Sunday, November 27, 2011

Top Five Female Monsters from Ancient Greek Mythology

In a lot of history books, mythological or otherwise, it's fair to say that women often get a bit of a bad rap. Whether it's Eve in the Bible or Pandora opening her infamous box, women have been given a lot to answer for over the millennia. As you are probably well aware, the ancient Greeks were particularly fond of their monsters, and as such it stands to reason that at least a few of them were female. Here follows a few of the most iconic and also the most strange; be glad you're unlikely to chance upon them in a bar any time soon!

5) Empusa
Empusa was the result of the union between the goddess Hecate and the vampiric spirit Mormo. A beautiful, succubus-like figure with flaming hair and stylish bronze slippers, she seduced young men as they slept before feasting on their blood and flesh. Despite her beauty, due to the etymology of her name (meaning “one-footed”) she was also sometimes depicted as having one donkey's leg with the other being a bronze prosthesis.

4) Charybdis
Charybdis, the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia, was a beautiful water nymph. Very loyal to her father, she rode the tides after Poseidon stirred them up with storms and claimed vast amounts of land for him by causing the water to engulf villages, forests and fields. Her helping Poseidon to claim parts of his domain enraged Zeus, who transformed her into a monster in retaliation. Now essentially a huge bladder-like creature with a giant mouth and flippers instead of arms and legs, she caused whirlpools by swallowing and regurgitating large amounts of water three times a day (traditionally at the Strait of Messina, but don’t let this put you off any Greek holidays near there).

3) The Harpies
An unsettling mixture of bird and woman, harpies were called beautiful by Hesiod but are usually referred to as being incredibly ugly. Zeus sent them to torture King Phineas of Thrace after his gift of prophecy began to reveal too much for his liking. Placed on an island with a buffet of delicious food, the harpies would snatch the food from his hands as he tried to eat while befouling the rest of it with their toxic droppings. Eventually Jason and the Argonauts arrived and drove them away, Phineas telling them how to pass the Symplegades in thanks.

2) The Sphinx
Despite traditionally being associated with Egypt, the word “sphinx” actually comes from Greek (specifically the word meaning to squeeze or tighten up, this referring to the way in which lionesses bring down prey). Summoned to guard the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes (according to some stories this was by either Hera or Areas), the Sphinx asked travellers a riddle before strangling and devouring them if they got it incorrect. Oedipus solved the riddle, causing the Sphinx to commit suicide by flinging herself from the high rock she perched on (although in some stories she ate herself).

1) The Gorgons
The three Gorgon sisters Stheno, Euryale and Medusa were (and arguably continue to be) infamous for their hideous countenances and reptilian characteristics. The latter chiefly manifested as each of them having a nest of living (and, of course, highly venomous) snakes for hair, but in some instances the Gorgons were also described as having serpent-like skin and fangs, boars' tusks, bronze claws and even gold wings. Although Stheno and Euryale were immortal, Medusa (who was said to have been cursed into hideousness by Athena after Poseidon seduced her in her temple) was not. Using a mirrored shield given to him by Athena, Perseus was able to safely lop off Medusa's head without getting turned to stone himself.

Jezebel Johnson loves ancient mythology (not surprisingly her favourite is Greek) and certainly has nothing in common with any of the ferocious beasts mentioned in this list.

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