God of the Week: The Harpies

07/12/2010: The Harpies

The Harpies were ancient Greek deities, half bird half woman creatures that stole food from the unwary:

The Harpies, who, like the Furies, were employed by the gods as instruments for the punishment of the guilty, were three female divinities, daughters of Tbaumas and Electra …

They were represented with the head of a fair -haired maiden and the body of a vulture, and were perpetually devoured by the pangs of insatiable hunger, which caused them to torment their victims by robbing them of their food; this they either devoured with great hungar, or defiled in such a manner as to render it unfit to be eaten.

-“The Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome”, by E. M. Berens

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3 Comments on “God of the Week: The Harpies”

  1. Kassul Says:

    Hrm, I know very very little about harpies, but why would they defile my delicious food? I get that perpetually hungry harpies would want to eat it, but what’s with defiling it? That strikes me as a bit odd.

    When doing that in myth are they supposedly thinking along the lines of:
    “If I can’t get satisfied by this food then neither can you! Nananananaaaa! Now you’re going to be insatiably hungry too, just like me, because you have no food anymore! =}”

    Or is the defiling prompted by specific orders from other gods, powerful enough to override their urge to consume? Some third option perhaps?

    And just to get all my lazyquestions in one post, did they only eat mundane food, or did they sometimes go after stuff that was set aside for sacrifice? Some bull perhaps, or some honey/wine/whatever that had been set aside for a libation?

    • Victor Says:

      They seem to have just been malicious spirits, ruining food cause that’s what they did. Hey, gotta have some reason food went bad. The root word, I believe, means to snatch away. So, the story might have started with birds swooping down and taking food. Which actually happened to me with a piece of pizza once. A bird flying away with mozzarella cheese hanging out of it’s mouth is a funny sight.

  2. Collin Says:

    So they’re demonic. And presumably they lay eggs, so they don’t suffer the pain of giving birth. Sounds like Lilith, who was rejected by Adam for wanting to be on top of him. And that was supposed to be his right as a man? How would it be dignified or even fun for a man to lie down on top of a harpy?

    Picture that the next time someone talks about male dominance!

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