Between Calabria, a region of Southern Italy, and Sicily lies the Strait of Messina, said to be the legendary home of the monster Scylla. On the opposite side of the narrow channel of water lay her frightful counterpart named Charybdis.

Scylla was described as a six-headed sea monster, or as a deadly rock shoal, and Charybdis was an all-consuming whirlpool. Scylla was found on the Calabrian side of the Strait of Messina, while Charybdis occupied the coast of Sicily.

The two sides of the strait were but an arrow's range of each other, so sailors trying to navigate the waters would have to choose whether to pass dangerously close to Scylla, or instead to take their chances by passing near Charybdis, risking maritime death either way. The monsters were located close enough to each other so trying to avoid one meant passing too close to the other.

Hence to be "Between Scylla and Charybdis" has come to mean having to decide between two similarly dangerous situations, or to choose the lesser of two evils, and is seen as leading inevitably to disaster.

When Odysseus, the hero of the Trojan War and the Odyssey had to pass by the two monsters, he was advised by the sorceress Circe to navigate close to Scylla and thus lose a few men, rather than to pass by Charybdis and lose his entire ship and crew, which he accomplished, choosing between the lesser of two evils.

"Hug Scylla's crag - sail on past her - top speed! Better by far to lose six men and keep your ship than lose your entire crew." Circe also instructed Odysseus to ask Scylla's mother, the river nymph Crataeis, to prevent Scylla from striking more than once.

Odysseus and his ship successfully navigated the strait of Messina, but when they were momentarily distracted by Charybdis, Scylla took the opportunity to snatch six of his sailors off the deck and devour them alive.

At a later time Odysseus found himself stranded on a raft and being swept back through the Strait of Messina, passing perilously close to Charybdis. His raft was sucked into her whirlpool, but he survived by managing to cling to a fig tree that grew on a rock over her lair. When his raft was expelled on the next outflow of water, Odysseus recovered it and paddled to safety.

Jason and the Argonauts had to pass by Scylla and Charybdis while on their quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Their patron goddess, Hera, ordered the Nereid Thetis to help guide their ship through the precarious passage.

Scylla's parentage is in question - her mother is said to be Crataeis by some authors, while the father, if mentioned, is either Poseidon, Lord of the Sea, his son Triton or Phorcys, both sea gods. Yet others claim that Hecate and Apollo are her parents. The monster Typhon and his hideous wife Echidna were also said to be her parents, one of countless beasts they birthed.

What was Scylla's origin? One myth says that Scylla was a gorgeous and modest Naiad (a sea nymph) whom the lord of the sea, Poseidon, saw and fell in love with. His wife Amphitrite was having none of that. In a fit of jealous rage she poisoned the water of the spring where Scylla bathed, turning the maiden into a horrible monster.

Another version states that the beautiful Scylla was loved by a man named Glaucus, a fisherman turned sea god. Scylla was repulsed by his scaly form and fled to a promontory where Glaucus could not follow.

Glaucus beseeched the sorceress Circe for a potion that would make Scylla fall in love with him, but the enchantress herself fell in love with him. But Glaucus wanted nothing to do with Circe, being completely smitten by Scylla.

An enraged Circe waited until Scylla was bathing in the sea, and then the jealous sorceress poured a malevolent potion into the water. This caused Scylla to transform into the ghastly and repulsive monster with six dog forms springing from her thighs, each with a mouth with three rows of sharp teeth, sporting twelve feet, and barking like a dog.

It is said that the greatest Greek hero, Heracles (Hercules) was on a journey to Sicily and encountered Scylla. Heracles killed the monster but her father,  the sea god Phorcys, applied flaming torches to her body and restored her to life.

The sea monster Charybdis was said to live under a small rock on the Sicily side of the narrow Strait of Messina, across from Scylla. Three times a day, Charybdis would swallow a huge amount of water, and then would belch it back out. This would create large whirlpools, easily capable of dragging ships underwater. Sometimes Charybdis was described as just a whirlpool, rather than a sea monster.

Some others say that Charybdis was the daughter of Poseidon and Gaea (Mother Earth), and that she lived as a faithful servant to her father. They claim that she aided her father Poseidon when he was feuding with his brother Zeus, her paternal uncle. Scylla helped Poseidon engulf lands and islands in water, taking them away from Zeus.

Zeus was livid over the land she stole from him, and sent her to the bottom of the sea with a thunderbolt. From the sea bed Charybdis drank the water three times a day creating mighty whirlpools and sending sailors to their watery graves.




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