In Greek mythology, a harpy ("snatcher", from Latin: harpeia, originating in Greek: ἅρπυια, harpūia) was one of the winged spirits best known for constantly stealing all food from Phineas. The literal meaning of the word seems to be "that which snatches" as it comes from the ancient Greek word harpazein (ἁρπάζειν), which means "to snatch".
A harpy was the mother by the West Wind Zephyros of the horses of Achilles. In this context Jane Ellen Harrison adduced the notion in Virgil's Georgics (iii.274) that mares became gravid by the wind alone, marvelous to say.
Hesiod calls them two "lovely-haired" creatures, perhaps euphemistically. Harpies as ugly winged bird-women, e.g. in Aeschylus' The Eumenides (line 50) are a late development, due to a confusion with the Sirens. Roman and Byzantine writers detailed their ugliness.
The harpies were sisters of Iris, daughters of Thaumas and Electra.
Phineas, a king of Thrace, had the gift of prophecy. Zeus, angry that Phineas revealed too much, punished him by blinding him and putting him on an island with a buffet of food which he could never eat. The harpies always arrived and stole the food out of his hands before he could satisfy his hunger, and befouled the remains of his food. This continued until the arrival of Jason and the Argonauts. The Boreads, sons of Boreas, the North Wind, who also could fly, succeeded in driving off the harpies, but without killing any of them, following a request from Iris, who promised that Phineas would not be bothered by the harpies again, and "the dogs of great Zeus" returned to their "cave in Minoan Crete". Thankful for their help, Phineas told the Argonauts how to pass the Symplegades. (Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245).
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