Homer calls them "spirits of the storm" (Od. 1.241, 20.77). The poet refers to them in plural in the Odyssey (1.241, 20.77), while he refers to one of them, Harpy Podarge, in the Iliad (16.150).
Harpyiae, (Harpuiai).The Harpies were originally the goddesses of the devastating storm, symbolizing the sudden and total disappearance of men. Homer only names one of them, Podarge, or "the swift-footed," who, in the shape of a mare, bore to Zephyrus the horses of Achilles. In Hesiod the Harpies appear as winged goddesses with beautiful hair, daughters of Thaumas and Electra, sisters of Iris, with the names of Aello and Ocypete. In the later story their number increased, their names being Aellopus, Ocythoe, Nicothoe, and Celaeno. They are there represented as half-birds, half-maidens, and as spirits of mischief. In the story of the Argonauts, for instance, they torment Phineus by carrying off and polluting his food till they are driven off by Calais and Zetes, and either killed or banished to the island of the Strophades, where they are bound by an oath to remain.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Dec 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
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 Aello 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 Aellopos, Nicothoe, Ocythoe, Ocypode, Celaeno, Acholoe. (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. Hte 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. (Th. Panofka, in the Archaeol. Zeitung for 1843, No. 4; E. Braun, in the Rhein. Mus. Neue Folge, vol. iii., who conceives that these rapacious birds with human heads are symbolical representations of death carrying off everything.)
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Nov 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
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