A Basic Overview:

The first three harpies were Aello, Podarge, and Ocypete

Harpies (or Harpyiai), in mythology, were terrible monsters that had the heads of crones and the bodies of birds. The first harpies were Grecian in origin and were the children of Thaumas and Electra. Thaumas and Electra were a sea God and an Okeanid nymph, respectively. They gave birth to three daughters called Aello, Podarge, and Ocypete, the first harpies. However, not much else is known about the first harpies. The next appearance of Harpies in history is in the tale of the tortured King Phineas. In this myth, the harpies were said to torture the king by depriving him of any source of food or water.After the tale of king Phineas, the presence of harpies in myths increased exponentially. For example, they fought against the Argonauts (who were a group of Greek heroes). And so they grew to become incorporated in more and more myths, until they were nearly ubiquitous.

Physical Characteristics

Harpies were originally thought of as wind-bearing spirits that were responsible for gales and gusts. However they eventually evolved into bird monsters with human heads. They were not very large (no larger than an eagle) but possessed destructive cruelty and immorality. Harpies have a human female face that is generally very ugly to look at, along with razor sharp talons with which they snatch people. Eventually, the myth altered even more and harpies developed the ability to transform themselves into beautiful young maidens to lure men (much like sirens). Today, harpies are also portrayed with entirely human bodies with the exception of wings, and talons/claws instead of hands and legs. Harpies were also characterized as incredibly smelly with voracious appetites.

Harpies were originally thought of as wind spirits
Harpies were originally thought of as wind spirits
Harpies eveolved into woman-bird creatures
Harpies eveolved into woman-bird creatures
This modern adaption is almost completely human except for the claws and wings
This modern adaption is almost completely human except for the claws and wings


Harpies were often considered as those who delivered punishments upon whoever Zeus was angry at. This is how they got the nickname " the hounds of Zeus". Because they played such a role, harpies were often juxtaposed into many different myths ands tales. This includes the following:

  • The myth of Phineas, King of Thrace: Phineas, king of Thrace had revealed far too much information (which he was privy to because he was also a prophet). Angry, Zeus banished the king onto an island with a buffet. However, Phineas never got to eat because the harpies would snatch any form of sustenance before he could get his hands on it. In this way, they tortured him.
  • Jason and the Argonauts: Jason and the argonauts were a group of heroes that traveled to Strophades (the island where all of the harpies lived and were holding King Phineas). There, they waged battle against the harpies and were able to drive them away because they also possessed the ability to fly. Jason and the argonauts also managed to free Phineas.
  • Harpies are often portrayed as stealing souls and torturing them on their way to Tartarus. (Harpies were soul stealers: according to legend, they stole humans, ripped apart their flesh, and then did unimaginable things to their souls.)
  • Aeneas: Aeneas came across Harpies several times because they kept stealing the feasts that were set out by the Trojans.
  • Et cetera...

This vase portrayed harpies stealing Phineas's feast
This vase portrayed harpies stealing Phineas's feast

Modern References

Harpies have been referenced all over the place in modern society. They are heavily emphasized in many fantasy-themed video games and even shows. Some examples include:
  • Yu-Gi-Oh: Yu-Gi-Oh has harpies in it (it is a card game).
external image Cyber_harpie_lady_sisters.jpeg
  • There have even been fictional novels written about them: for example Harpies by David Belbin
  • Basically, due to their violent and immoral behavior, harpies are portrayed as villainous in many forms of media.

Works Cited

  1. "Harpies, Greek Mythology, Monsters." In2Greece.com - Travel Guide to Greece Greek Islands History Mythology and Maps. Web. 04 May 2011. <http://www.in2greece.com/english/historymyth/mythology/names/harpies.htm>
  2. "Harpies - a Look in Detail." Virtual Worldlets Network: Virtual Reality Development. Web. 04 May 2011. <http://www.virtualworldlets.net/Resources/Hosted/Resource.php?Name=Harpy-LID>
  3. "ELECTRA : Oceanid Cloud Nymph ; Greek Mythology : ELEKTRA, OZOMENE." THEOI GREEK MYTHOLOGY, Exploring Mythology & the Greek Gods in Classical Literature & Art. Web. 04 May 2011. <http://www.theoi.com/Nymphe/NympheElektra1.html>
  4. "Harpy - New World Encyclopedia." Info:Main Page - New World Encyclopedia. Web. 04 May 2011. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Harpy>
  5. "Wind Spirit by ~Yoell on DeviantART." Yoell on DeviantART. Web. 04 May 2011. <http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs11/i/2006/251/3/c/Wind_spirit_by_Yoell.jpg>
  6. "Harpies." EnglishIhonorsmythology. Wikispaces. Web. 4 May 2011. <http://englishihonorsmythology.wikispaces.com/file/view/HARPIES-.jpg/39369818/HARPIES-.jpg>
  7. "Cyber Harpie Lady Sisters Information - The Full Wiki." Students, Get Citable References for Your Research with The Full Wiki. Web. 04 May 2011. <http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20080901161631/ycm/images/0/04/Cyber_harpie_lady_sisters.jpeg>