Welcome to the first blog post on the creatures that go bump, crash, or silently in the night of the paranormal world.
This week we feature Harpies (Άρπυια), from Greek Mythology. They are an example of how a mythical being has changed over time.
Their most common parentage were believed to have been Thaumus and Electra.
Hesoid described them as two winged goddesses with long beautiful hair. They were wind spirits or goddesses. One interpretation of the name is 'whirlwind'.
|Harpies as winged women|
However in another more common interpretation, the name means 'snatchers'. They had been feared as robbers and spoilers over battlefields, carrying away the weak and wounded to Tartarus. They were even said to steal children without warning.
|Glen Steward, 1995|
They are mainly depicted as having the head and breasts of a woman, but the body of a large bird with sharp talons, who were vicious, cruel and violent. And hence were seen as the personifciation of the destructive nature of wind.
Why the change? It has been suggestion that there was some confusion with the Sirens, and the were turned them into the monster-like creatures we are familiar with today. And they went from being two to three--Aeoll (storm swift), Celaeno (the dark, who was also known as Podarge, fleet-foot) and Ocypete (the swift wing). Though, this may only be the named ones, and how many there actually were.
I've always been fascinated with harpies, mainly because of this drawing.
This is from the myth the harpies feature most regularly. During their voyage, Jason and the Argonauts met the prophet King of Thrace, Phineas, who was plagued by the harpies for displeasing Zeus (in one version it was because he was irreverent, in another interpretation, because he revealed the secrets of the gods, in another because he was an adulterer).
Known as the Hounds of Zeus, they appeared whenever the hungry Phineas went to eat, stole his food or fouled it. To get information about the Golden Fleece, Phineas promised to help the Argonauts if they took care of the harpies. Two of the North Wind's children, the Boreads, drove off them off. They were stopped by Iris, the Goddess of Rainbows, who pleaded for her sister's lives. Iris promised Phineas will not be bothered again.
Another story is of Aeneas who came across the Harpies on the Strophades (their home), where they repeadedly made off with the feast the Trojans were setting. Celaeno had cursed them, saying the Trojans will be so hungry they would eat their tables before they reached their destination. The Trojans fled in fear.
Another tale is they carried off the daughters of Pandareos to give them to the Furies as servants. Pandareos had displeased the gods by giving their golden dog to the disreputable Tantalus, a son of Zeus.
There were actually more prominent in the art rather than in the literature of the time.
However, Dante wrote about them in the Divine Comedy; the Harpies hounded those who committed suicide and had turned to trees. William Blake then used this depiction in his artwork. Shakespeare referred to a character as a harpy in Much Ado about Nothing, and in The Tempest a character disguises themselves as a Harpy to deliver a message.
|The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides, William Blake, c1824-27|
They also seen in Phillip Pulman's His Dark Materials book series, and Peter S. Beagle's novel, The Unicorn.
Our own Nicola E. Sheridan features a part-harpy as the central character in her upcoming release, Mimosa Black.
Here's an excerpt:
When nature rules your head, can you follow your heart?
In a world where magical creatures are as rare as a spotty teen at a supermarket checkout, being one quarter Harpy shouldn’t be a problem.
Unfortunately for Mimosa Black, this is not the case. Combining her failed marriage, inability to fly, and unrequited crush on her childhood friend, Bo Elliot – Mimosa’s existence is less than idyllic.
Things however, are rarely as they seem. Bo has a secret and when Mimosa falters, his secret is revealed. Yet in their darkest moments, where bad magic lurks, love is never far away. Mimosa and Bo do have a chance at happiness, if they're selfless enough to find it...
Television and films have continued to show us the half woman-half bird creature as a nasty piece of work, and of course calling a woman a harpy means she is a vile and vicious person.
Actually there is even an American Harpy eagle, which were named after the mythical creatures.
So there you are - the Harpies.
What do you think of them? Have you seen them in other books?
The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Refrence, Writer’s Digest Books, 1998
The Encyclopedia of Mythology, Arthur Cotterell, 1996
Elliniki Mythologia, I Sitheris, 1979