Stheno & Euryale in Greek Mythology

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Greek mythology is full of terrifying monsters, and amongst these were Stheno and Euryale. In this lesson, we'll check out their origins and see how they played into Greek mythology and culture.

Stheno and Euryale

The Greek legend of Medusa is familiar to many people. With snakes for hair and the ability to turn people into stone just by looking at her, it's not hard to understand why this figure sticks in our minds. However, we often forget that Medusa wasn't the only one of her kind. In fact, she wasn't even necessarily the most powerful. Medusa had two sisters named Stheno and Euryale. In Classical mythology, these were three fearsome sisters.

The Gorgons

Medusa, Stheno and Euryale all belonged to a race of monsters known as the Gorgons. In the oldest Greek depictions, the Gorgons had scaly hides, wings, boar-tusk fangs, brass hands, claws, and snakes for hair. They could also kill you by looking at you. Later Roman depictions would often show the Gorgons as beautiful (if scaly) women, combining the temptation to look at them with the fear of instant death.

Gorgon in Greek art

So, how did these three sisters end up with snakes for hair? According to the most popular myth, the three Gorgons were born to the primordial sea god Phorcys and his sister, the sea goddess Ceto. Both were closely associated with sea monsters in Greek mythology. In most myths, the sisters were introduced as being very beautiful. However, Medusa's beauty attracted Poseidon, who raped her in the temple of Athena. Athena blamed Medusa for the act and turned her into a monstrous being. Stheno and Euryale stood by their sister, and they also ended up transformed.

Traits of the Sisters

The three Gorgons were similar in many ways. Medusa's name indicated that she was the queen of the group. Stheno means ''strong'' and Euryale means ''wide leaping,'' indicating that both could be characterized by physical abilities. The implication was that Medusa was the brainy one. This is especially interesting when we realize that Medusa was also the only one who was mortal. Both Stheno and Euryale were immortal and eternally youthful.

As the snakes covered most of their faces, the Gorgons were sometimes drawn in Greek art as seeming to have beards

So, what were Stheno and Euryale like? We have fewer descriptions of these two than Medusa, but what we know indicates that they were pretty formidable. Stheno (the strong) was said to be the most independent and the most ferocious of the three, who killed more men than her sisters combined. Euryale was often characterized by fierce and loud cries, a sign of a powerful and threatening force in mythology.

A few historians have parsed over the descriptions of all three sisters and think that they were actually inspired by real creatures of the deep, which the Greeks would have seen in the Mediterranean. In this interpretation, Medusa was inspired by the octopus (famous for its cleverness), Euryale was inspired by the squid (known for its ability to leap far out of the water) and Stheno was inspired by the cuttlefish (characterized by its strength). Not everyone agrees with this interpretation, but it is worth remembering that many Greek myths had basis in the things they observed in their own world.

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