Charybdis

Charybdis

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Charybdis or Kharybdis was a sea monster
Sea monster
Sea monsters are sea-dwelling mythical or legendary creatures, often believed to be of immense size.Marine monsters can take many forms, including sea dragons, sea serpents, or multi-armed beasts. They can be slimy or scaly and are often pictured threatening ships or spouting jets of water...

, later rationalised as a whirlpool and considered a shipping hazard in the Strait of Messina
Strait of Messina
The Strait of Messina is the narrow passage between the eastern tip of Sicily and the southern tip of Calabria in the south of Italy. It connects the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Ionian Sea, within the central Mediterranean...

.

The mythological background



In Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, Charybdis or Kharybdis was once a beautiful naiad
Naiad
In Greek mythology, the Naiads or Naiades were a type of nymph who presided over fountains, wells, springs, streams, and brooks....

 and the daughter of Poseidon
Poseidon
Poseidon was the god of the sea, and, as "Earth-Shaker," of the earthquakes in Greek mythology. The name of the sea-god Nethuns in Etruscan was adopted in Latin for Neptune in Roman mythology: both were sea gods analogous to Poseidon...

 and Gaia
Gaia (mythology)
Gaia was the primordial Earth-goddess in ancient Greek religion. Gaia was the great mother of all: the heavenly gods and Titans were descended from her union with Uranus , the sea-gods from her union with Pontus , the Giants from her mating with Tartarus and mortal creatures were sprung or born...

. 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
Whirlpool
A whirlpool is a swirling body of water usually produced by ocean tides. The vast majority of whirlpools are not very powerful. More powerful ones are more properly termed maelstroms. Vortex is the proper term for any whirlpool that has a downdraft...

 rather than a sea monster. Charybdis was very loyal to her father in his endless feud with Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

; it was she who rode the hungry tides after Poseidon
Poseidon
Poseidon was the god of the sea, and, as "Earth-Shaker," of the earthquakes in Greek mythology. The name of the sea-god Nethuns in Etruscan was adopted in Latin for Neptune in Roman mythology: both were sea gods analogous to 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
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 became enraged and changed her into a monster.

The myth has Charybdis lying on one side of a narrow channel of water. On the other side of the strait was Scylla
Scylla
In Greek mythology, Scylla was a monster that lived on one side of a narrow channel of water, opposite its counterpart Charybdis. The two sides of the strait were within an arrow's range of each other—so close that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis would pass too close to Scylla and vice...

, 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 idiom 'between Scylla and Charybdis' has therefore come to mean being between two dangers, choosing either of which will bring harm.

Traditionally, the location of Charybdis has been associated with the Strait of Messina
Strait of Messina
The Strait of Messina is the narrow passage between the eastern tip of Sicily and the southern tip of Calabria in the south of Italy. It connects the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Ionian Sea, within the central Mediterranean...

 off the coast
Coast
A coastline or seashore is the area where land meets the sea or ocean. A precise line that can be called a coastline cannot be determined due to the dynamic nature of tides. The term "coastal zone" can be used instead, which is a spatial zone where interaction of the sea and land processes occurs...

 of Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and opposite the rock on the Italian mainland identified with Scylla. The vortex there is caused by the meeting of currents but is seldom dangerous.

The Odyssey


Throughout the poem
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

, Odysseus is hindered by the efforts of Poseidon and the sea monsters throughout the ocean. Odysseus
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 faced both Charybdis and Scylla in Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

's Odyssey while rowing through a narrow channel. He ordered his men to avoid Charybdis thus forcing them to pass near Scylla. This resulted in the deaths of six 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 was expelled, and Odysseus was able to recover it and paddle away to safety.

Jason and The Argonauts


The Argonauts
Argonauts
The Argonauts ) were a band of heroes in Greek mythology who, in the years before the Trojan War, accompanied Jason to Colchis in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. Their name comes from their ship, the Argo, which was named after its builder, Argus. "Argonauts", therefore, literally means...

 were able to avoid both dangers because they were guided by Thetis
Thetis
Silver-footed Thetis , disposer or "placer" , is encountered in Greek mythology mostly as a sea nymph or known as the goddess of water, one of the fifty Nereids, daughters of the ancient one of the seas with shape-shifting abilities who survives in the historical vestiges of most later Greek myths...

, one of the Nereids
Nereids
In Greek mythology, the Nereids are sea nymphs, the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris, sisters to Nerites. They often accompany Poseidon and can be friendly and helpful to sailors fighting perilous storms. They are particularly associated with the Aegean Sea, where they dwelt with their father...

.

Aristotle's Meteorologica


Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 tells a story of Aesop
Aesop
Aesop was a Greek writer credited with a number of popular fables. Older spellings of his name have included Esop and Isope. Although his existence remains uncertain and no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a...

 in conflict with a ferryman and relating to him a myth about Charybdis. She took one gulp of the sea and brought the mountains to view; islands appeared after another. The third will dry the sea altogether.

Ovid's Metamorphoses


In Book VIII of Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

's Metamorphoses, 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 insulting his parentage.

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.)

The Scylla of this story is to be differentiated from Scylla, the counter-part of Charybdis.