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Harpy drawingHarpy (from Latin: Harpyia, Greek: Άρπυια, Harpuia, pl. Άρπυιαι, Harpuiai) in Greek mythology, the Harpies ("snatchers"[1]) were mainly winged death-spirits (Harrison 1903, p 176ff), best known for constantly stealing all food from Phineas. The literal meaning of the word seems to be "whirlwinds".

The Harpy could also bring life. A Harpy was the mother by the West Wind Zephyros of the horses of Achilles (Iliad xvi. 160). In this context Jane Harrison adduced the notion in Virgil's Georgics that mares became gravid by the wind alone, marvelous to say (iii.274).

Though Hesiod (Theogony) calls them two "lovely-haired" creatures, Harpies as beautiful winged bird-women are a late development, in parallel with the transformation of the "Siren, a creature malign though seductive in Homer, but gradually softened by the Athenian imagination into a sorrowful death angel" (Harrison p 177). On a vase in the Berlin Museum (Harrison, fig 19), a harpy has a small figure of a hero in each claw, but her head is recognizably a Gorgon, with goggling eyes, protruding tongue and fangs.


The Harpies were sisters of Iris, daughters of Typhon and Echidna.

Phineas, a king of Thrace, had the gift of prophesy. Zeus, angry that Phineas revealed too much, punished him by putting him on an island with a buffet of food which he could never eat. The Harpies always arrived and stole the food out of his hands right before he could satisfy his hunger, and befouled the remains. This continued until the arrival of Jason and the Argonauts. The Boreads, sons of Boreas, the North Wind, who also could fly, succeeded in driving the Harpies and killing one of them, as a request from Iris, who promised that Phineas would not be bothered by the Harpies again, and "the dogs of great Zeus" returned to their "cave in Minoan Crete". Thankful for their help, Phineas told the Argonauts how to pass the Symplegades. (Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245).

In this form they were agents of punishment who abducted people and tortured them on their way to Tartarus. They were vicious, cruel and violent. They lived on Strophades. They were usually seen as the personifications of the destructive nature of wind. The Harpies in this tradition, now thought of as three sisters instead of the original two, were: Aello ("storm swift"), Celaeno ("the dark") — also known as Podarge ("fleet-foot") — and Ocypete ("the swift wing").

Aeneas encountered Harpies on the Strophades as they repeatedly made off with the feast the Trojans were setting. Celaeno cursed them, saying the Trojans will be so hungry they will eat their tables before they reach the end of their journey. The Trojans fled in fear.




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Latest page update: made by stereoagnostic , Nov 20 2007, 8:40 AM EST (about this update About This Update stereoagnostic Edited by stereoagnostic

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