• Fri. Mar 31st, 2023

Charybdis: The Terrifying Whirlpool Monster of Greek Mythology


Oct 15, 2022

Greek mythology is stuffed with fascinating monsters. Probably the most highly effective and harmful of those was the ocean monster, Charybdis. Charybdis was not only a monster, she was a power of nature who repeatedly appeared in Greek mythology as a roadblock in a number of Greek heroes’ journeys. Like many Greek monsters, Charybdis had a tragic backstory, become a monstrosity by the very gods she had as soon as served. So what was Charybdis and why was she so highly effective?

Charybdis would create lethal whirlpools just by inhaling and exhaling ( matiasdelcarmine / Adobe Inventory)

What was Charybdis?

Charybdis was a sea monster that the Greeks believed lived beneath a fig tree rising from a rock. This rock was positioned in an ocean strait, and one other monster, Scylla, lived on a bigger rock reverse.

Charybdis would swallow large quantities of water thrice a day after which belch it again up. This course of created gigantic whirlpools that might drag in and destroy any close by ships. Scylla, on the opposite facet, would attain out and seize passing sailors for dinner.

The myth of Scylla and Charybdis became a metaphor for difficult decisions. Etching of Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis, 1793 (Public Domain)

The parable of Scylla and Charybdis grew to become a metaphor for tough choices. Etching of Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis, 1793 ( Public Domain )

The 2 rocks had been stated to have been inside bow-shot of each other, making the strait extremely perilous for ships. Wherever a ship sailed within the strait, they had been inside vary of one of many beasts.

Early writers, like Homer, by no means gave the strait a location, imagining it was in some far-off, barely explored area of the ocean. By the classical interval, this had modified, and it was thought that the 2 lived within the Strait of Messina off the coast of Sicily. A whirlpool does exist there, though it’s only harmful to small boats in excessive situations.

The Strait of Messina may have been the inspiration for the Scylla and Charybdis myth. 1840 steel engraving by A.H. Payne. (Public Domain)

The Strait of Messina could have been the inspiration for the Scylla and Charybdis fable. 1840 metal engraving by A.H. Payne. ( Public Domain )

The Origin of Charybdis     

There are conflicting accounts as to Charybdis’ origin. The earliest writers didn’t hassle to provide her an origin story or family tree. She was merely a monstrous power of nature who had existed so long as the oceans themselves. Later writers claimed she was the daughter of the Greek ocean god Poseidon and the outdated goddess, Gaia, who was technically his grandmother.

At one level in Greek mythology, Zeus and Poseidon had a brotherly spat. Charybdis, the dutiful daughter, took her father’s facet, and helped Poseidon drown lands and islands in seawater. This angered Zeus, who believed the land to be his area and noticed the flooding as theft. In retaliation, he captured Charybdis and chained her to the seabed.

Zeus then cursed Charybdis, turning her right into a monster. The curse made her uncontrollably thirsty, and that is what induced her to swallow the ocean thrice a day, in a determined try and quench her thirst.

In a lesser-known and fewer in style story, Charybdis started life as a standard mortal girl. She was stated to be a very voracious girl, who in the future stole an ox from Heracles‘ cattle. Heracles was one among Zeus’s most favored sons, and so, this irked Zeus. As punishment, he struck the girl with one among his lightning bolts, sending her flying into the ocean. There, because of her voracious nature, she reworked into the ocean monster Charybdis.

In some versions, Charybdis was a daughter of Poseidon, chained to the seabed by Zeus. The Neptune Fountain in Messina depicts the sea monster this way. (Xxlstier / CC BY 4.0)

In some variations, Charybdis was a daughter of Poseidon, chained to the seabed by Zeus. The Neptune Fountain in Messina depicts the ocean monster this fashion. (Xxlstier / CC BY 4.0 )

What Did Charybdis Look Like?

Depictions of Charybdis are very skinny on the bottom. The early Greek writers spent no time on her description, merely specializing in the whirlpools she fashioned. Later, she was described as a large serpent-like creature with a large, gaping maw that she used to swallow the water and create her whirlpools.

We get the clearest depiction from Homer. He described her as a large, “bladder-like” creature with flippers for legs and arms. Like lots of the most terrifying Greek monsters, Charybdis is all the time described in feminine phrases.

Charybdis in Mythology

The Odyssey

Returning house from Troy, Odysseus was compelled to sail by means of the perilous strait. He had been warned by the sorceress Circe of the hazard Charybdis posed, and so Odysseus sailed near the opposite facet, the place Scylla grabbed and ate six of his males.

In a while within the story, Odysseus misplaced his ship and his males after they angered Helios. Odysseus discovered himself stranded on a raft, floating again down the strait in direction of Charybdis. This time he was caught in her whirlpool, and his raft was dragged down.

Fortunately, Odysseus managed to seize maintain of the fig tree rising from Charybdis’ rock. He waited for her to regurgitate the water and landed again on his raft, able to proceed his voyage house.

Odysseus in front of Scylla and Charybdis. Oil painting by Henry Fuseli, circa 1794 (Public Domain)

Odysseus in entrance of Scylla and Charybdis. Oil portray by Henry Fuseli, circa 1794 ( Public Domain )

Jason and the Argonauts

Charybdis had a small however vital function to play within the legend of Jason and the Argonauts . Whereas coming back from Colchis, Jason was compelled to sail again by means of the lethal strait. This could have been a loss of life sentence, however Jason was favored by the goddess Hera.

Hera ordered one of many Nereids (sea nymphs), Thetis, to information Jason’s ship, the Argo. Thetis guided the ship instantly down the middle of the strait, permitting Jason and his males to bypass each lethal threats. He was the one hero in Greek mythology to navigate the strait with no issues.

The goddess Hera sent a sea nymph to guide Jason and his Argonauts safely between Scylla and Charybdis. 1894 oil painting of the two sea beasts by Ary Renan. (Public Domain)

The goddess Hera despatched a sea nymph to information Jason and his Argonauts safely between Scylla and Charybdis. 1894 oil portray of the 2 sea beasts by Ary Renan. ( Public Domain )


The Aeneid follows the story of Aeneas, a Trojan, as he escaped from Troy after its fall. Throughout his journey house, Aeneas was warned by Helenus, a seer, in regards to the risk that the strait contained. Aeneas was informed to skip the strait by crusing round Pachynus Level.

Issues went awry in a while, nevertheless, once they realized they had been passing Etna, and had been actually crusing in direction of Charybdis. They had been compelled to row for his or her lives to flee the creature’s whirlpools. They managed to flee, however in some variations of the story, Aeneas misplaced a few of his ships to the whirlpool.


Charybdis is a good instance of the classical Greek monster. A part of her operate is to function a proof for very actual phenomena: whirlpools. In fact, to the traditional Greeks, who didn’t have the scientific information to clarify whirlpools, one thing so terrifying needed to be the creation of a monster.

The Charybdis fable can also be typical of a Greek monster attributable to her depiction. Many Greek monsters weren’t naturally evil. Charybdis didn’t wish to sink ships and drown sailors; it was simply an unlucky consequence of her curse. It was Zeus who was accountable for the deaths, as they resulted from his curse. As ordinary, mortals had been the victims of the gods and their petty squabbles.

It was additionally widespread for monsters to be feminine, and signify a personality trait that the Greeks discovered undesirable or harmful in ladies. Within the case of Charybdis, the trait was voracity. Though Charybdis was probably the most harmful Greek monsters, in actuality, she was simply misunderstood. She was actually a tragic determine, cursed attributable to her loyalty to her father.              

High picture: The terrifying sea monster Charybdis was the reason for lethal whirlpools in Greek mythology. Supply: DaemonTheDemon / CC BY SA

By Robbie Mitchell

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