Welcome to the first post in a new series: Mythology Mondays.
The world of Turning Creek is populated with Remnants, descendants of the Greek myths, who have spent the years since the Fall of Olympus blending into mortal society and seeking a life of peace. When I started writing this series, I had some vague ideas about Greek myths, but getting to know the harpies has meant getting to know a ton of other myths as well.
Every Monday, I will highlight a different Greek myth that has woven its way into my series. If you pay close attention to the details, you will see where some of the elements and history of the Turning Creek series originated.
Today, I want to talk about the monsters that started it all: the harpies.
One of the most famous descriptions comes from Dante’s Inferno, which most of us had to read in school and some of us actually enjoyed.
Here the repellent harpies make their nests,
Who drove the Trojans from the Strophades
With dire announcements of the coming woe.
They have broad wings, with razor sharp talons and a human neck and face,
Clawed feet and swollen, feathered bellies; they caw
Their lamentations in the eerie trees
The English word harpy comes from the Latin word harpeia and the Greek word harpayia which means “that which snatches” or “swift robbers.” They are famous for many things, including snatching the daughters of Pandareus and delivering them to the Furies and for snatching food from the table of blind Phineus. The harpies were said to be Zeus’s agents of punishment who would torture people on their way to Tartarus and steal things at his command. In some tales, they are called the “hounds of Zeus.”
The number and descriptions of the harpies varies depending on the author of the myth. The number of harpies range from one to three and they are called by a variety of names with different spellings, again, depending on the author. In the earlier myths, the harpies are nothing but the personified destructive power of storm winds. Later they are winged, fair-haired women. Their appearance continued to evolve into that of the foul, bird-like creatures we think of today. They were always seen as violent, destructive, and cruel.
There are four names most often mentioned in relation to the harpies: Aello (storm swift), Celaeno (the dark one) who is sometimes referred to as Podarge (fleet foot), and Ocypete (swift wing).
They lived on the islands of Strophades, also called the Islands of Turning. It was on these islands that they tortured Phineas until the Argonauts came to his rescue. Before Boreades could kill them, the goddess Iris, winged rainbow messenger of the gods and sister to the harpies, interceded on their behalf. At her request, the harpies were spared, but confined to the islands.
The horses of Achilles, Xanthus and Balius, were the result of a union between Celaeno/Podarge and her lover, Zephyron, the West Wind. Zephyron was married to Iris, her sister. Scandalous!
I chose the harpies as my main characters because I wanted to redeem them. I wanted to know what would happen if a violent creature was forced to live in the world with people and how they would reconcile their own nature with that of the world around them.
Come back next Monday when we talk about Iris, messenger of the gods and defender of the harpies.