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For other uses, see Harpy (disambiguation).
Grouping Legendary creature
Sub grouping Hybrid
Similar creatures Siren, sphinx, centaur
Mythology Greek and Roman

In Greek mythology and Roman mythology, a harpy (plural harpies, Greek: ἅρπυια,[1] harpyia, pronounced [hárpyi̯a]; Latin: harpȳia) was a female monster in the form of a bird with a human face. They steal food from their victims while they are eating and carry evildoers (especially those who have killed their family) to the Erinyes. They seem originally to have been wind spirits. Their name means "snatchers".[2]

Homer wrote that a harpy was the mother of the two horses of Achilles sired by the West Wind Zephyrus.[3]

Hesiod calls them two "lovely-haired" creatures, the daughters of Thaumas and Electra (not to be confused with Electra, daughter of King Agamemnon), who were sisters of the Iris.[4] Pottery art depicting the harpies featured beautiful women with wings. Harpies as ugly winged bird-women, e.g. in Aeschylus' The Eumenides (line 50) are a late development. Roman and Byzantine writers detailed their ugliness.[5]


A harpy in Ulisse Aldrovandi's Monstrorum Historia, Bologna, 1642
A medieval depiction of a harpy as a bird-woman

King Phineus of Thrace was given the gift of prophecy by Zeus. Angry that Phineus gave away the god's secret plan, Zeus punished him by blinding him and putting him on an island with a buffet of food which he could never eat because the harpies always arrived to steal the food out of his hands before he could satisfy his hunger, and befouled the remains of his food. This continued until the arrival of Jason and the Argonauts. The Boreads, sons of Boreas, the North Wind, who also could fly, succeeded in driving off the harpies, but without killing any of them, following a request from Iris, who promised that Phineus would not be bothered by the harpies again. "The dogs of great Zeus" returned to their "cave in Minoan Crete". Thankful for their help, Phineus told the Argonauts how to pass the Symplegades.[6]

In this form they were agents of punishment who abducted people and tortured them on their way to Tartarus. They were vicious, cruel and violent. They lived on the islands of the Strophades. They were usually seen as the personifications of the destructive nature of wind. The harpies in this tradition, now thought of as three sisters instead of the original two, Hesiod's two Harpies are named Aello ("storm swift") and Ocypete ("the swift wing"),[7][8] Virgil's added Celaeno ("the dark") as a third.[9] Homer knew of a Harpy named Podarge ("fleet-foot").[10]

Aeneas encountered harpies on the Strophades as they repeatedly made off with the feast the Trojans were setting. Celaeno utters a prophecy: the Trojans will be so hungry they will eat their tables before they reach the end of their journey. The Trojans fled in fear.

Harpies in the infernal wood, from Inferno XIII, by Gustave Doré, 1861

Harpies remained vivid in the Middle Ages. In his Inferno, XIII, Dante envisages the tortured wood infested with harpies, where the suicides have their punishment in the seventh ring of Hell:

Here the repellent harpies make their nests,

Who drove the Trojans from the Strophades
With dire announcements of the coming woe.
They have broad wings, with razor sharp talons and a human neck and face,

Clawed feet and swollen, feathered bellies; they caw
Their lamentations in the eerie trees.[11]

William Blake was inspired by Dante's description in his pencil, ink and watercolour "The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides" (Tate Gallery, London).

Linguistic use and application[edit]

The harpy eagle is a real bird named after the mythological animal.

The term is often used metaphorically to refer to a nasty or annoying woman. In Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick spots the sharp-tongued Beatrice approaching and exclaims to the Prince, Don Pedro, that he would do an assortment of arduous tasks for him "rather than hold three words conference with this harpy!"


Greater coat of arms of the city of Nuremberg

In the Middle Ages, the harpy, often called the Jungfrauenadler or "virgin eagle", became a popular charge in heraldry, particularly in East Frisia, seen on, among others, the coats-of-arms of Rietburg, Liechtenstein, and the Cirksena.

In popular culture[edit]

Harpies appear in the movie Jason and the Argonauts.

In the manga/anime "One Piece" the character Monet was artificially given bird wings,legs,and a tail through the use of Trafalgar Law's Devil Fruit power making her resemble a harpy and is described as such by a few other characters.

In the manga Everyday Life With Monster Girls, one of the main characters is a Harpy named Papi. Although she has the appearance and mannerisms of a young girl, she is actually a young woman in her actual age.

In the novel The Merlin Legacy by Stephen Davis, the main antagonists are the Furies, who are also named the Harpies.

In the 2014 dark fantasy film Maleficent, the title character strongly resembles a harpy, though she is described as a fairy in the film.

In the novel The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Celaeno the harpy appears as a part of Mommy Fortuna's Midnight Carnival, a travelling show featuring mythical creatures.

In the television series Game of Thrones, a harpy appears as the sigil of the three great slave-cities of Meereen, Astapor, and Yunkai.

Harpies are also frequently featured in many fantasy role-playing video games such as World of Warcraft or The Witcher.

Harpies appear as frequent enemies in the Greek Mythology-based video game series God of War

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Of uncertain etymology; R. S. P. Beekes has suggested a Pre-Greek origin (Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 139).
  2. ^ Adrian Room, Who's Who in Classical Mythology, p. 147 ISBN 0-517-22256-6
  3. ^ Iliad xvi. 150.
  4. ^ Hesiod, Theogony, 265–267.
  5. ^ Virgil, Aeneid iii. 216; Ovid Metamorphoses vii.4, Fasti vi. 132; Hyginus, Fabula 14; Johannes Tzetzes, Ad Lycophron 653.
  6. ^ Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245
  7. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 265
  8. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.121-123. Aello, sometimes also spelled Aellopus or Nicothoe; Ocypete, sometimes also spelled Ocythoe or Ocypode.
  9. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 3.209
  10. ^ Homer, Iliad 16.148
  11. ^ Translation of Robert Pinsky, Boston Review

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Harpies at Wikimedia Commons