Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tornadic Mythology

We just had the wonderful experience of taking all the students downstairs and making them sit in the hallway while a tornado was going by.  Lucky for us, the tornado turned out to be a few miles away and did not head in our direction, but school secretary come over the intercom and it sounded like the storm was upon us.

So now as I sit here, my mythology nerd brain turned to which god or goddess was in charge of tornadoes?  A quick search popped up the harpies.  Now most of us know the harpies as just monsters creatures famous for pooping on people from up above and grabbing people in the dead of night (or daytime, the harpies were so hideous that they didn't have to sneak around).

However, the origin of these creatures is that of goddesses.  They are the daughters of either Thaumas and Electra, or Neptune and Terra, or Typhon and Echidna.  There is also disagreement of how many of them there are.  As few as one have been mentioned to as many as five.  When they started out, they were storm goddesses, causing hurricanes, strong winds, and tornadoes.  Their names are: Podarge (Racer), Aello (Hurricane or Whirlwind), Ocypete (Swift), Celeno (Dark), and Aellopus (although some say she is the same as Aello).  Usually only two or three are mentioned by a particular author and they cannot agree on anything.

Once they started being referred to as monsters, their descriptions turned hideous.  They look like a mixture of birds and women with bears' ears.  they tend to hang out on the islands of Strophades (which, by the way, I checked out the tourism site for the Strophades and they don't mention anything about the harpies - go figure - they do, however, mention their wonderful sea bird population - just don't get too close).  Oh, and they smell really bad.

One of the most famous stories involving harpies is the one that is often included in the Jason and the Argonauts story. A guy named Phineus (his brother Ferb was not mentioned in the story) was blessed by Apollo to be able to tell the future.  Zeus, however, was ticked that he knew what was going to happen before it happened, so he punished him for it by sending the harpies to poop on his food.  It's kind of like when you win an autographed home run ball, but then the government taxes you for it so you can't keep it.  Two Argonauts (Calais and Zetes) were fast enough to chase them away.

Either Aello or Celaeno was the mom of Achilles' horses.  The dad was Zephyr and we can only guess if it was when they were goddesses or monsters.

So next time you find yourself sitting in a hallway with several high school students waiting for the tornado warning to be lifted, you can pass the time by telling them all about the creatures that make tornadoes, the wonderful harpies.  Students will look up to you for it.  They will think you are cool and hip and swell.  Trust me.

Be safe!


Judith said...

Thanks. I was looking up info on Harpies for a novella I'm writing and found your site. Really enjoyed it. Posting your link on twitter. Hope myth lovers find you.

Lord Alford said...

Glad you liked it. I haven't been very good about keeping it up to date lately. Maybe I'll get more time soon. It was easier when I was teaching a mythology course and I hope to get back into that in a year or two.

What's the name of your book? Let me know when it gets published and I'll try to direct some traffic to you.

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