1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Scylla and Charybdis

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SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS. In Homer (Od. xii. 73, 235, 430) Scylla is a dreadful sea-monster, daughter of Crataeis, with six heads, twelve feet and a voice like the yelp of a puppy. She dwelt in a sea-cave looking to the west, far up the face of a huge cliff. Out of her cave she stuck her heads, fishing for marine creatures and snatching the seamen out of passing ships. Within a bowshot of this cliff was another lower cliff with a great fig-tree growing on it. Under this second rock dwelt Charybdis, who thrice a day sucked in and thrice spouted out the sea water. Between these rocks Odysseus sailed, and Scylla snatched six men out of his ship. In later classical times Scylla and Charybdis, whose position is not defined by Homer, were localized in the Straits of Messina—Scylla on the Italian, Charybdis on the Sicilian side (Strabo i. p. 24; vi. p. 268). The well-known line, Incidis in Scyllam cupiens vitare Charybdim, occurs in the Alexandreis of Gautier de Lille, a poet of the 12th century. In Ovid (Metam. xiv. 1–74) Scylla appears as a beautiful maiden beloved by the sea-god Glaucus and other deities, and changed by the jealous Circe (or other rival) into a sea-monster; afterwards she was transformed into a rock shunned by fishermen. According to a late legend (Servius on Aeneid, iii. 420), Charybdis was a voracious woman who robbed Heracles of his cattle and was therefore cast into the sea by Zeus, where she retained her old voracious nature. In later poetry and art Scylla was conceived of as a maiden above, with dogs' or wolves' heads growing out of her body, and the tail of a fish.

Another Scylla, confounded by Virgil (Ecl. vi. 74) with the sea-monster, was a daughter of Nisus (q.v.), king of Megara.

See O. Waser, Skylla und Charybdis in der Literatur und Kunst der Griechen und Römer (1894); and D. Jobst, Skylla und Charybdis (Würzburg, 1902), who endeavours to show that the Homeric description really referred, as the ancients assumed, to the Sicilian straits.