Mythology Mondays: Scylla

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first two books, Lightning in the Dark and Storm in the Mountains are out now.

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.

scylla rock

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.

scylla vase

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 Mountains is a Remnant of Scylla.