Harpy

Mythical Flying Humanoid of Southern Europe.

Etymology: From the Greek harpyia ("snatch-ers").

Physical description: Body, wings, and claws like an eagle's. Ears like a bear's. Head and breasts like a woman's.

Behavior: Flies as swiftly as the wind. Has a foul stench. Swoops down and snatches food from tables. Spreads disease with its excrement.

Distribution: European Turkey; southern Greece.

Significant sighting: Phineus, the seer and blind king of Thrace, was tormented by Harpies sent by the gods to steal his food and make him starve. When the Argonauts visited the area (modern Kiyikoy on the Black Sea in European Turkey), they drove the birds away to the Strophades Islands in the Ionian Sea. In return, Phineus gave them some Black Sea navigation tips. Possible explanations:

(1) The Hoopoe (Upupa epops) has a distinctive crest and a call that is a swiftly repeated "hoop." It is found throughout Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. It is notoriously foul and unhygienic.

(2) Wood hoopoes (Family Phoeniculidae) have a preen gland that produces a bad odor. They are found in Central, East, and South Africa.

harpy 231

(3) The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) was suggested by Raymond Manners, who thinks Jason and the Argonauts may have made it to South America. Sources: Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, trans. R. C. Seaton (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1912), ii; Raymond D. Manners, "The Geography of the Argonautica," INFO Journal, no. 60 (June 1990): 4-12.

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