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The Beast With Six Heads


Skyla and the Argonauts
Skylla and Odysseus
Skylla in the Odyssey [reference]
Other Text References
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Skylla is the six-headed daughter of the Roaring Goddess Hekate and Phorkys, the Old Man of the Sea. Hekate is also known as Krataiis meaning Blind or Brute Force ... Phorkys is one of the elder gods ... the son of Pontus [Sea] and Gaia [Earth]. 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 loftiest 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 twelve misshapen 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 ... not even the Immortals can hear that voice without feelings of dread.


Skylla and the Argonauts

A generation before the Trojan War or approximately 1285 BCE, Jason and the Argonauts were forced to sail through the deadly waters between Skylla and Charybdis ... they were able to survive the ordeal only because they had divine protection.

Jason and the Argonauts went to Kolchis at the eastern edge of the Euxine [Black Sea] to retrieve the Golden Fleece from King Aietes ... Jason needed the fleece to regain the kingdom Iolkos. Obtaining the Golden Fleece was difficult but Jason had the help of Princess Medeia ... more importantly, Jason had the protection of the goddess Hera.

After stealing the Golden Fleece, Jason and Medeia fled Kolchis with King Aietes's navy, led by the king's son Apsyrtos, in hot pursuit. In order to escape certain capture, Jason murdered Apsyrtos ... there was nothing honorable or justified about Apsyrtos's death ... it was cold blooded murder. Zeus was enraged at Jason's behavior and Jason would have been doomed if Hera had not intervened to save him ... the only problem was that in order for Jason to get absolution, he had to sail through the treacherous waters between Skylla and Charybdis.

Hera called on the Nereid Thetis to gather her sisters to guide Jason's ship ... at Hera's insistence, the winds calmed and Hephaistos stopped work at his forge so that rough seas would not add to Jason's troubles ... his ship, the Argo, was able to sail past Skylla without loss of life.

Skylla and Odysseus

A generation after Jason, Odysseus and his men sailed near the towering rock-face of Skylla ... his crew was not as fortunate as Jason's.

Odysseus had been the "guest" of the Dread Goddess Kirke [Circe] on her island Aiaia but when it came time to leave, the goddess told him that his journey home would take him by the Strait of Messina where Skylla and Charybdis lived. Kirke 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. His attention was periodically drawn to the gushing and sputtering of Charybdis ... during one of those distracted moments Skylla struck ... she 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.


Skylla in the Odyssey

[from four different translations]

Richmond Lattimore

Loeb Classical Library

Robert Fagles

Robert Fitzgerald


Other Text References

Great Eoiae

[Loeb Classical Library, vol. 57, Hesiod]

Catalogue of Women

[Loeb Classical Library, vol. 503, Hesiod II]

The Argonautika by Apollodorus Rhodius

Geography by Strabo


Skylla appears as a sea serpent with a dog head protruding

from her torso to imply her other deadly heads.

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