Scylla

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In Greek mythology, Scylla, or Skylla (Greek Σκύλλα) was a name shared by two characters, a female sea monster and a princess.

Sea monster

Scylla is one of the two sea monsters in Greek mythology (the other being Charybdis) which lives on one side of a narrow channel of water. 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 from the other. Traditionally the aforementioned strait has been associated with the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily but more recently this theory has been challenged and the alternative location of Cape Skilla in north west Greece suggested. Scylla has the face and torso of a woman, but from her flanks grow six long necks equipped with dog heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. Her body consisted of twelve canine legs and a fish's tail. She was one of the children of Phorcys and either Hecate, Crataeis, Lamia or Ceto (where Scylla would also be known as one of the Phorcydes).

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus is given advice by Circe to sail closer to Scylla, for Charybdis could drown his whole ship. Odysseus then successfully navigates his ship past Scylla and Charybdis, but Scylla manages to catch six of his men, devouring them alive.

As retold by Thomas Bulfinch, Scylla was originally a beautiful nymph. She scorned her many suitors and chose to live among the Nereids instead, until one day Glaucus saw and fell in love with her. Glaucus was a mortal fisherman who had previously been transformed by chewing a plant, gaining the form of a fish from his waist down. When Glaucus declared his love to Scylla she fled, taking him for a monster. Glaucus sought the help of Circe, hoping that this witch could make Scylla to love him with her herbs, but Circe fell in love with Glaucus herself and asked him to forget Scylla. Glaucus rejected her request, declaring that his love for Scylla was eternal.

Circe was enraged by Glaucus' refusal, and turned her anger on the girl whom he loved. She went and poisoned the water which Scylla used to bathe with her magical herbs. When Scylla waded into the water, the submerged half of her body was transformed into a combination of fish joined with six ferocious dogs' heads sprouting from around her waist. The dogs attacked and devoured anyone who came near, beyond her ability to control, and Scylla fled to the shore of the strait to live there alone.

It is said that by the time Aeneas' fleet came through the strait after the fall of Troy, Scylla had been changed into a dangerous rock outcropping which still stands there to this day.

Scylla and Charybdis are believed to have been the entities from which the term, "Between a rock and a hard place" (ie: a difficult place) originated.


The princess

Scylla was a nymph, daughter of Phorcys. The fisherman-turned-sea-god Glaucus fell madly in love with her, but she fled from him onto the land where he could not follow. Dispair filled his heart. He went to the sorceress Circe to ask for a love potion to melt Scylla's heart. As he told his tale of love to Circe, she herself fell in love with him. She wooed him with her sweetest words and looks, but the sea-god would have none of her. Circe was furiously angry, but with Scylla and not with Glaucus. She prepared a vial of very powerful poison and poured it in the pool where Scylla bathed. As soon as the nymph entered the water she was transformed into a frightful monster with twelve feet and six heads, each with three rows of teeth. Below the waist her body was made up of hideous monsters, like dogs, who barked unceasingly. She stood there in utter misery, unable to move, loathing and destroying everything that came into her reach, a peril to all sailors who passed near her. Whenever a ship passed, each of her heads would seize one of the crew.


The other occurance of Scylla is found in Ovid: In Greek mythology, Nisus was King of Megara, and he was invincible as long as a lock of red hair still existed, hidden in his white hair. Minos, King of Crete attacked Megara but Nisus knew he could not be beaten because he still had his lock of red hair. His daughter, Scylla, fell in love with Minos and proved it by cutting the red hair off her father's head. Nisus died and Megara fell to Crete. Minos killed Scylla for disobeying her father. She was changed into a seabird, relentlessly pursued by her father, who was a sea eagle. He had one son: Amphinomus. (Ovid VIII, 35). See also Aeschylus' Eumenides

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