Madam Harpy, our Winged Sister of the Sky. Who did a disservice to this magical creature, turning her from a beautiful woman with feathery wings, into a fearsome hag?
Hesiod, a Greek oral poet from the same time period as Homer, described harpies as women with fetching hair. Pottery showed them as lovely damsels with wings. Just what Lita was looking for, pretty bird gals having chronic Good Hair Days.
Appears to be a case of multiple mistaken identity. The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, often called the father of tragedy, wrote The Eumenides, where Aeschylus confused the harpies with the unattractive and rancorous furies. Greek mythology further mistook harpies for sirens, the femme fatales who lured hapless sailors onto Greece’s rocky shorelines and to their deaths.
Is Zeus Always Grumpy?
Zeus became angry with the prophecies of King Phineus, so the deity blinded Phineas and abandoned him on an island with a buffet feast. Zeus then had harpies snatch away the food from Phineas’ hands before he could eat, and soil the remaining buffet. This happened at every mealtime. Consider this the “Watch What You Say” diet.
Middle Ages Madness
Dante continued the harpy smear campaign in Inferno. On the seventh ring of hell is a special harpy-infested forest for suicides. The Trojans had driven the harpies from their island home of Strophades, so the bird women moved to this cursed wood. They perched in the eerie trees and lamented. I would complain too if unpleasant, sword-lashing men drove me from my lovely waterfront home.
In recent centuries, the English poet William Blake was so moved by Dante’s misinformation, that he continued the negative harpy hype with his watercolor work “The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides” now at the Tate Gallery in London. These harpies are overweight, have human faces with bird beaks, their breasts are too big, and their wings are too small. Some of these characteristics are unattractive–I’ll leave it for Gentle Reader to decide which ones.
Lita’s Harpies & Wizards
In the upcoming Clockpunk Wizard story Ephraim’s Curious Device, Wizard Kadmeion and his assistant Sir Bright take their airship to the floating island of Strophades. The harpies have a magical item that Kadmeion needs for Ephraim’s thingummy. The magicians end up in the harpy oubliette due to a small misunderstanding from the wizard’s unwanted Goon bodyguards killing two bird women.
That’s enough to turn the most even-tempered Harpy Queen grumpy.
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My Dad always said my Mum was a harpy! Now I know why my Greek Mythology loving mother didn’t object to his comment. Really enjoyed this post. Thank you .
Thanks for stopping by and visiting the harpies. I never really believed they could be such horrible creatures. Talk about a centuries-long smear campaign! I enjoyed setting things straight in Ephraim’s Curious Device about the harpies.
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This is fascinating. I always understood that harpies where evil creatures who’s sole purpose was to torment humanity. Thanks for setting the record straight
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I think many mythical female characters have been maligned. For example witches are usually portrayed as ugly old hags unless they are glamored or falsely reading as beautiful with a spell, and waiting for the hero to unmask their “true” nature as hideously ugly old crones. It’s very sad that the name harpy gets such an automatic negative response these days.
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