Scylla and Charybdis team up to make passing through the Straight of Messina impossible – to be a safe distance from one meant being too close to the other. They were one of Odysseus’ many challenges during his epic journey. Scylla is a six-headed monster storied to have become that way after poisoning by the jealous wife of Poseidon who captured sailors off their boats and ate them. Charybdis is best described as a whirlpool bringing ships to the bottom of the sea. She was the daughter of Poseidon and converted by Zeus.
Circe’s description of the monsters is as follows: (book 12)
“Scylla lurks inside it – the yelping horror,
yelping, no lounder than any suckling pup
but she’s a grizzly monster, I assure you.
No one could look on her with any joy,
not even a god who meets her face-to-face…
She has twelve legs, all writhing, dangling down
and six long swaying necks, a hideous head on each,
each head barbed with a triple row of fangs, thickset,
packed tight – and armed to the hilt with black death!”
“Atop it a great fig-tree rises, shaggy with leaves,
beneath it awesome Charybdis gulps the dark water down.
Three times a day she vomits it up, three times she gulps it down,
that terror! Don’t be there when the whirlpool swallows down –
not even the earthquake god could save you from disaster.”
Odysseus’ boat was taken by Charybdis and he was saved by clinging to the cliffs.
The monsters also play a role in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and supposedly shepherded the Argonauts safely through the narrow passage.
~Bluegrass Blue Crab