Harpies, Ancient Greek monsters of divine stench and retribution

The Harpies were frightful flying creatures with hooked beaks and claws who always left behind them a loathful stench.

In Hesiod Theogony: (ll. 265-269) “And Thaumas wedded Electra the daughter of deep-flowing Ocean, and she bore him swift Iris and the long-haired Harpies, Aello (Storm-swift) and Ocypetes (Swift-flier) who on their swift wings keep pace with the blasts of the winds and the birds; for quick as time they dart along.”

Thaumas (One of the children of Pontos and Gaia)- Θαύμας ‘ wonderful’ from Indo-European ‘2: deu-‘,’ ‘to worship, venerate; mighty’ and ‘4. mē-‘, ‘big, important’ – wedded Electra – Ήλέκτρη — ‘light play’from Indo-European: ‘u̯lek-‘, ‘to light, shine; fiery’ and ‘ter-‘, ‘over, through, etc.’ Children:

  • ̓̂Iris – Ιριν – ‘rainbow’ from Indo-Eruopean ‘u̯ei-‘ to bend, turn, wind’ and ‘rei-‘, ‘spotted, speckled, brightly variegated’
  • Harpies – ̔Αρπυίας from Indo-European ‘g̑her-‘, ‘to grab, grip, seize’ and ‘pē(i)-‘, ‘to hurt, scold, shame’ :
    • ̓Aello -Αελλώ – ‘Storm-swift’ from Indo-European ‘au̯(e)-‘,’To blow’ and ‘lā’, ‘to go, move, drive’.
    • Ocypetes – ̓Ωκυπέτην – ‘Swift-flier’ from Indo European ‘ōk̑ú-‘, ‘quickly’ and ‘pet-‘, ‘to fall, tumble down’

Ephorus (30) in Strabo, vii. 302:
Hesiod, in the so-called Journey round the Earth, says that
Phineus was brought by the Harpies `to the land of milk-feeders
(31) who have waggons for houses.’

Fragment #40A — (Cp. Fr. 43 and 44)
Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1358 fr. 2 (3rd cent. A.D.): (32)
((LACUNA — Slight remains of 7 lines))

(ll. 8-35) `(The Sons of Boreas pursued the Harpies) to the lands
of the Massagetae and of the proud Half-Dog men, of the
Underground-folk and of the feeble Pygmies; and to the tribes of
the boundless Black-skins and the Libyans. Huge Earth bare these
to Epaphus — soothsaying people, knowing seercraft by the will
of Zeus the lord of oracles, but deceivers, to the end that men
whose thought passes their utterance (33) might be subject to the
gods and suffer harm — Aethiopians and Libyans and mare-milking
Scythians. For verily Epaphus was the child of the almighty Son
of Cronos, and from him sprang the dark Libyans, and high-souled
Aethiopians, and the Underground-folk and feeble Pygmies. All
these are the offspring of the lord, the Loud-thunderer. Round
about all these (the Sons of Boreas) sped in darting flight….
….of the well-horsed Hyperboreans — whom Earth the all-
nourishing bare far off by the tumbling streams of deep-flowing
Eridanus…. ….of amber, feeding her wide-scattered offspring
— and about the steep Fawn mountain and rugged Etna to the isle
Ortygia and the people sprung from Laestrygon who was the son of
wide-reigning Poseidon. Twice ranged the Sons of Boreas along
this coast and wheeled round and about yearning to catch the
Harpies, while they strove to escape and avoid them. And they
sped to the tribe of the haughty Cephallenians, the people of
patient-souled Odysseus whom in aftertime Calypso the queenly
nymph detained for Poseidon. Then they came to the land of the
lord the son of Ares…. ….they heard. Yet still (the Sons of
Boreas) ever pursued them with instant feet. So they (the
Harpies) sped over the sea and through the fruitless air…’

Note on the previous: Zetes and Calais, sons of Boreas, who were amongst the Argonauts, delivered Phineus from the Harpies. The
Strophades (`Islands of Turning’) are here supposed to have
been so called because the sons of Boreas were there turned
back by Iris from pursuing the Harpies.

Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, Arg. ii. 296:
Others say (the islands) were called Strophades, because they
turned there and prayed Zeus to seize the Harpies. But according
to Hesiod… they were not killed.

The most complete description of Harpies is in the The Argonautica of Apollonius BOOK II (ll. 178-208): “There Phineus, son of Agenor, had his home by the sea, Phineus who above all men endured most bitter woes because of the gift of prophecy which Leto’s son had granted him aforetime. And he reverenced not a whit even Zeus himself, for he foretold unerringly to men his sacred will. Wherefore Zeus sent upon him a lingering old age, and took from his eyes the
pleasant light, and suffered him not to have joy of the dainties
untold that the dwellers around ever brought to his house, when
they came to enquire the will of heaven. But on a sudden,
swooping through the clouds, the Harpies with their crooked beaks
incessantly snatched the food away from his mouth and hands. And
at times not a morsel of food was left, at others but a little,
in order that he might live and be tormented. And they poured
forth over all a loathsome stench; and no one dared not merely to
carry food to his mouth but even to stand at a distance; so
foully reeked the remnants of the meal.”

Resources:

Links:

Images:


To ask a question about this topic note the topic (Harpies) and
Click here


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Including Amazons, Goddesses, Nymphs, and Archaic Females from Mycenaen and Minoan Cultures