The most awe-inspiring elements of Greek mythology are, without a doubt, the ferocious beasts and monsters. These legendary creatures have inspired tales throughout history and continue to mystify fans of the mythos. Most are already familiar with the Cerberus, the Harpies, and the famous Gorgons. However, plenty of other monsters deserve their time in the spotlight.
One example is the Charybdis. The Charybdis is a sea monster that created massive whirlpools capable of taking down ships and their crew to a watery grave. Greatly feared, she appears in several stories involving familiar Greek heroes.
The Origins of Charybdis
By most accounts, Charybdis was always a monster with no identifiable origin. She was a feared obstacle, dwelling in the waters of the Strait of Messina. She reportedly lived under a small rock, just an arrow’s throw away from the large rock occupied by the Scylla. The Syclla was another feared beast, and the two created a major hazard for ships.
Sailors had to navigate the waters without getting too close to either beast. When they drifted to avoid Charybdis, they were in the perfect position for Scylla to strike and vice versa.
Charybdis swallowed tons of water as she lay in wait. She would eject the water out at just the right moment to create a massive whirlpool with enough suction power to down even the most solid ships.
Tales of and Poseidon
Later on in Greek mythology, Charybdis developed a unique backstory. In this version of events, she wasn’t born a beast. Instead, she was the divine daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. Poseidon was the Olympian god of the sea. Some iterations say that Charybdis’ father was actually the primordial sea god Pontus. However, that wouldn’t support the forthcoming tale.
In most retellings of this story, Charybdis’s mother was Gaia, a primordial goddess personifying the Earth.
Charybdis faithfully served her father and took his side during a feud with Zeus, the King of the gods and Poseidon’s brother. Charybdis helped her father engulf lands and islands in water during their little spat.
Zeus saw that act as theft. He believed that Charybdis was stealing from him. As an act of revenge, the god captured Charybdis and chained her to the sea bed. He then cursed her, turning her into the massive sea monster we know today!
There’s another lesser-known origin story for Charybdis. This one still involves Zeus. But the identity of the beast is much different. Instead of coming from divine lineage, Charybdis was a mere mortal. She was a voracious woman who reportedly stole the ox cattle from Heracles. Seeing as how Heracles was the demi-god son of Zeus, it didn’t take long for the rule of Mount Olympus to take action. He hurled one of his mighty thunderbolts at Charybdis, hurling her into the sea where she would turn into the beast!
Depictions of Charybdis
There’s not a ton of artwork depicting this hideous beast. Most are modern interpretations created by the descriptions of Homer and other poets.
She’s usually shown as a massive serpent-like creature with an enormous mouth that she used to swallow water and create her whirlpools. Homer described her as a hideous bladder monster with flippers for arms and legs. Her uncontrollable thirst was immeasurable. It caused her to swallow water three times a day, resulting in the waning tides.
Charybdis in Greek Mythology
This beast appears pretty frequently in Greek mythology. Her close proximity between the Syclla created the phrase “Between Scylla and Charybdis,” which acted as an allegory for choosing the lesser of two evils. That concept was explored further in the monster’s notable appearances.
In Homer’s epic poem, he describes Odysseus encountering the beast with his men. Odysseus was guiding his boat through a narrow channel. Having been warned of the Charybdis, Odysseus commanded his men to avoid the beast. The boat drifted to the opposite side of the strait, forcing them to pass near the Syclla.
It was a deadly decision that caused the death of six of Odysseus’s men.
Later, he encountered the Charybdis directly. He was drifting in the water stranded on a raft. The raft took him back into the strait and right towards the monster. She opened her mouth and sucked the raft right into your gaping maw.
Odysseus narrowly escaped with his life by grabbing onto a fig tree growing on a rock above the monster’s lair. When she expelled the water, the raft came out, and Odysseus continued his journey.
Jason and the Argonauts
The Charybdis is only briefly mentioned in this story. However, her small role was significant.
By this point, the Charybdis and Scylla’s dangers were well known to ancient Greece. As the Argonauts continued their quest for the golden fleece, they had to cross the Strait of Messina. Normally, that would be a death wish. However, the Argonauts received help from Hera and the Nereid nymph Thetis.
Hera was the wife of Zeus and the queen of the gods. She orders Thetis to guide the Argonauts through the dangerous passage safely.
This epic poem from Virgil also featured the famous Charybdis monster. This story covers Aeneas, a Trojan who escaped the fall of Troy and traveled to Italy.
One important detail involves the Trojan’s path as they travel around Italy. The Trojans receive a warning from Helenus, a seer. She tells them about the Charybdis and the Scylla, informing them that they must sail around Pachynus Point to avoid the dangerous strait altogether.
They oblige but somehow drift away from their initial planned route. As they pass the remnants of Mount Etna, they realize that it’s too late. They’ve drifted close to the Charybdis. The monster quickly sinks their boat, and the remaining survivors must row to escape the heinous beast.
Charybdis is a feared sea monster in Greek mythology. It’s generally referred to as a female beast.
Charybdis is also known as “Kharybdis” or “Kharubdis.” The creature’s Greek name is Χαρυβδις.
The name “Charybdis” roughly translates to “swallow” or “belch.”
According to most accounts, Charybdis lived in the Strait of Messina. It reportedly occupied the waters opposite of the Scylla.
Together, the Charybdis and the Scylla created a nearly impassable body of water. They create an obstacle that ancient Greeks referred to as “Between Scylla and Charybdis.” The term describes a difficult choice involving the lesser of two evils.
Charybdis may have started life with a human form. There are a couple of origin stories explaining her existence.
In one tale, she’s the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. In others, she’s a mortal cattle hand who steels from Heracles.
For versions involving a human form, Zeus is responsible for turning the Charybdis into a beast.
Charybdis is most famous for appearing in Homer’s “Odyssey” and the tale of Jason and the Argonauts.
Later, the beast was rationalized as nothing more than a whirlpool. Her technique of taking down ships was to swallow large amounts of water before spewing it all out.
Homer said her actions caused high and low tides.
Charybdis is often depicted as a massive serpent with a large, round mouth. In some works of art, she has sharp teeth and smaller tentacles that surround her maw.
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