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Skylla

Σκυλλη

Scylla

The Beast With Six Heads

Skylla

Skylla in The Odyssey (reference)
Other Text References

Skylla (Scylla) is the six-headed daughter of the Roaring Goddess Hekate (Hecate), who is also known as Krataiis (Crataeis) meaning Blind or Brute Force. Skylla has been appropriately referred to as a plague to mortals.

Skylla and Charybdis are almost always mentioned together because they live on opposite sides of the Straits of Messenia between Italy and Sicily. Skylla is a six-headed, snakelike monster that will swoop down and snatch sailors from the decks of passing ships. Charybdis is in the form of a whirlpool that alternately sucks down and spews out the waters of the straits to destroy passing ships.

There are two towering rocks called the Rovers which clash together to destroy passing ships and Skylla makes her home in the most lofty of the two peaks. Her rocky habitat is always shrouded in clouds ... no sunlight ever reaches the summit and no mortal man can climb the sheer rock-face or even shoot an arrow to such a height. Skylla has misshapen twelve feet and six long necks ... each neck has a head with three rows of sharp teeth. She keeps her lower torso in her cave and uses her long neck to feed on dolphins, dogfish and larger creatures of the sea ... unknowing travelers spice up her diet because few ships have ever sailed past her without loss of life. She makes a horrible sound that is no louder than the whine of a puppy but not even the Immortals can look upon her without dread. Skylla is the offspring of Phorkys and the Roaring Goddess, Hekate (Hecate).

Skylla

A generation before the fateful encounter with Odysseus, Jason and the Argonauts were forced to sail between Skylla and Charybdis but, with the help of Hera and Thetis, the Argonauts were spared death and destruction from either of the monsters.

When Odysseus and his men sailed from the island of Aiaia (Aeaea), the goddess Kirke (Circe) privately warned Odysseus that if he sailed too close to Skylla she would attack and eat his crew. Also, if he sailed too close to Charybdis he would surely be caught when she sucked down the sea in her regular routine. Kirke told Odysseus that he could quickly sail past Skylla and suffer a few losses or he could linger and fight, thus loosing the entire crew to Charybdis. Odysseus wanted to fight Skylla and then try to flee before Charybdis rose to action but Kirke scolded him and said he must yield to her counsel ... Odysseus wisely took her advice. However, he did not warn his crew of the dangers they faced because Kirke said it would do no good ... Skylla was bloodthirsty and she would have her way ... warning the crewmembers would only cause fear and panic but in no way alter their inevitable deaths.

When Odysseus and his brave crew came to the precincts of Skylla and Charybdis, they gave Charybdis a wide berth and sailed near Skylla's rocky abode. Odysseus put on his finest armor and stood with two spears scanning the rock-face for any sign of the dreaded beast. Despite his vigilance, Odysseus was still taken by surprise. While Charybdis kept their attention with her gushing and sputtering, Skylla swooped down unseen and snatched up six of the crewmen. Their legs and torsos were dangling from Skylla's mouths as she lifted them to her cave to eat them. They screamed for Odysseus and begged for help but he stood helpless on the deck with the rest of the terrified crew. Odysseus said it was the most pitiful scene his long suffering eyes had ever seen.

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Skylla

Skylla in The Odyssey

(listed by book and line from four different translations)

Richmond Lattimore

Loeb Classical Library

Robert Fagles

Robert Fitzgerald

Skylla

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Other Text References

The Great Eoiae

(Loeb Classical Library, vol. 57, Hesiod)

Catalogue of Women

(Loeb Classical Library, vol. 503, Hesiod II)

The Argonautika

Skylla

Skylla appears as a sea serpent with a dog head protruding from her torso to imply her other deadly heads.

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