Threatening and Gruesome Monsters in Greek Legends
Animal and animal like creatures played a large role in the daily lives of the ancient Greeks. Legends speak of terrifying beasts that would attack and devour humans.
One of the greatest gifts the western world has received from Greece has been mythology. Tales about Zeus, Apollo, Hercules, Poseidon and the other mighty gods have thrilled readers since antiquity. However, these figures only make up a fraction of the incredible beings that have been a part of Greek legends for thousands of years.
Centaurs, cyclopes and gorgons are a few of the unearthly monsters that have fought humans in epic battles. In classical Greek stories these beasts were often portrayed as unruly, combative and sometimes downright evil. In this article the physical descriptions of these creatures are explained more fully as well as how they came into existence.
Argus, the One Hundred Eyed Guardian of Io
He was the son of Arestor and lived in the region of Argolis in the Peloponnese. An enormous being with one hundred eyes all over his body, many of which stayed open at all times, he had superhuman strength. As the legend goes, Zeus transformed his lover, the nymph Io, into a cow when his wife Hera arrived on the scene. Hera demanded the cow as a gift and Argus was the one chosen to protect it.
Zeus sent Hermes to rescue his lover and he accomplished this task. How he did it is not known exactly. Some say he stoned Argus to death, other accounts report he used his flute to lull the giant to sleep and then decapitated him. Hera took his eyes and put them on the tail of a peacock, her favourite bird.
These were creatures with upper bodies of men set upon bodies of horses. They resided in the forests and mountain caves of Thessaly in northern Greece. Depicted as primitive and hostile, they were spawned by a union between the cloud nymph Nephele and the Lapith King Ixion.
In contrast, the centaur Chiron was cultured and intelligent. Unlike the rest of his kind he was an immortal god and skilled in the art of healing. He was a son of Kronos, a half brother of Zeus and taught several Greek heroes including Achilles, Jason and Peleus.
They were a race of giants with a single eye in their foreheads. In the Homeric poems these creatures were lawless and liked to eat human beings. According to Hesiod, the three elder cyclopes were the sons of Uranus and Gaia, and were released from the pit of Tartarus by Zeus.
They fashioned thunderbolts for Zeus, a helmet of invisibility for Hades and a trident for Poseidon. These weapons were used by the gods to defeat the Titans.
With a man’s face, a lion’s body and the tail of a scorpion, seeing one of these meant a person’s fate would be decidedly unfortunate. A lethal predator, it had rows of sharp teeth and could shoot poisonous barbs from its tail like arrows. Manticores especially enjoyed gorging on human flesh.
A monstrous creature with a man’s body and the head of a bull, it was born from Queen Pasiphae after she coupled with a bull. With a ravenous appetite for humans, it resided in the twisting labyrinth made by a craftsman named Daedalus.
In later years, when the people of Athens killed a son of King Minos, the Cretan king brought a plague down on the city. Only by sending seven men and seven women each year as tribute to Crete could the Athenians obtain relief.
These youths were sent down into the maze, which was hard to get out of and were eaten by the minotaur. Before entering the labyrinth Theseus used a ball of string and tied one end of it to the exit. Once inside he killed the monster and followed the string to find his way out.
The three sisters named Medusa, Sthenno and Euryale were demons with snakes on their heads instead of hair. Their gaze could turn any man to stone. The young Greek hero Perseus succeeded in killing Medusa, who, unlike her sisters was mortal. He used a reflective shield and a curved sword.