A Greek historian and physician, Ctesias, who lived in the 4th century B.C., and served in the court of Artexerxes II, wrote a book called Indica (India) which included descriptions of many terrible animals he said could be found in the land of Persia. One such monster he described had a diet which consisted mainly of human flesh.
The Manticore (“man-eater” in Persian) was called Anthropophagos (“man-eater”) by the Greeks. Ctesias described it this way:
It has a face like a man’s, a skin red as cinnabar, and is as large as a lion. It has three rows of teeth, ears and light-blue eyes like those of a man; its tail is like that of a land scorpion, containing a sting more than a cubit long at the end.
The manticore’s stinger had the unpleasant and deadly ability to launch poison darts, like arrows, at its prey. Later, historians theorized the tale of the manticore originated from sightings of nothing more exotic than tigers.
Pliny the Elder, writing in the 1st century A.D., described the sound of the manticore as a horrifying combination of pan-pipe and trumpet.
Manticores are a staple of many different mythologies and have made appearances in modern fantasy stories and worlds like Westeros (George R.R. Martin) and Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling).
In Turning Creek, the matriarch of the Neal family is a manticore. I will close this post with an amazing picture of some fabulous street art from Australia.
I am not, sadly, going to talk about this Echidna, also known as the Spiny Ant Eater.
Instead, we are talking about Echidna, known as the Monstrous Mother of Monsters, who was both prolific in her fecundity and frightening in what she produced. The myths of Echidna and Python are frequently the same stories.
Her parentage is much disputed, but all stories hold fast to the tale that she was born of slime and rotting things. In one version, she springs from the leftover sludge from the great Deluge. Yes, that one that Noah rode through in his ark. Echidna had the head and breast of a woman and the body of a serpent or dragon. She needed those breasts, apparently, for all the horrible children she would eventually bear.
Echidna was given in marriage to the horrible Typhon, the one hundred headed dragon beast. You know they saying, “There’s someone for everyone”? It turns out, Echidna took one look at all of Typhon’s scaly heads and fell head over dragon body in love with him. Typhon, likewise, was quite taken with his new bride. So taken that they spent much of their time engaging in marital relations because their list of offspring was both impressive and frightening.
Their children included:
Orthus – the two-headed hound
Cerberus – the three-headed hound
The Sphinx – the half feline, half woman who ate men who could not answer her riddles
Nemean Lion – who could only die by strangulation
Ladon – the dragon
Lernaean Hydra – a dragon who lived in water and spit acid
Chimera – a fire breathing lioness with a snake tail
Caucasian Eagle – who ate the liver of Prometheus every day
Crommyonian Sow – a vicious pig who terrorized the region around Crommyonian
The Gorgons – fierce female monsters who ate men and whose number included Medusa
Colchian Dragon – guarded the Golden fleece and never slept, ate, or wavered
Scylla – sea goddess with the head of a woman and the body of a snake
Harpies – in some versions the harpies spring from the loins of Echidna and Typhon
Other various serpents and plagues on mankind
I wonder what their family gatherings were like when they all sat around the table for dinner together.
Echidna: Sphinx darling, what did you learn today?
Sphinx: I learned fat, stupid men taste delicious.
Echidna: That sounds lovely, my dear.
In most of the myths, Echidna is an ageless horror. There are two accounts of her death. In one, Apollo slays her to rid the Earth of her foul presence. In another, she is slain by Argos, the hundred-eyed giant at the behest of Hera because Hera had grown tired of Echidna’s foulness.
Echidna and some of her most famous offspring come to Turning Creek but to tell you more would spoil the fun.
Be honest. I know most of you think of this when you think of Cerberus:
We can all learn a life lesson from Hagrid’s penchant to acquire things in pubs. If a slightly inebriated, shady chap is trying to get you to win a three headed dog or dragon egg, just call it a loss and walk away. Nothing good ever comes from this kind of transaction. Just ask Harry.
Cerberus, thrice the heads, thrice the drool.
Cerberus was another illustrious offspring of Typhon and Echidna. Cerberus was a dog with three heads and was said to have a serpentine tail and a mane of snakes. Remember, Greeks did not think a large three-headed dog was scary enough. They added some other animals parts to make him truly horrifying.
Cerberus guarded the entrance to the Underworld. He allowed shades (souls) to go in but would not let them leave. He was without pity and feasted upon raw flesh.
The last of Hercules’ twelve tasks was to capture Cerberus. Not to be daunted, Hercules made the journey to the underworld and asked Hades for the hound. Hades agreed on two conditions. Hercules could not use any weapon but his own strength and no harm was to come to Cerberus. Hercules agreed.
Hercules wrestled the three-headed hound, managing to wrap his strong arms around all three of Cerberus’ throats. Even though Hercules was bitten by the snakes on Cerberus’ mane, he subdued the beast and carried him out of the Underworld slung over his shoulders.
Hercules presented Cerberus to King Eurystheus at the gates of Tiryns. Eurystheus begged Hercules to let the monster go and not leave him at the gates of his city. Hercules released Cerberus and the hound returned to his duty in the Underworld.
There are various versions of the tale of Hercules and Cerberus, but they all end with Hercules triumphant and Cerberus back at his post.
In Turning Creek, the Remnant of Cerberus has only one head, but he manages to cause quite a bit of havoc.
Today, we are talking about dragons! Who doesn’t love dragons? This girl LOVES them. Every once in awhile, I binge through a dragon shifter series. Because dragons.
The dragon-like monster in Greek mythology was the Ladon. He was said to be the monstrous child of two monsters, Typhon and Echidna. The Ladon was a one hundred headed serpent who guarded the golden apples of Hesperides.
Hesperides, a goddess of the golden light of sunrise and sunset, was frequently given the task of guarding treasures of the other gods and goddesses. The tree which bore the golden apples was a gift of Gaia, the Earth, to Hera on the occasion of her marriage to Zeus. The apples, besides being beautiful, could bestow immortality to whoever ate them. These were the same apples that were used to trick Atalanta into marriage. Hesperides used the Ladon to guard her garden in which the tree of the golden apples grew.
The Ladon frequently tormented the Titan, Atlas, who carried the world on his shoulders. In some tales, the Ladon was said to be able to mimic voices.
Among the twelve labors given to Hercules by the Oracle at Delphi was to collect some of the golden apples. Hercules slay the Ladon who stood sentinel in Hesperides’ garden and took the apples. Zeus placed the slain monster in the stars as the constellation Draco. He is entwined around the North Star.
Everyone has heard of the ferryman who takes souls to the Underworld, but not everyone knows that his name was Charon. Many cultures have a death ritual which involves laying coins on the eyes or under the tongue of the deceased as Charon’s Obol or coin. This coin or coins paid Charon’s toll for the ferry ride across the River Styx or the Acheron, the lake of pain, depending on which version of the myth you are reading.
Charon was the son of Erebus, the primordial god of darkness who existed before the Greek gods came to power. Charon served Hades by captaining the ferry which carried souls across Acheron to the Underworld. The obol placed in the mouth of the deceased when they were buried was his payment. The souls of people who were left unburied or who were without payment were left to wander the land of in-between as ghosts.
Charon does not feature in any stories centered around himself, but he plays a supporting role in the adventures of other gods when they find themselves on the shore of Acheron seeking an audience with Hades.
Charon was often described as a bearded, surly man whose eyes shone with unnatural color or, as in Dante’s Inferno, with fire. I imagine ferrying the dead would make anyone surly. Can you imagine how hacked off some of those people are? Or how sad they would be?
Psyche uses Charon’s service on one of her quests. She was on her way to beg Persephone for a box a beauty ointment because nothing says everlasting youth like cream from the queen of the dead.
In Turning Creek, Charon has not made an appearance, but the characters do refer to him and his services into the Underworld.
This was my view for the weekend. It was a rainy, windy mess. From the time we arrived on Friday until we left Sunday, the rain fell and the wind blew. It was perfect writing weather.
My goal for the weekend was to finish my round of development edits on Letters in the Snow (TC3) and write the additional scenes I still needed to round out the plot.
I was able to do both, by Saturday night no less, so I wrote this on Sunday morning, at my leisure.
Total words for the weekend, not counting that I also deleted a bit along the way, was 9,053 words. Less than last year, but last year I was still in the draft phase for Storm in the Mountains and I plowed through that.
This means that I have plenty of time to read through the book, yet again, before sending it on to my editor in December. I know you are thinking, “But how does this effect when I can have the book?” If all goes well, you can have it in February. Probably. I make no promises, but that is my goal.
I am so grateful to my boys who managed to survive without me for a couple days. I am blessed with a husband who helps me make time in our lives for this thing that I love to do.
I am always immensely glad once I get here that all the pieces fell into place once again. Some of my writer friends I only see during this weekend. Even though we spend much of it hunched over our keyboards or staring blankly into the waves on the lake, there are still moments of conversation that I cherish all year long.
We come from different backgrounds, have different day jobs, and write in an array of genres, but we are all writers. We all have words to share and that makes us the same.
There are two kinds of people in the world: dog people and cat people. I am a dog person. I married a man who thought he was a cat person owing to the fact that he always had cats growing up. His mother is a cat person. He was a dog person just waiting for a dog to be in his life. We now have two large, ridiculous dogs and everyone is happy about it except my mother-in-law.
This post is not about my crazy dogs. This post is about Laelaps, the hurricane dog of Greek mythology.
Laelaps is a female in some stories and a male in others. I am going to refer to Laelaps as a she because I like imagining a powerful female dog running around causing a bit of panic.
Laelaps originally belonged to Zeus. She was a fierce hunting hound who, once set on her prey, never failed to catch it.
Zeus stumbled upon the maiden Europa picking flowers one day and he decided that he must have this woman as his own. To those of you who have been paying attention, this should come as no big shock. Instead of declaring his intentions, like a normal person, Zeus decided on his usual practice of transforming himself into something, this time a white bull, and seducing (or perhaps pestering) Europa until she climbed up on his back and he kidnapped her.
Zeus set Europa up as the Queen of Crete and gave her three gifts. One of the gifts was his beloved hound, Laelaps. Europa named the son that she bore after riding the white bull Minos. Minos inherited not only the kingship of Crete, but also the hound, Laelaps.
I was unable to find exactly how Procris ended up with Laelaps, but at some point Minos gifted the hound to Procris who took it home to please his wife, Kephalos, after they had an argument about being on a “break.”
It is possible that Artemis, goddess of the hunt, may have gifted Laelaps to Procris, but accounts differ.
About this time, the Teumessian Fox was terrorizing Thebes. The mythical fox was a monster that could never be caught. To appease it, the people of Thebes fed it a small male child once a month. As you can imagine, the people of Thebes tired of this arrangement very quickly. They appealed to Kephalos who sent Laelaps after the fox.
The hound who always catches its prey chasing after a fox who could never be caught created an unsolvable conundrum. The hound chased the fox for many days. Zeus grew tired of this and turned both animals to stone. He put them in the sky as the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor where they chase each other forever.
Since I started writing about my harpies, I have been doing a lot of mythology research. Before starting the Turning Creek series, my mythology knowledge was about what any good English major picks up over years of reading, a decent bit but not encyclopedic. After over a year of reading and writing about Greek mythology, I have come to a conclusion I should have seen coming.
The gender roles in the ancient world were supported by the rigid and degrading roles women were given in the myths told and retold as religion. In modern times, we read them as classic literature.
In Greek mythology, women were allowed to be virgins, whores, or something monstrous. They were never allowed to be beautiful and I would argue that any woman who was not a virgin was made a monster because they believed them to be monstrous.
In this discussion there is always one exception: the goddesses. The goddesses of Greece and Rome were allowed to be virgins, sexual beings, beautiful, ugly, or anything in between. The female gods were allowed to do almost anything without punishment, but if a mortal woman was anything but an ugly virgin, she was punished, and punished harshly.
A woman could not possess beauty or skill. – Beauty was prized by the ancients, but it was reserved for those of royal blood or those who were children of the gods. Likewise, a mortal woman could also never excel at anything if they outshone the the gods. Arachne, who had the misfortune of being a very good weaver, was challenged by Minerva, weaver of the gods. When Arachne was found to be equal in skill to Minerva, the goddess beat her until, shamed, the woman hung herself. Minerva felt remorse over her action and changed the woman into a spider.
Scylla was a beautiful woman seduced* by Poseidon. She was turned into a hideous beast both for being beautiful and for being seduced. Medea was a beautiful witch that Jason of the Argonauts seduced, married, then abandoned. Medusa was a beautiful mortal who had the misfortune of being seduced by Poseidon in Athena’s temple.
A woman was allowed to be a virgin, at least until one of the philandering gods noticed you and then they seduced you, making you a whore. In a culture where your ability to bear children was the sum of your value, your maidenhead was your ticket to a better life. Unfortunately, this was a ticket easily ripped apart (pun intended), by any man or god who happened to stroll along. Losing your virginity meant you lost your value in society, but if you lost your virtue to the wrong man or god, you were punished. Scylla and Medusa, from the examples above, were turned into hideous creatures by the goddesses who felt betrayed by the rape of the mortal women. The women were punished for the gods’ infidelity.
A woman was allowed to be a whore or a monster. There are many female monsters in Greek mythology, though monsters are not exclusively female. Feminine monsters, of various origins, included Medusa and Scylla (which I have already mentioned), the Sphinx, the Harpies, the Amazons (women who dared to have power and skill, thus they were monsters), the maenads, the Gorgons, and the list goes on and on.
It makes sense that the stories which people told to explain the world were influenced by and supported the beliefs of that culture. Women were not valued. Women, beyond their ability to bear children, had no value and no place in society. There are always exceptions, but I am speaking about the generally accepted views not the exceptions.
Greek Mythology, and other mythology from the ancient world, reflected the idea that women were virgins until they were desired by a man and then they were taken. After they had been used, they were no longer of value, they were monstrous, both physically and spiritually.
This has implications for us today as we consider how the ancients myths have woven their way into the vernacular of our modern culture. Using an example above, we remember Medea as a witch who killed her children and Jason as a virtuous hero. We do not remember this couple as they were in the myths: Medea as a desperate and abandoned woman and Jason as a narcissistic adulterer.
As I learn more about ancient myths, I have been reminded to look at the stories critically with a modern lens that is sensitive to the culture which created them. They are stories of greed, betrayal, jealousy, desire, love, anguish, and life. We are all capable of any or all of these emotions. Perhaps the thing we should learn most from the ancient myths is temperance.
*Seduced in the ancient writings is a gentle way of saying the god didn’t take no for an answer and raped her.
Last night, I was the guest at a book club that had gathered to discuss Lightning in the Dark. The night was filled with great questions, laughter, and, of course, wine.
Some of the questions were very thought provoking: The harpies pass down violence from generation to generation. What do we take with us from our parents and how does this effect our lives?
Some of them were hilarious: Do harpies lay eggs? Do they have pregnancies that only last nine months? No and yes, respectively. I had not actually considered changing the harpies’ gestation period. Imagining them laying eggs made me crack up.
We had some of the usual discussions about mythology, what did I make up verses what is present in the actual myths. The ladies talked about what they thought the harpies looked like in harpy form. It was interesting to note that the women who had previous knowledge of what a harpy was tended to see them as more monstrous and ugly. The women with no prior knowledge of the harpy myth tended to see them as I imagined them to be, strong and fiercely beautiful as only true predators can be.
It was an absolute honor to be there. I am humbled by the people that read my books and connect with the characters that I love.
If you read one of my books in a book club, I would love to be there when you discuss it, to answer questions, talk, and laugh with you. And drink wine. Or beer. Or scotch.
One more thing: tomorrow, I am doing my monthly ebook giveaway to a newsletter subscriber. This month the giveaway is from one of my favorite authors, Sandra Schwab. The book is The Lily Brand and it will keep you up late reading, but you will not mind in the slightest. You can subscribe by clicking the handy button below.
Today, we are going to talk about Scylla, a ferocious sea monster, who along with her sister, Charybdis, swallowed sailors and whole ships with abandon.
This story starts ordinarily enough, with a beautiful maiden and a god who could not keep his hands or, ahem, other things to himself. Well, maybe it starts earlier with dubious parentage.
The story of Scylla’s parentage is varied. Her parents could have been a god-shark, a river, Echidna and Typhon, or Phorcys and Hekate. In some versions, Scylla is born a monster, in others she is made one.
Scylla was a beautiful maiden and she caught the eye of the marine god Glaucus or maybe it was Poseidon. Both fell instantly in lust with the damsel in question. Neither was fortunate enough to have her return their affections and both were annoyed at having their attentions rebuffed. I mean, who would not want to have a romp with a god? It always turned out so well for the woman once a god turned her way.
In the version with Glaucus as the hero, he applied to Circe, a witch renowned for her knowledge of herbs, to help make Scylla fall in love with him. Once, Circe saw the lovely Scylla, she was so overcome with jealousy she put herbs in Scylla’s bath causing her to turn into a horrible monster.
In the version with Poseidon, his wife, Amphitrite, was displeased at her husband’s wayward attentions and turned the maiden Scylla into a monster.
Regardless of the cause, Scylla became a ferocious sea creature sporting six heads which had mouths with three rows of jagged teeth. In some versions, she retained her human form from the torso up and had three dog heads sprouting from her belly. The Greeks were fond of putting random animals heads in places where they did not belong. Scylla barked like a dog and lay in wait for sailors to pass through the straight she guarded with Charybdis.
The Straight of Messina is a particularly dangerous place for ships between Sicily and Italy. In the straight were two rocks, one haunted by each monster, Scylla and Charybdis. Ships that failed to navigate the rough seas around the rocks and their monsters, were swallowed and lost to an icy death.
In Turning Creek, Katherine Johnson, the first woman to go missing in Storm in the Mountainsis a Remnant of Scylla.