Scylla in Greek Mythology: Facts, Story & Family Tree

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we will discover the character from Homer's Odyssey, Scylla. A horrible sea monster, Scylla devoured six of Odysseus' men while he tried to cross a particularly tricky strait.

Tough Choices

Let's say you're sailing in a boat. You've been on quite the journey--one that has taken years, in fact! And you're not always entirely sure where you are going. And bad things tend to happen every so often. Then you come to a small strait with only two possible paths on it: one that will take you near a cliff under which lives a monster who will try to sink your boat or one that will take you under the cliffs on the other side where a monster lives who will try to eat your fellow sailors.

Kind of a bad deal, right? Which would you choose? Such a choice was faced by Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey. This lesson will explore the monster he chose to face (the one that eats people), Scylla.

Basics & Origin

Scylla was a truly horrifying creature in Greek mythology. According to Homer, in whose writing she first appears, Scylla was a creature with twelve feet, six necks with ravenous heads at each end, and three rows of teeth. Though there is no mention of human form, she was often depicted in classical art as a sort of hybrid mermaid-sea serpent with dog heads coming from her midsection. The terrible sound she made was likened to the yelping of dogs.

According to Homer, Scylla was the daughter of Crataeis, the goddess of sea dangers, including sea monsters, storms, and other perils which may befoul a perfectly good boat trip. Homer was not the only classical writer to use Scylla, and later writers built upon this genesis, claiming that Scylla was the offspring of Crataeis and Phorkys, a male god in charge of nasty sea creatures. Still, other Greek writers claimed she was once a nymph who was transformed into her grotesque form by the goddess Circe.

Some Greek writers confused Crataeis with Hecate, a more prominent goddess with greater dominion over the sea, though in most accepted pantheons of the Greek gods and goddesses today she is considered the offspring of Crataeis as Homer originally wrote.

Scylla in the Odyssey

Scylla's first appearance in ancient Greek literature is also her most famous. As hinted at above, the hero of the Odyssey, Odysseus, approached a narrow strait and was faced with a dilemma as to how to navigate the treacherous passage. At that very instant, the goddess Circe appeared to Odysseus to lend a helping hand--sort of.

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