1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Harpies

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HARPIES (Gr. Ἅρπυιαι, older form Ἀρέπυιαι, “swift robbers”), in ancient mythology, the personification of the sweeping storm-winds. In Homer, where they appear indifferently under the name of ἄρπυιαι and θύελλαι, their function is to carry off those whose sudden disappearance is desired by the gods. Only one of them is there mentioned (Iliad, xvi. 150) by name, Podargē, the mother of the coursers of Achilles by Zephyrus, the generative wind. According to Hesiod (Theog. 265) they are two in number, Aëllo and Ocypetē, daughters of Thaumas and Electra, winged goddesses with beautiful locks, swifter than winds and birds in their flight, and their domain is the air. In later times their number was increased (Celaeno being a frequent addition and their leader in Virgil), and they were described as hateful and repulsive creatures, birds with the faces of old women, the ears of bears, crooked talons and hanging breasts; even in Aeschylus (Eumenides, 50) they appear as ugly and misshapen monsters. Their function of snatching away mortals to the other world brings them into connexion with the Erinyes, with whom they are often confounded. On the so-called Harpy monument from Lycia, now in the British Museum, the Harpies appear carrying off some small figures, supposed to be the daughters of Pandareus, unless they are intended to represent departed souls. The repulsive character of the Harpies is more especially seen in the legend of Phineus, king of Salmydessus in Thrace (Apollodorus i. 9, 21; see also Diod. Sic. iv. 43). Having been deprived of his sight by the gods for his ill-treatment of his sons by his first wife (or for having revealed the future to mortals), he was condemned to be tormented by two Harpies, who carried off whatever food was placed before him. On the arrival of the Argonauts, Phineus promised to give them particulars of the course they should pursue and of the dangers that lay before them, if they would deliver him from his tormentors. Accordingly, when the Harpies appeared as usual to carry off the food from Phineus’s table, they were driven off and pursued by Calaïs and Zetes, the sons of Boreas, as far as the Strophades islands in the Aegean. On promising to cease from molesting Phineus, their lives were spared. Their place of abode is variously placed in the Strophades, the entrance to the under-world, or a cave in Crete. According to Cecil Smith, Journal of Hellenic Studies, xiii. (1892–1893), the Harpies are the hostile spirits of the scorching south wind; E. Rohde (Rheinisches Museum, i., 1895) regards them as spirits of the storm, which at the bidding of the gods carry off human beings alive to the under-world or some spot beyond human ken.

See articles in Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie and Daremberg and Saglio’s Dictionnaire des antiquités. In the article Greek Art, fig. 14 gives a representation of the winged Harpies.