Strix (pl. striges or strixes) was the Ancient Roman and Greek word for owl. In folklore it was considered a bird of ill omen that fed on human flesh and blood, a product of metamorphosis. From the Greek word derives the name of genus Strix.
The earliest recorded tale of the strix is from the lost Ornithologia of the Greek author Boios, which is partially preserved in Antoninus Liberalis's Metamorphoses. This tells the story of Polyphonte and her two sons Agrios and Oreios (their father being a wild bear), who were punished for their cannibalism, like Lycaon, by being transformed into wild animals. Polyphonte became a strix "that cries by night, without food or drink, with head below and tips of feet above, a harbinger of war and civil strife to men". The first Latin allusion is in Plautus's Pseudolus, dated to 191 BC, in which a cook, describing the cuisine of his inferiors, compares its action to that of the striges—i.e., disemboweling a hapless victim. Horace, in his Epodes, makes the strix's magical properties clear: its feathers are an ingredient in a love potion. Seneca the Younger, in his Hercules Furens, shows the striges dwelling on the outskirts of Tartarus. Ovid tells the story of striges attacking the legendary king Procas in his cradle, and how they were warded off with arbutus and placated with the meat of pigs, as an explanation for the custom of eating beans and bacon on the Kalends of June.
Though descriptions abound, the concept of the strix was nonetheless vague. Pliny, in his Natural History, confesses little knowledge of them; he knows that their name was once used as a curse, but beyond that he can only aver that the tales of them nursing their young must be false, since no bird except the bat suckled its children.
The legend of the strix survived into the Middle Ages, as recorded in Isidore's Etymologiae, and gave both name and attributes to the being referred to as striga in Latin throughout central and eastern Europe. In Romanian, strigăt means 'scream', strigoaică is the name of the Romanian feminine vampire, and strigoi is the Romanian male vampire. Both can scream loudly, especially when they become poltergeists - a trait they have in common with the banshees. Strigăt is also the Romanian name of the Common Barn Owl and of the Death's-head Hawkmoth.
- Translation by Oliphant, pp. 133–134.
- Pseudolus 819
- Fasti, vi.101 ff.
- Natural History xi.232
- In the ancient world the bat was commonly classified as a bird; only Aristotle differed, considering it halfway between bird and land animal. See Oliphant, p. 134 n. 4.
- Etymologiae book 12, ch. 7.42.
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- Oliphant, Samuel Grant (1913). "The Story of the Strix: Ancient". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 44: 133–49. doi:10.2307/282549. JSTOR 282549.
- "Carna, Proca and the Strix on the Kalends of June", by Christopher Michael McDonough, in Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974–), Vol. 127. (1997), pp. 315–344.