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In Greek mythology, Charybdis or Kharybdis ( ; in Greek, Χάρυβδις) was a sea monster, once a beautiful naiad and the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. She takes form as a huge bladder of a creature whose face was all mouth and whose arms and legs were flippers and who swallows huge amounts of water three times a day before belching them back out again, creating whirlpools. In some variations of the tale, Charybdis is just a large whirlpool rather than a sea monster. Charybdis was very loyal to her father in his endless feud with Zeus; it was she who rode the hungry tides after Poseidon had stirred up a storm, and led them onto the beaches, gobbling up whole villages, submerging fields, drowning forests, claiming them for the sea. She won so much land for her father's kingdom that Zeus became enraged and changed her into a monster.

The myth has Charybdis lying on one side of a blue, narrow channel of water. On the other side of the strait was Scylla, another sea-monster. The two sides of the strait are within an arrow's range of each other, so close that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis will pass too close to Scylla and vice versa. The phrase "between Scylla and Charybdis" has come to mean being in a state where one is between two dangers and moving away from one will cause you to be in danger of the other. "Between Scylla and Charybdis" is the origin of the phrase "between the rock and the whirlpool" (the rock upon which Scylla dwelt and the whirlpool of Charybdis) and may also be the genesis of the phrase "between a rock and a hard place".

According to Thomas Bulfinch, based on writings of Homer, Charybdis stole the oxen of Geryon from Hermes, in whose possession they had been at the time, and was transformed into a sea monster as a punishment.

Location

Traditionally, the location of Charybdis has been associated with the Strait of Messinamarker off the coast of Sicily, opposite the rock called Scylla. The water tornado there is caused by the meeting of currents but is seldom dangerous. Recently, Tim Severin looked again at the location and suggested this association was a misidentification and that a more likely origin for the myth could be found close by Cape Skilla in northwestern Greecemarker.

References in ancient literature

The Odyssey

Odysseus faced both Charibdys and Scylla in Homer's Odyssey while rowing through a narrow channel. He ordered his men to avoid Charibdys thus forcing them to pass near Scylla. This resulted in the deaths of several of his men.

Later, stranded on a makeshift raft, Odysseus was swept back through the strait to face Scylla and Charybdis again. This time, Odysseus passed near Charybdis. His raft was sucked into Charybdis' maw, but Odysseus survived by clinging to a fig tree grown on the rock overhanging her lair. On the next outflow of water, his raft exploded and sank and was expelled, and Odysseus was able to recover it and paddle away to safety.

Jason and The Argonauts

The Argonauts were able to avoid both dangers because they were guided by Thetis, one of the Nereids. Thetis was the mother of Achilles, a Greek war hero. The

Ovid's Metamorphoses

In Book VIII of Ovid's Metamorphoses Charybdis is mentioned in the story of Minos and Scylla. Scylla betrays her father and country in order to aid Minos, of whom she is enamoured, however Minos is disgusted by Scylla's treachery and sails away without her, provoking a damning diatribe from Scylla. Scylla uses Charybdis to insult Minos in reference to his parentage. The Scylla of the Minos and Scylla story is to be differentiated from Scylla as counter-part of Charybdis.

hac quoque si prohibes et nos, ingrate, relinquis,non genetrix Europa tibi est, sed inhospita Syrtis,Armeniae tigres austroque agitata Charybdis.


If you forbid me from here also and abandon me, you ungrateful one,Europa is not mother to you, but the inhospitable Syrtis,an Armenian tigress and Charybdis, whipped up by the south wind.


References

  1. Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War, 4.24.5.



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