In Greek mythology, the Stymphalian birds (Greek: Στυμφαλίδες ὄρνιθες, Stymphalídes órnithes) were man-eating birds with beaks of bronze and sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims, and were sacred to Ares, the god of war. Furthermore, their dung was highly toxic. They had migrated to Lake Stymphalia in Arcadia to escape a pack of wolves the Arabs set loose to kill them, and bred quickly and took over the countryside, destroying local crops, fruit trees and townspeople.
The Sixth Labour of Heracles
After cleaning the Augean Stables, Eurystheus sent Heracles to defeat the Stymphalian Birds. Heracles could not go too far into the swamp, for it would not support his weight. Athena, noticing the hero's plight, gave Heracles a rattle which Hephaestus had made special for the occasion. Heracles shook the rattle and frightened the birds into the air. Heracles then shot many of them with his arrows. The rest flew far away, never to return. The Argonauts would later encounter them. Heracles then brought some of the birds he had killed to Eurystheus. He then sent Heracles to capture the Cretan Bull and bring it to him.
When the sun is in the sign of Sagittarius, the evenings darken and the rain season in Greece starts, creating swampland from previously dry areas. The constellations Cygnus the Swan, Aquila the Eagle, and Lyra rise during this time period. (Lyra is thought of as a lyre in modern times, but originally it was shown as a vulture. This vulture was later depicted as holding a lyre, and eventually shown only as a lyre). These constellations can be thought of as the inspiration for the story of the Stymphalian Birds.
Sagittarius had various implications, often as an archer but also as a rattle. In the story of Heracles' twelve labors, Heracles scared off the Stymphalian Birds with noise, and by firing an arrow at them (the constellation Sagitta, an arrow, is aimed towards Aquila). Also, the Birds lived in a swamp, a parallel with the rain associated with Sagittarius. The noise, archery, and sinister birds, as well as the swampy season, associated with the constellations may reflect the origin of the myth.
In popular culture
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