The Harpies are a group of sisters who prey upon those unfortunate enough to incur Zeus' wrath. Their name means "snatcher" and they were believed to have hands twisted into grasping claws. Harpies prefer to live in dark caves. Many are thought to be in underground caves beneath Crete. Because of their speed and power, Harpies were thought to be personifications of storm winds. Early stories described them as being fair, but the majority of tails describe them as foul creatures.

Harpies are like many servants of the Gods; they are distantly related to the Furies that serve Hades, and the beautiful Nereids that serve Poseidon. The Harpies have a beautiful winged sister, Iris (the rainbow goddess). She acts as one of the Gods' lesser messengers. Both the Furies and Iris figure prominently in the Harpy myths.

The mos famous myth about the Harpies is part of a much longer story about the Greek heroes called the Argonauts. The Argonauts wished to consult the famous seer Phineas. Unfortunately, Phineas had become such a skilled diviner that he thought he knew the mind of Zeus. That's dangerous thing for any mortal. In punishment, Zeus blinded Phineas. Zeus couldn't take away the seer's gift (because it came from Apollo), but he could torment the man on a whim.

Zeus sent Harpies to harass Phineas at the temple on the outskirts of Bithynia. Whenever Phineas tried to eat food of any sort, the Harpies would fly down from the sky and snatch it from his hands. What little remained, the Harpies would soil with a hideous liquid that streamed from their yes. The food smelled and tasted so horrible that no person could stand to come near until it had either been consumed or rotted away.

Phineas agreed to tell the Argonauts their futures if they could end his troubles with the Harpies. The Argonauts prepared an enormous meal and waited for the Harpies to descend. As the Harpies went for the food, the Argonauts rattled their spears against their shields and shouted. The noise frightened the cowardly Harpies and sent them retreating into the sky.

Two of the Argonauts present were Zetes and Kalais, twin sons of Boreas, the North Wind. These winged demigods flew into the air to pursue the harassing Harpies. Iris intervened to protect her sisters. She called them the "hounds of Zeus" and said that to kill them would be unlawful. Instead, she swore that the Harpies would harass Phineas no more if Zetes and Kalais would swear to spare their lives. The two heroes agreed, and the oath was sealed with water from the river Styx.

When people disappeared, it was often believed that Harpies had snatched them away. Some writers claimed the Harpies and Furies were so similar that they could be mistaken for each other, and that the Harpies frequently brought people they seized to the Furies to receive horrible punishments.

The two Harpies who harassed Phineas were called Aello and Okypete. Another, called Podarge, gave birth to a pair of legendary horses called Xanthos and Balios. Some legends mention another Harpy named Kelaino.


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