A to Z Challenge Folklore

Unbridled Harpies #folklore #AtoZChallenge

U is Unbridled

Learn more about the challenge here.

I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.

If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.

Learn more about the A to Z Challenge here.

I’m not sure where I first encountered a harpy for the first time, just that they’ve always sort of been around.

Harpy. Image credit


Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology by William Smith [1849]

HARPYIAE (Harpuiai), that is, “the swift robbers,” are, in the Homeric poems, nothing but personified storm winds. (Od. xx. 66, 77.) Homer mentions only one by name, viz. Podarge, who was married to Zephyrus, and gave birth to the two horses of Achilles, Xanthus and Balius. (Il. xvi. 149, &c.) When a person suddenly disappeared from the earth, it was said that he had been carried off by the Harpies (Od. i. 241, xiv. 371); thus, they carried off the daughters of king Pandareus, and gave them as servants to the Erinnyes. (Od. xx. 78.) According to Hesiod (Theog. 267, &c.), the Harpies were the daughters of Thaumas by the Oceanid Electra, fair-locked and winged maidens, who surpassed winds and birds in the rapidity of their flight. Their names in Hesiod are Aëllo and Ocypete. (Comp. Apollod. i. 2. § 6.) But even as early as the time of Aeschylus (Eum. 50), they are described as ugly creatures with wings, and later writers carry their notions of the Harpies so far as to represent them as most disgusting monsters. They were sent by the gods as a punishment to harass the blind Phineus, and whenever a meal was placed before him, they darted down from the air and carried it off; later writers add, that they either devoured the food themselves, or that they dirtied it by dropping upon it some stinking substance, so as to render it unfit to be eaten. They are further described in these later accounts as birds with the heads of maidens, with long claws on their hands, and with faces pale with hunger. (Virg. Aen. iii. 216, &c.; Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 653; Ov. Met. vii.4, Fast. vi. 132; Hygin. Fab. 14.) The traditions about their parentage likewise differ in the different traditions, for some called them the daughters of Pontus (or Poseidon) and Terra (Serv. ad Aen. iii. 241), of Typhon (Val. Flacc iv. 428, 516), or even of Phineus. (Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 166, Chil. i. 220; Palaephat. 23. 3). Their number is either two, as in Hesiod and Apollodorus, or three; but their names are not the same in all writers, and, besides those already mentioned, we find Aëllopos, Nicothoë, Ocythoë, Ocypode, Celaeno, Acholoë. (Apollod. i. 9, 21; Serv. ad Aen. iii. 209; Hygin. Fab. Praef. p. 15, Fab. 14.) Their place of abode is either the islands called Strophades (Virg. Aen. iii. 210), a place at the entrance of Orcus (vi. 289), or a cave in Crete. (Apollon. Rhod. ii. 298.) The most celebrated story in which the Harpies play a part is that of Phineus, at whose residence the Argonauts arrived while he was plagued by the monsters. He promised to instruct them respecting the course they had to take, if they would deliver him from the Harpies. When the food for Phineus was laid out on a table, the Harpies immediately came, and were attacked by the Boreades, Zetes and Calais, who were among the Argonauts, and provided with wings. According to an ancient oracle, the Harpies were to perish by the hands of the Boreades, but the latter were to die if they could not overtake the Harpies. The latter fled, but one fell into the river Tigris, which was hence called Harpys, and the other reached the Echinades, and as she never returned, the islands were called Strophades. But being worn out with fatigue, she fell down simultaneously with her pursuer; and, as they promised no further to molest Phineus, the two Harpies were not deprived of their lives. (Apollod. i. 9. § 21.) According to others, the Boreades were on the point of killing the Harpies, when Iris or Hermes appeared, and commanded the conquerors to set them free, or both the Harpies as well as the Boreades died. (Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. i. 286, 297; Tzetz. Chil. i. 217.) In the famous Harpy monument recently brought from Lycia to this country, the Harpies are represented in the act of carrying off the daughters of Pandareus.

Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper


Winged spirits from Greek mythology, the daughters of the sea god Thaumas (Wonder) and Electra, daughter of Oceanus. The name literally means “that which snatches”. Usually depicted as birds with women’s faces, according to Hesoid and Homer they were the personification of violent winds that were strong enough to carry people away.

*More can be read in the book.

Harpy. Image credit

Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore by Theresa Bane

Harpy, plural Harpies (“swift robbers”)

Variations: Harpyia, Harpyiai, Hounds of Zeus

Originally the harpies of ancient Greek mythology were born the daughters of the sea NYMPH Electra and an ancient god of the sea and Titan called Thaumus. Some authors said they were the daughters of Oceanus and Terra while Gaius Valerius Flaccus, a Roman poet of the Silver Age, believed them to be the daughters of Typhoeus.

Stories of harpies described them as beautiful winged women who would appear suddenly, snatch up an object or person, and vanish without being seen; any sudden disappearance was credited to them. The harpies of this era were under the dominion of the god Zeus (Jupiter); he would send them out in thunder storms to do his bidding; for this they became the personifications of storm winds and whirlwinds.

In the stories of Jason and the Argonauts harpies were described as vicious, rank smelling chimerical creatures with bodies like vultures, ears like bears, faces like women, and the feet and hands hooked like talons carrying off food and treasure in their razor-sharp claws.

*More can be read in the book.

The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures by John & Caitlín Matthews


In Greek mythology, the Harpies were the sisters who were the personifications of the storm-winds. They had the shape of birds with hideously hag-like faces, drooping breasts, bear’s ears and clawed talons. Poseidon is described as being their father or their lover. But their parentage is much disputed and too tangled in Greek myth to give an unambiguous certainty. Hesiod says that they are born of Thaumas, grandson of the Earth goddess, Gaia, and the Oceanid Electra. Homer speaks of Pordarge ‘the racer’ who was raped by Zephyros, the Western Wind. She then became the mother of two immortal horses, Xanthos and Balios. Hesiod speaks of Aello ‘the wind-footed one,’ and Okypete ‘she who is swift in flight’ and Okythoe ‘the swift footed’. The two other named Harpies are Kelaino ‘she who is dark,’ and Mapsaura ‘a blast of wind’.

The Harpies are fleet-footed and winged, but their claws are made for snatching, which is what the name ‘Harpy’ means – a ‘Snatcher’. They interfere in the lives of human beings and intervene to their detriment. Whatever they touch is said to become contaminated. If people were lost at sea, it would be said that ‘the Harpies snatched them away’. The enemies of the Harpies were the sons of Boreas, the North Wind who finally overcame them. The Harpies used to descend upon the food of the blind seer Phineus whenever he sat down to eat. To assist Phineus, the sons of Boreas banished the Harpies to the depths of the Earth under the island of Crete. They are sometimes confused with the Erinyes (or Furies) as well as with the Sirens.

*More can be read in the book.

Harpy. Image credit

Further Reading:

Harpy. Image credit

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

As the daughters of the sea god Thaumas and the oceanid Electra, harpies are beautiful young women with wings who enjoy flying faster than birds. That’s Hesoid’s theory. Homer was certain that they were the personification of violent winds, strong enough to carry people away. In this incarnation, they were servants of Zeus, sent out during thunderstorms to do his bidding. They were half-woman, half-bird creatures who used their strong wings to fly faster than the wind and used their sharp claws to grab people from the earth. Their name means “to snatch”. At least according to some legends.

They were said to be ravenous creatures who would swallow their prey whole. Which is why no-one bothered to look for people who seemed to disappear into thin air: they knew the harpies had got to them.

As the Hounds of Zeus, they were set on king Phineas who betrayed the trust of the king of the Olympian gods who had bestowed upon him the power of prophecy. Not only was Phineas blinded, stranded on a deserted island, and left for dead, he had a banquet set before him which he could never eat from as the harpies always swooped in and ate almost everything, leaving him scraps to stay alive. In some accounts, they left a foul odour behind to make him even more miserable. They were chased off by the boreads who travelled with Jason and the other Argonauts, saved by their sister, the goddess Iris, and lived on another island until someone else decided to irritate them.

Aeneas, a hero from Troy, and some of his men were looking for a new home after the Trojan War ended. They landed on the island the harpies were living on, hunted goats and whatnot, prepared a feast – and didn’t eat as the harpies swooped in and ate everything. The ex-Trojans tried again, but the same happened. This time, they decided to attack the harpies. But their weapons didn’t work on these half-bird women. Instead, the leader of the harpies cursed them for trying to murder her and her sisters, saying that they wouldn’t find the place they wanted until they grew so hungry that they would eat their tables. By the time they got to that point, they founded Rome.

As the tales of the harpies grew in popularity, their appearance started to go downhill. From beautiful half-bird women, to being compared to vultures. From being helpful, to being ferocious monsters. Even today, a mean, heartless woman would be called a harpy. Of course, harpies are exactly what a lot of men fear: strong females who do what is necessary.

Harpy. Image credit

Harpy in Modern Culture

Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordan

Ella, a harpy. Image credit

Harpies (meaning “snatcher”) are winged spirits of sharp wind. They are known as the hounds of Zeus. Sudden, mysterious disappearances are often attributed to harpies.

At Camp Half-Blood, there are “cleaning harpies” named Aello, Celaeno, and Ocypete. These harpies that come to eat demigods that sneak out of their cabins at night. They always refer to themselves in the third person, for example they screech; “Campers out of bed! Dinner for hungry harpies!” 

Phineas was revived by Gaea, he is now the one to eat the food and be able to keep the harpies from his table though they are bounded to eat and can’t consume any other food.

Ella is one of the many harpies who snatch food from Phineas’ picnic table. She’s faster and more nimble than her sisters. When befriending with Percy, Hazel Levesque and Frank Zhang, she shows her ability to memorize a massive amount of facts she reads in books. Percy decides that they have to free the harpies from their curse (to be only able to eat from Phineas’ table) which they accomplish with a gamble to the death, including Percy and Phineas both drinking Gorgon Blood, not knowing which vial was from which side of the monster.

Learn more here.

Disney’s Hercules

Harpy. Image credit

In the film during the song Zero to Hero, a giant Harpy appears as one of the many enemies that Hercules needs to fight. It tries to swoop down on him and Pegasus from the sky, but it is quickly defeated and put into a cage.

Learn more here.

The Harpy by Julie Hutchings (My Review)

Punk-rock runaway Charity Blake becomes a Harpy at night—a treacherous mythical monster who preys upon men just like the ones who abused her. 

From the blurb.

Harpy’s Mission (Supernatural Retrieval Agency #1) by Laura Greenwood [My Review]

It may not be long before I have to let my wings out given the itch in my entire body. Most of the time, I can ignore the urge to let my feet become claws, and my back sprout wings, but that doesn’t seem to be the case today. Some days are like that.

Harpy’s Mission by Laura Greenwood

Harpy in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Harpies

Half-woman, half-bird creatures with eagle claws for feet, strong wings and sharp taloned hands. They can screech like an eagle, a terrifying sound coming from a supposedly human mouth. They could be beautiful, if not for the perpetual glare and puckered mouth that mars their faces. They are ferocious and fierce. Once set on a path by the Dark King, it is impossible to sway them. They are usually sent to abduct troublesome fae. They enjoy toying with their prey before swallowing them whole (except when the Dark King wished no harm to befall the fae they were sent to retrieve).

See this fae in action in my writing:

Dark Fae (Origin of the Fae #7)

Remember that you can request all of my books from your local library!

Where did you first encounter harpies? What do you think of this bird-woman faery? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

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image credit https://pixabay.com/illustrations/ai-generated-fairy-wings-magic-8121013/

No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

7 thoughts on “Unbridled Harpies #folklore #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Yikes! Yikes! A body like a vulture, face like a woman and talons instead of dainty little fingers? Not sure I can read this… and yet the life of Charity Blake, as described in your review, has me pretty tempted. Sounds good, but the monster in her might give me nightmares. I think I’ll sample it on Kindle and see how brave I am after reading the sample, lights on, of course 🙂

  2. My mother warned me about Unbridled Harpies so of course I quite liked the idea but after reading your post I am not so sure Ronel…

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