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In Greek mythology, Scylla (pronounced “Sill-ah” or “Skee-lah”, depending on what country you live in) is a sea monster who lives on the rocks of a narrow water channel opposite of the whirlpool (and originally also a sea monster) Charybdis. Ships caught in between Scylla and Charybdis often end up being sunk by either Scylla or Charybdis.

In Book XII of Homer’s The Odyssey, Circe (the goddess of magic) warns Odysseus to sail closer to Scylla than Charybdis and to keep the ship sailing at top speed. However, distracted by Charybdis, Scylla is able to snatch up and devour six sailors on board Odysseus’s ship. Apollonius of Rhodes writes in The Argonautica, “On one side the sheer cliff of Skylla (Scylla) hove in sight; on the other Kharybdis (Charybdis) seethed and roared incessantly; while beyond, great seas were booming on the Wandering Rocks” (4. 921 ff). It is said that The Rock of Scilla in Calabria (a coastal town near the strait of Messina) is Scylla’s home.

Scylla’s parents differ depending on which legend you’re reading. Multiple authors, including Homer and Ovid, claim that Scylla’s mother is Keto (also known as Crataeis), goddess of dangers of the sea. Some stories tell of Keto mating with her brother Phorcys, with whom she had Scylla, Ekhidna (a she-dragon), the Graeae (three sisters – Deino, Enyo, and Pemphredo – who shared one eye between all of them), Ladon (a serpent with one-hundred heads), and the Gorgons (Stheno the Mighty, Euryale the Far Springer, and Medusa, Queen of the Gorgons). There is some confusion between scholars about Hecate being the mother of Scylla. Apollonius of Rhodes claims that Crataeis is another name for Hecate.

In The Odyssey, Homer describes Scylla as being a rather frightful sea creature with a crab-like shell, six long necks, triple rows of teeth on each head, and twelve feet dangling from her monstrous body. Her voice, as Homer writes, sounds like the yelping of dogs. In fact, Scylla’s name is derived from Greek words that describe the animals she looks like. Skyllaros is Greek for “hermit crab.” Skylax roughly translates into “dog” or “dog-shark”, and skyllô means “to rend”, which means “to tear something into pieces.”

As Hellenistic Greek’s tragic poet Lycophron writes in The Alexandra (also called The Cassandra), Heracles (also known as Hercules or Mekisteus) kills Scylla, but her father, Phorcys, brings her back to life.

Ovid, in his epic poem Metamorphoses, depicts Scylla as having a sweet, girlish face and was actually once a sweet girl. Ovid writes that Scylla, as a beautiful maiden, had many suitors who were interested in her. However, Scylla did not return any of their affections and instead went to the Sea-Nymphs, who adored and even favored Scylla, and told them that she had rejected all of her suitors and eluded them. Afterward, Scylla went for a walk along the rocks near the water, where she was approached by the sea god Glaucus. He was struck by her beauty and pursued her, although she was terrified of him.

In this story, Glaucus seeks the help of Circe, who is madly in love with him. Angrily, Circe decides to use her knowledge of harmful potions and herbs to concoct a drug that turns Scylla into a sea monster. It is Scylla’s rage, according to Ovid, that makes her gobble up several of Odysseus’s men.

Over the centuries, Scylla has been the subject of many stories as well as pieces of art. She first shows up in Ancient Greek art around 450 B.C. During the Renaissance (lasting from the 14th through 17th centuries A.D.) and slightly after, Scylla is a popular subject, showing up in works by Agostino Carracci, Salvator Rosa, Peter Paul Rubens, and in paintings done by two of the most popular pre-Raphaelite painters in the 19th century, John William Waterhouse and John Melhuish Strudwick.

Even today, contemporary depictions by artists around the world can be found simply be scouring the pages of websites like DeviantArt. Avid gamers might also recognize Scylla as one of the play-able gods from the free-to-play online video game SMITE.

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Link will appear as Scylla: – Greek Gods & Goddesses, February 9, 2017