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Harpy
Harpy.PNG
Mythology Greek
Grouping Legendary creature
Sub grouping Hybrid
Habitat Air
Similar creatures Siren, sphinx, centaur

In Greek mythology, a harpy ("snatcher", from Latin: harpeia, originating in Greek: ἅρπυια, harpūia) was one of the winged spirits best known for constantly stealing all food from Phineas. The literal meaning of the word seems to be "that which snatches" as it comes from the ancient Greek word harpazein (ἁρπάζειν), which means "to snatch".

A harpy was the mother by the West Wind Zephyros of the horses of Achilles.[1] In this context Jane Ellen Harrison adduced the notion in Virgil's Georgics (iii.274) that mares became gravid by the wind alone, marvelous to say.[2]

Hesiod[3] calls them two "lovely-haired" creatures, perhaps euphemistically. Harpies as ugly winged bird-women, e.g. in Aeschylus' The Eumenides (line 50) are a late development, due to a confusion with the Sirens. Roman and Byzantine writers detailed their ugliness.[4]

Contents

Mythology

A harpy in Ulisse Aldrovandi's Monstrorum Historia, Bologna, 1642
A medieval depiction of a harpy as a bird-woman.

The harpies were sisters of Iris, daughters of Thaumas and Electra.[5]

Phineas, a king of Thrace, had the gift of prophecy. Zeus, angry that Phineas revealed too much, punished him by blinding him and putting him on an island with a buffet of food which he could never eat. The harpies always arrived and stole the food out of his hands right before he could satisfy his hunger, and befouled the remains of his food. This continued until the arrival of Jason and the Argonauts. The Boreads, sons of Boreas, the North Wind, who also could fly, succeeded in driving off the harpies, but without killing any of them, following a request from Iris, who promised that Phineas would not be bothered by the harpies again, and "the dogs of great Zeus" returned to their "cave in Minoan Crete". Thankful for their help, Phineas told the Argonauts how to pass the Symplegades. (Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245).

In this form they were agents of punishment who abducted people and tortured them on their way to Tartarus. They were vicious, cruel and violent. They lived on Strophades. They were usually seen as the personifications of the destructive nature of wind. The harpies in this tradition, now thought of as three sisters instead of the original two, were: Aello ("storm swift"), Celaeno ("the dark") — also known as Podarge ("fleet-foot") — and Ocypete ("the swift wing").

Aeneas encountered harpies on the Strophades as they repeatedly made off with the feast the Trojans were setting. Celaeno cursed them, saying the Trojans will be so hungry they will eat their tables before they reach the end of their journey. The Trojans fled in fear.

Harpies in the infernal wood, from Inferno XIII, by Gustave Doré, 1861

Harpies remained vivid in the Middle Ages. In his Inferno, XIII, Dante envisages the tortured wood infested with harpies, where the suicides have their punishment in the second ring:

Here the repellent harpies make their nests,

Who drove the Trojans from the Strophades
With dire announcements of the coming woe.
They have broad wings, a human neck and face,

Clawed feet and swollen, feathered bellies; they caw
Their lamentations in the eerie trees.[6]

William Blake was inspired by Dante's description in his pencil, ink and watercolour "The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides" (Tate Gallery, London).

Heraldry

In the Middle Ages, the harpy, often called the "virgin eagle", became a popular charge in heraldry, particularly in East Frisia, seen on, among others, the coats-of-arms of Rietburg, Liechtenstein, and the Cirksena

Theories of origin

R.D. Barnett suggests in "Ancient Oriental Influences on Archaic Greece" — an essay in The Aegean and the Near East, Saul S. Weinberg, ed. (Locust Valley, N.Y.,1956) — that the harpies were originally adapted from the ornaments on bronze cauldrons from Urartu:

These made such an impression in Greece that they seem to have given rise to the siren type in archaic Greek art, and as they appeared to flutter at the rim of such noble cooking vessels, apparently gave rise to the familiar Greek legend of Phineus and the Harpies, who are thus depicted in Greek art. The very name of Phineus, the victim of their persecutions, may be nothing but a corruption of the name of a king of Urartu, Ishpuinish or Ushpina (ca. 820 B.C.), who was perhaps associated by the Greek merchants with these vessels.[7]

Other scholars point out that this theory is based upon the idea that the harpies were bird monsters with human heads, which was not true in the original myths.

In their winged human form, the harpies are no different from a large number of Greek divinities and as such would not need a special explanation for how they came to be. The later bird composite form is considered by most authors to have been a confusion with an early depiction of the sirens as bird women.

Metaphorical uses

The term "harpy" is often used metaphorically to refer to a nasty or annoying woman. In Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick spots the sharp-tongued Beatrice approaching, and exclaims to the Prince, Don Pedro, that he would rather do an assortment of arduous tasks for him "rather than hold three words conference with this harpy!"

The American Harpy Eagle is a real bird named after the mythological animal.

Harpies in popular culture

The familiar figures of harpies, with their composite form and violent nature, are much employed in video games and other products of market-directed culture.

References

  1. ^ Iliad xvi. 150.
  2. ^ saepe sine ullis
    conjugis vento, gravidae mirabile dictu;noted and quoted in Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion 1922:178.
  3. ^ Hesiod, Theogony, 267.
  4. ^ Virgil, Aeneid iii. 216; Ovid [ Metamorphoses]] vii.4, Fasti vi. 132; Hyginus, Fabula 14; Johannes Tzetzes, Ad Lycophron 653;
  5. ^ Hesiod, eo. loc.
  6. ^ Translation of Robert Pinsky, Boston Review
  7. ^ Greek Mythology - Myths Concerning Aia

See also


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010
(Redirected to The Harpy article)

From Wikisource

The Harpy
by Robert W. Service
Collected in The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses

The Harpy

There was a woman, and she was wise; woefully wise was she;
She was old, so old, yet her years all told were but a score and three;
And she knew by heart, from finish to start, the Book of Iniquity.

There is no hope for such as I on earth, nor yet in Heaven;
Unloved I live, unloved I die, unpitied, unforgiven;
A loathed jade, I ply my trade, unhallowed and unshriven.

I paint my cheeks, for they are white, and cheeks of chalk men hate;
Mine eyes with wine I make them shine, that man may seek and sate;
With overhead a lamp of red I sit me down and wait

Until they come, the nightly scum, with drunken eyes aflame;
Your sweethearts, sons, ye scornful ones — 'tis I who know their shame.
The gods, ye see, are brutes to me — and so I play my game.

For life is not the thing we thought, and not the thing we plan;
And Woman in a bitter world must do the best she can —
Must yield the stroke, and bear the yoke, and serve the will of man;

Must serve his need and ever feed the flame of his desire,
Though be she loved for love alone, or be she loved for hire;
For every man since life began is tainted with the mire.

And though you know he love you so and set you on love's throne;
Yet let your eyes but mock his sighs, and let your heart be stone,
Lest you be left (as I was left) attainted and alone.

From love's close kiss to hell's abyss is one sheer flight, I trow,
And wedding ring and bridal bell are will-o'-wisps of woe,
And 'tis not wise to love too well, and this all women know.

Wherefore, the wolf-pack having gorged upon the lamb, their prey,
With siren smile and serpent guile I make the wolf-pack pay —
With velvet paws and flensing claws, a tigress roused to slay.

One who in youth sought truest truth and found a devil's lies;
A symbol of the sin of man, a human sacrifice.
Yet shall I blame on man the shame? Could it be otherwise?

Was I not born to walk in scorn where others walk in pride?
The Maker marred, and, evil-starred, I drift upon His tide;
And He alone shall judge His own, so I His judgment bide.

Fate has written a tragedy; its name is "The Human Heart".
The Theatre is the House of Life, Woman the mummer's part;
The Devil enters the prompter's box and the play is ready to start.

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain). Flag of the United States.svg

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HARPY, a large diurnal bird of prey, so named after the mythological monster of the classical poets (see Harpies), - the Thrasaetus harpyia of modern ornithologists - an inhabitant of the warmer parts of America from Southern Mexico to Brazil. Though known since the middle of the 17th century, its habits have come very little under the notice of naturalists, and what is said of them by the older writers must be received with some Harpy.

suspicion. A cursory inspection of the bird, which is not unfrequently brought alive to Europe, its size, and its enormous bill and talons, at once suggest the vast powers of destruction imputed to it, and are enough to account for the stories told of its ravages on mammals - sloths, fawns, peccaries and spidermonkeys. It has even been asserted to attack the human race. How much of this is fabulous there seems no means at present of determining, but some of the statements are made by veracious travellers - D'Orbigny and Tschudi. It is not uncommon in the forests of the isthmus of Panama, and Salvin says (Proc. Zool. Society, 1864, p. 368) that its flight is slow and heavy. Indeed its owl-like visage, its short wings and soft plumage, do not indicate a bird of very active habits, but the weapons of offence with which it is armed show that it must be able to cope with vigorous prey. Its appearance is sufficiently striking - the head and lower parts, except a pectoral band, white, the former adorned with an erectile crest, the upper parts dark grey banded with black, the wings dusky, and the tail barred; but the huge bill and powerful scutellated legs most of all impress the beholder. The precise affinities of the harpy cannot be said to have been determined. By some authors it is referred to the eagles, by others to the buzzards, and by others again to the hawks; but possibly the first of these alliances is the most likely to be true. (A. N.)


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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to harpy article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

Pronunciation

Noun

Singular
harpy

Plural
harpies

harpy (plural harpies)

  1. A fabulous winged monster, ravenous and filthy, having the face of a woman and the body of a vulture.
  2. A shrewish woman

Translations

See also








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