cliffs which would crash together randomly, making the journey incredibly dangerous, if not impossible. However, it was the only way to get to Colchis.

The clashing rocksFollowing Phineus’ advice, Jason released a dove upon arrival. He was informed that if the dove makes it, they should row with all their might. If their feathered friend dies, however, the Argonauts were doomed. Fortunately the brave bird only lost a few tail feathers and so Jason and his team proceeded with all their strength. They passed, with minor damage to the extreme stern of their ship. From that moment onwards, the clashing rocks stopped clashing.

Finally Jason arrived in Colchis, which is on the modern day Black Sea coast of Georgia. The Golden Fleece was so close… and yet still far away. The precious item was owned by the King of Colchis, King Aeetes. He promised to give Jason his quest’s goal, but only if he could perform three, seemingly impossible tasks. Jason was in despair, as it involved fire, mythical warriors and of course, a dragon.

But here the deities that be stepped in. Queen of the Gods, Hera, convinced Aphrodite and her son, Eros, to ensure that Jason had help, in the form of King Aeetes’ daughter, Medea. With cupid’s arrow, she fell in love with our hero and so was able to aid him in each of the potentially insurmountable tasks.

Khalkotauroi

Jason’s first duty was to plow a field with the Khalkotauroi, or fire breathing oxen, which Jason himself had to yoke. Medea fulfilled her role nicely by providing Jason with an ointment that made him fireproof and so he was able to combat the oxen’s flames.

His second assignment required that he sow the teeth of a dragon into a field. This might seem easy enough, except that the teeth sprouted into an army of warriors or spartoi. Fortunately Medea already had insider knowledge – these spartoi were not particularly intelligent. And so she advised Jason to throw a rock into the group of fighters, who promptly attacked and killed each other, as they did not perceive from where the rock had come.

Jason and the argonauts slay the dragonFinally, his last labour was in front of him. He had to combat a large, fierce, sleepless dragon which was charged with guarding the sacred golden fleece itself. Once again, Medea came to the rescue. She concocted a potion from distilled herbs which put the beast to rest, enabling Jason to thieve the fleece. The quest had been achieved!

However, they still needed to leave Colchis

As they departed, Jason and Medea were chased down by her father, King Aeetes. It is here that Medea does the most extreme, seemingly horrendous, thing in her love and devotion for Jason. She butchers her own brother and spreads his remains into the sea… forcing her father to collect what’s left of his son and abandon the pursuit.

Jason and Medea had finally escaped with the Golden Fleece.