Harpies (snatcher) In Greek mythology, winged monsters with women’s faces and vulture bodies, daughters of Thaumas and Electra or of Poseidon and Gaea. Some accounts give their names as Aello, Celaeno, and Ocypete. Hesiod’s Theogony names Aello and Ocypete; Homer names Podarge. In Vergil’s Aeneid (book 3) they harass Aeneas’s men as they are resting and eating on their way to Italy; Celaeno, however, delivers a crucial prophecy to Aeneas. In Spenser’s Faerie Queene (2.12.36) they are “the hellish Harpies, prophets of sad destiny,” and in Milton’s Paradise Regained (book 2.403) the banquet created by Satan vanishes “with sound of Harpies wings, and Talons heard.”
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow – Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
Harpies – The Snatchers
The Harpies are winged bird women, similar to spirits like the Sirens, Russian magical bird spirits, and Lilith. Their name has developed negative connotations. A “harpy” is an unrelenting, nagging, shrewish woman. The Harpies are now frequently classified as monsters but they are really spirits of vengeance, death, and justice in the employ of Zeus. Known as the Hounds of Zeus, he assigns them tasks of punishment.
In their most famous myth, the Harpies mercilessly plagued Phineus until Jason’s Argonauts rescued him. Phineus, once King of Thrace and a prophet, prophesied a little too well, aggravating Zeus, who blinded him and sent the Harpies to punish him. Every day just as Phineus sat down to eat, the Harpies swooped down from the sky, stealing and befouling his food. (Imagine a picnic attacked by aggressive swarming gulls.)
The Harpies are death goddesses. Those who disappeared at sea were described as snatched by the Harpies. Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas theorized that their origins lie in Old European/Anatolian vulture goddesses. The number of Harpies is variable. This is the standard list although there may be more Harpies, too:
• Aello (Aellopus): “wind-foot”
• Okypete (Okypode, Okythoe): “swift-footed”
• Podarge: “fleet-footed”
The Harpies are winged women with birdlike talons rather than fingers. In early depictions, they are beautiful if fierce. Only later would they be portrayed as consistently monstrous and terrifying.
The Harpy Podarge, raped by Zephyr, gave birth to the immortal horses Balios and Xantho, similar to Medusa, whose liaison with Poseidon resulted in the winged-horse Pegasus.
Their sister, Iris
Allegedly when not flying around, the Harpies live deep beneath Crete.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.