Ancient writers described Lamia, the daughter of Poseidon, as a ” queen of surpassing beauty.” It was her attractive appearance that led to her unfortunate future. Her trouble began when her exquisite beauty drew the attention of Zeus. Lamia eventually became Zeus’ mistress much to the displeasure of his wife, Hera. The jealous wife cursed Lamia, and the curse is what led to the queen becoming known as a child-eating demon.
Loss of Children
Hera’s curse began with the deaths of the children of Lamia. Any child the queen gave birth to would quickly die. Some accounts of the story say the children were murdered by Hera, and others state the deaths occurred by their mother’s own hands under the influence of Hera. It is possible Zeus fathered some of the children lost due to the curse.
Start of Madness
The strain of witnessing, and even causing so much death drove Lamia to madness. The misery of seeing other women with healthy babies took a toll on the cursed queen. The inability to sleep, another part of Hera’s curse, worsened the mental state of the damaged woman and led to her committing heinous acts.
Lamia began to kidnap infants to appease her misery. The manic woman stole newborns from their mother’s arms and brought them to a cave that had become her lair. Once at the cave, Lamia would feast on the children. The actions worsened her mental state, and she became determined to rob every woman of all their children as she had lost her own. The insanity and the cannibalism turned the once lovely women into a monstrous demon.
Removal of Eyes
Zeus heard of the actions of his former mistress and sought to protect the children and their mothers from her wrath. He visited Lamia and made her eyes removable. Each day, Lamia was to remove her eyeballs and place them in a jar. The action would make her blinded to the sight of happy mothers and babies, and unable to continue her hunt. However, at night Lamia was able to insert her eyes and continue her morbid obsession. Some believe Zeus’ actions were also meant as a gift to the damaged woman, as the inability to see what caused her so much pain would help her to get some rest.
Other storytellers recount the loss of Lamia’s eyes differently. Hera, enraged by the beauty, was said to have gouged out the eyes of her husband’s mistress. Some tales even suggest that in her madness, Lamia tore out her eyes on her own.
Influence in Tales
The ability to continue her hunt for flesh after sunset made Lamia into a bogeyman to children. Parents would use the story of the cursed queen as the reason for children to behave or stay in bed. A failure to follow the instructions meant the risk of becoming a meal for the monster.
Later cultures described Lamia as a sea-monster and others would say she became a vampiric creature that turned her attention to men. In this role, she would seduce men either in real life or in their dreams and feast on their flesh and blood once they succumbed to her advances. Influenced by Lamia’s story, a type of demon creatures that posed as beautiful women to lure young men to their deaths were often known as the Lamiai / Lamiae.
Survival of Children
Various tales suggest that not all the children of Zeus and Lamia died. One story tells of a daughter of Zeus and Lamia named Herophile who was notably the first woman to chant oracles. Given the surname Sibylla, she chanted the oracles on a rock that rose above the ground at Delphi. Herophile, however, is also recorded as a sea-nymph and the daughter of Poseidon and Aphrodite.
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