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Empusa (Ancient Greek: Ἔμπουσα, Empousa, of unknown meaning[1]) is a demigoddess of Greek mythology. In later incarnations, she appeared as a species of monsters commanded by Hecate (known in English as an empuse).[2][3][4]

She is often associated or grouped with the demigoddesses Lamia and Mormo, who were likewise related as a kind of spectres in later mythology (the lamias and mormolyceas, respectively).

As a demigoddess[edit]

Empusa was the beautiful daughter of the goddess Hecate and the spirit Mormo. She feasted on blood by seducing young men as they slept (see sleep paralysis), before drinking their blood and eating their flesh. When she spotted a man sleeping on the road, she attacked him, little knowing he was Zeus, king of the gods. Zeus woke and visited his wrath on her and Empusa was killed. [5] Empusa is pictured as wearing brazen slippers and bearing flaming hair. By folk etymology, her name was said to mean "one-footed" (from Greek *έμπούς, *empous: en-, one + pous, foot). This gave rise to the iconography of a one-legged hybrid, with a donkey's leg and a brass prosthetic leg.[6]

Later and modern usage[edit]

In later Greek mythology, her role was reduced to a species of spectre called an empuse or empusa (pl. empusae). The empusae were sent by Hecate to guard roads and devour travelers (Hecate was also the goddess of roadsides). According to Philostratus, empusae ran and hid, uttering a high-pitched scream, at the sound of insults.[7] The empusae are best known for their appearance in Aristophanes's The Frogs, in which they frighten Dionysus and Xanthias on their way to the underworld.

The term is still used to refer to a shapeshifting hobgoblin said to pester Greek shepherds in the form of a dog, ox, or mule (perhaps harkening back to the classical representation).[8]

Empusa is referenced in Rudyard Kipling's narrative poem, Tomlinson.

Empusa is a character in Faust: Part Two by Goethe. She appears during the Classical Walpurgis Night as Mephisto is being lured by the Lamiae. She refers to herself as cousin to Mephisto because she has a donkey's foot and he has a horse's.

Empusa is the name of the ship used by Count Orlok to travel to Wisborg in F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922).

Empusa is a main antagonist turned heroine in the novel Grecian Rune by James Matthew Byers. They may look like humans at first.

In the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, the Empusa first appeared in The Battle of the Labyrinth as servants of Hecate who had by that time joined the Titan Army. They are similar in appearance to vampires, but have one shaggy donkey leg and one bronze leg. The first empousa, who claimed to be freed from Pandora's pithos when it had been opened, appeared in the next book, The Last Olympian. They reappear in The House of Hades (the penultimate book of The Heroes of Olympus, a spin-off series of Percy Jackson & the Olympians) as servants of the primordial goddess Gaea. One of them, Kelli, happens to be the same one Annabeth Chase killed in The Battle of the Labyrinth. Another one, Serephone, is clearly fearful of Hecate, and distrustful of Kelli, who is now working against their mistress. They are defeated by one of their old employers, the Titan Iapetus.

Empusa (along with Lamia and Mormo) is one of the three witches in the film Stardust (dir. Matthew Vaughn). She is played by Sarah Alexander.[9] In Neil Gaiman's novel Stardust the witches are not given individual names.


  1. ^ An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell and Scott
  2. ^ "Empuse" at Dictionary.com
  3. ^ "Empuse" in Webtser's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
  4. ^ "Empuse [ EMPU'SE, n. A phantom or specter. [Not used.] ]  :: Search the 1828 Noah Webster's Dictionary of the English Language (FREE) :: 1828.mshaffer.com". Retrieved 12 May 2016. 
  5. ^ Graves, Robert (1990) [1955]. "The Empusae". The Greek Myths. London: Penguin. pp. 189–90. ISBN 0-14-001026-2. 
  6. ^ "EMPUSA & LAMIAE : Vampires, demons, monsters ; Greek legend : EMPOUSA & LAMIAI". Retrieved 12 May 2016. 
  7. ^ "EMPUSA". Retrieved 12 May 2016. 
  8. ^ Matthews, John and Caitlin (2006) [2005]. "Empusa". The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. New York: Barnes & Noble. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-7607-7885-2. 
  9. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486655/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast