As long as my bad weather lasts, or longer if this topic is interesting enough, I’ll be discussing the ancient gods and goddesses of many cultures who were said to influence the weather. I’ve started my series with the Theoi Meteoroi — the weather gods of Ancient Greece.
I’m continuing with the Tempest-Winds — the Anemoi Thyellai.
Have you ever had your hat blown off your head, papers blown from your hand, or had a sharp gust of wind blow something just beyond your reach? The ancients would say you were visited by the Harpies.
Born to Thaumas (an old proto or first god of the sea) and Elektra (a cloud nymph –more on her next week), there were originally five Harpy sisters: Aellope, Ocypete, Podarge, Celaeno, Nicothoe. In most of the stories I’ve found, these three seem to be the main players: Aellope, Ocypete, and Celaeno, their names meaning Storm swift, The swift wing, and The dark, respectively.
In earlier versions, the Harpies were described as beautiful, winged maidens. Hesiod describes them as maidens with lovely hair, as lovely as their sister Iris the Rainbow. Over time they became women with beautiful faces on vulture bodies. Later, they became ugly winged monsters equipped with sharp hooked talons. It seems to me in the later tellings they were often confused with the Gorgons (more on them later). Comme ci comme ça — like this, like that.
Some myths have them parented by Typhon and Echidna (again I do believe this refers to the Gorgon sisters). Other myths have them as the Hounds of Zeus sent to dispatch whatever he wanted them to with a windy gust.
The most interesting of the Harpy myths concerns Phineus, the king of Thrace. Not only was he king, Phineus was also a prophet. Because he revealed too much of the gods’ plans to mortal men, Zeus blinded him and set Harpies to plague him. Whenever Phineus sat down to eat, the Harpies would swoop down and steal his food, starving him slowly by the day. This story might be the root of why Harpies were said to possess an insatiable hunger. Some versions say whatever crumbs and scraps were left on Phineus’ plate, they were fouled and inedible. To me this suggests the origin of the vulture body. (If threatened, Vultures will vomit their rotten carcass meals like throwing down a smoke bomb.) From here, it’s not hard to see how these beautiful winged maidens became monsters.
When Jason and the Argonauts came on the scene and saw what was happening to poor Phineus, the winged Boreads (those sons of Boreas the North Wind) chased the Harpies away. So pleased that he could finally eat, Phineus shared with Jason and his Argonauts a future glimpse of a successful quest, complete with how to get around certain deadly hazards.
Quick Harpie tidbits:
- Harpies turn up as figures on ancient tombs. This suggests ties to the underworld.
- Harpies were amazingly agile and thus impossible to catch and kill.
- Their name means whirlwind.
- In Dante’s Inferno, he places the harpies in the Wood of Suicides where they screech from the trees.
- Shakespeare made the name Harpy synonymous with relentlessly nagging women in his play Much ado About Nothing.
- The Harpy Eagle is named for the Harpies. Check out their genus and species names — Harpia harpyja.
Tomorrow ~ wrapping up the Anemoi
For 100 days, I’ll post something from my chosen topic: Clichés.
There are 81 entries to come.
Here’s a cliché for today:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Today is Janice Seagraves’ blog day.
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Once again your blog is something to file away as incentive for more research on my part.
Could Typhon have anything to do with the Western Pacific Typhoon? Is Boreas where we get Borealis?
You asked about personal experience with whirlwinds. I grew up where when the weather was right they were an every day affair. We never had full fledged tornados, but I do recall an outbuilding being lifted off the ground and set down just as it was originally 1/8 mile away. The oddest event happened on the Naval Station in Norfolk, VA. There was a rabbit that used to hang outside the back entrance to the clinic. I was taking a break looking out the window looking for our Thumper when all of a sudden he started running after which a tree was uprooted and the car next to the tree had its windows shattered. Since the twister started and ended on grass there was no warning. The sky was clear, there was no dust as in the whirlwinds in Central Washington. Usually all you see is the aftermath. It was kind of surreal.
The first time I heard the quote, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” was in an old Twilight Zone episode in which a team of surgeons operated on a patient to fix his face. When the medical team unmasked, they looked like ET. We now return control of your television back to you.
Glad you enjoyed this one, Ray. Yes, borealis comes from Boreas. His name is used for northern designations — boreal pertains to the north and the aurora borealis is the northern lights. Yes to Typhon/typhoon too. I’ll be blogging about that monster next week.
That whirlwind experience of yours does sound surreal. Kind of like that micro burst that ripped out so many trees here. It felt like I was in a snowglobe without the snow and someone gave it a spin. I’ve seen dust devils and fire tornadoes. I’ll just stand there watching until they end. I’m easily awed. lol I start my childrens novel with a whirlwind that kicks up a dust devil.
I remember that Twilight Zone episode. It was very well done. Every camera angle just right so you didn’t see too much until the end.
Perhaps the Harpies were the mischievous beings who ‘blew’ books off bookshelves to fall at my feet several times when I was on intense quests for knowledge. Of course, it was always exactly the book I was looking for, or a book that took my inquiring mind in a much needed different direction (expand the thought process). 🙂
If you needed that book then perhaps it was the Fates!