AskDefine | Define Scylla

Dictionary Definition

Scylla n : (Greek mythology) a sea nymph transformed into a sea monster who lived on one side of a narrow strait; drowned and devoured sailors who tried to escape Charybdis (a whirlpool) on the other side of the strait

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A dangerous rock on the Italian coast opposite the whirlpool Charybdis on the coast of Sicily. The passage between Scylla and Charybdis was formerly considered perilous; hence, the saying between Scylla and Charybdis signifies a great peril on either hand.
  2. In Greek mythology, a personification of the above rock as a ravenous monster.

See also

Extensive Definition

Scylla (), or Skylla (Greek: Σκύλλα) was one of the two monsters in Greek mythology (the other being Charybdis) that lived on either side of a narrow channel of water. The two sides of the strait were within an arrow's range of each other—so close that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis would pass too close to Scylla and vice versa. Scylla is one of the few place names used in the Odyssey which have persisted unchanged till the present day. At the entry to the Straits of Messiana, the city of Scylla, perched on a cliff 'that beetles o're his base into the sea' still dominated the treacherous strip of water separating Sicily from the mainland The name 'Scylla' is derived from a Semitic word skoula and the full title of the promontory was Skoula Kart's, the sheer rock.
The phrase "between Scylla and Charybdis" has come to mean being in a state where one is between two dangers and moving away from one will cause you to be in danger from the other. Traditionally the aforementioned strait has been associated with the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily, but more recently this theory has been challenged, and the alternative location of Cape Skilla in northwest Greece has been suggested by Tim Severin.
Scylla was a horribly grotesque sea monster, with six long necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. Her body consisted of twelve canine legs and a cat's tail. She was one of the children of Phorcys and either Hecate, Crataeis, Lamia or Ceto (where Scylla would also be known as one of the Phorcydes). Some sources, including Stesichorus cite her parents as Triton and Lamia.
In classical art, she was depicted as a fish-tailed mermaid with four to six dog-heads ringing her waist.

In literature

Homer's Odyssey

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus is given advice by Circe to sail closer to Scylla, for Charybdis could drown his whole ship, and to bid Crataeis prevent her from pouncing more than once. Odysseus then successfully sails his ship past Scylla and Charybdis, but Scylla manages to catch six of his men, devouring them alive. When this happens, Odysseus takes the empty spot on the boat and helps the men row the ship out of harm's way.


According to Ovid, Scylla was once a beautiful nymph. The fisherman-turned-sea-god Glaucus fell madly in love with her, but she fled from him onto the land where he could not follow. Despair filled his heart. He went to the sorceress Circe to ask for a love potion to melt Scylla's. As he told his tale of love about Scylla to Circe, she herself fell in love with him. She wooed him with her sweetest words and looks, but the sea-god would have none of her. Circe was furious, but with Scylla and not with Glaucus. She prepared a vial of very powerful poison and poured it in the pool where Scylla bathed. As soon as the nymph entered the water, she was transformed into a frightful monster with twelve feet and six heads, each with three rows of teeth. Angry, growling wolf heads grew from her waist, and she tried to brush them off. She stood there in utter misery, unable to move, loathing and destroying everything that came into her reach, a peril to all sailors who passed near her. Whenever a ship passed, each of her heads would seize one of the crew.


In a late Greek myth, it was said that Heracles encountered Scylla during a journey to Sicily and slew her. Her father, the sea-god Phorcys, then applied flaming torches to her body and restored her to life. This death contradicts what is said by Circe after Odysseus asks if it is possible for him to fight Scylla: "Must you have battle in your heart forever? The bloody toil of combat? Old contender, will you not yield to the immortal gods? That nightmare cannot die, being eternal evil itself—horror, and pain, and chaos; there is no fighting her, no power can fight her, all that avails is flight." Considering that Circe transformed her in the first place, though, her claims cannot be said to be objective.
It is said that by the time Aeneas' fleet came through the strait after the fall of Troy, Scylla had been changed into a dangerous rock outcropping which still stands there to this day.

Possible Explanations

Some suggest Scylla could be a large octopus or squid of some sort, saying the multiple necks could be tentacles and that the "three rows of teeth" could be rows of suckers.


  • Hanfmann, George M. A., "The Scylla of Corvey and Her Ancestors" Dumbarton Oaks Papers 41 "Studies on Art and Archeology in Honor of Ernst Kitzinger on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday" (1987), pp. 249-260. Hanfman assembles Classical and Christian literary and visual testimony of Scylla, from Mesopotamian origins to his ostensible subject, a ninth-century wall painting at Corvey Abbey.

External links

Scylla in Asturian: Escila
Scylla in Bulgarian: Сцила
Scylla in Catalan: Escil·la (filla de Forcis)
Scylla in Czech: Skylla
Scylla in Danish: Skylla
Scylla in German: Skylla
Scylla in Modern Greek (1453-): Σκύλλα
Scylla in Spanish: Escila
Scylla in Esperanto: Skilo
Scylla in French: Scylla (monstre)
Scylla in Korean: 스킬라
Scylla in Croatian: Skila
Scylla in Italian: Scilla (Forco)
Scylla in Luxembourgish: Skylla
Scylla in Lithuanian: Scilė
Scylla in Hungarian: Szkülla
Scylla in Dutch: Scylla (monster)
Scylla in Japanese: スキュラ
Scylla in Norwegian: Skylla
Scylla in Polish: Scylla
Scylla in Portuguese: Cila
Scylla in Slovenian: Scila (pošast)
Scylla in Serbian: Scila
Scylla in Serbo-Croatian: Skila
Scylla in Finnish: Skylla
Scylla in Swedish: Skylla
Scylla in Ukrainian: Скілла
Scylla in Chinese: 斯库拉
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1