Charybdis or Kharybdis (play /kəˈrɪbdɨs/; Greek: Χάρυβδις) was a sea monster, later rationalised as a whirlpool and considered a shipping hazard in the Strait of Messina.


The mythological background

The Strait of Messina, with Scylla (underlined in red) and Charybdis on the opposite shores

In Greek mythology, Charybdis or Kharybdis was once a beautiful naiad and the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. She takes form as a huge bladder of a creature whose face was all mouth and whose arms and legs were flippers and who swallows huge amounts of water three times a day before belching them back out again, creating whirlpools. In some variations of the tale, Charybdis is just a large whirlpool rather than a sea monster. Charybdis was very loyal to her father in his endless feud with Zeus; it was she who rode the hungry tides after Poseidon had stirred up a storm, and led them onto the beaches, gobbling up whole villages, submerging fields, drowning forests, claiming them for the sea. She won so much land for her father's kingdom that Zeus became enraged and changed her into a monster.

The myth has Charybdis lying on one side of a narrow channel of water. On the other side of the strait was Scylla, another sea-monster. The two sides of the strait are within an arrow's range of each other, so close that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis will pass too close to Scylla and vice versa. The idiom 'between Scylla and Charybdis' has therefore come to mean being between two dangers, choosing either of which will bring harm.

Traditionally, the location of Charybdis has been associated with the Strait of Messina off the coast of Sicily and opposite the rock on the Italian mainland identified with Scylla.[1] The vortex there is caused by the meeting of currents but is seldom dangerous.

References in ancient literature

The Odyssey

Throughout the poem, Odysseus is hindered by the efforts of Poseidon and the sea monsters throughout the ocean. Odysseus faced both Charybdis and Scylla in Homer's Odyssey while rowing through a narrow channel. He ordered his men to avoid Charybdis thus forcing them to pass near Scylla. This resulted in the deaths of six of his men.

Later, stranded on a makeshift raft, Odysseus was swept back through the strait to face Scylla and Charybdis again. This time, Odysseus passed near Charybdis. His raft was sucked into Charybdis' maw, but Odysseus survived by clinging to a fig tree grown on the rock overhanging her lair. On the next outflow of water, his raft was expelled, and Odysseus was able to recover it and paddle away to safety.

A 19th century engraving of the Strait of Messina, site associated with Scylla and Charybdis

Jason and The Argonauts

The Argonauts were able to avoid both dangers because they were guided by Thetis, one of the Nereids.

Aristotle's Meteorologica

Aristotle tells a story of Aesop in conflict with a ferryman and relating to him a myth about Charybdis. She took one gulp of the sea and brought the mountains to view; islands appeared after another. The third will dry the sea altogether.[2]

Ovid's Metamorphoses

In Book VIII of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Scylla betrays her father and country in order to aid Minos, of whom she is enamoured; however Minos is disgusted by Scylla's treachery and sails away without her, provoking a damning diatribe insulting his parentage.

hac quoque si prohibes et nos, ingrate, relinquis, non genetrix Europa tibi est, sed inhospita Syrtis, Armeniae tigres austroque agitata Charybdis.

(If you forbid me from here also and abandon me, you ungrateful one Europa is not mother to you, but the inhospitable Syrtis, an Armenian tigress and Charybdis, whipped up by the south wind.)[3]

The Scylla of this story is to be differentiated from Scylla, the counter-part of Charybdis.


  1. ^ Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War, 4.24.5.
  2. ^ Gert-Jan van Dijk, Ainoi, logoi, mythoi: fables in archaic, classical, and Hellenistic Greek literature, Brill NL 1997, pp.351-3; available in Google Books
  3. ^ See Book 8.81-51 online


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Charybdis — Charybdis …   Wikipédia en Français

  • CHARYBDIS — gurges vorticosus in freto Siculo, versus Meridiem, iuxta litus Tauromenitanum, Scyllae oppositus, contrariis fluctuum concutsibus in miram altitudinem allurgens, statisque temporum vicibus obvia quaeque absorbens, iterumque evomens. Virg. l. 3.… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Charybdis — (a. Geogr.), 1) Meerstrudel in der Sicilischen Meerenge von Messina, erzeugt durch die abwechselnde Strömung des Meeres in der Enge von N. nach Su. umgekehrt. Nach der Mythe war Ch. Poseidons Tochter von Gäa (Erde); sie entführte dem Herakles… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Charybdis — Charybdis. Ein schreckliches Ungeheuer weiblichen Geschlechtes, mit Gäa von Poseidon (Neptun) erzeugt. Ihr Heißhunger kannte keine Grenzen, sie raubte Menschen und Thiere und verschlang dieselben; wer ihr nahte, war unrettbar verloren. Als… …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Charybdis — {{Charybdis}} Ein schreckliches Meerwesen, das täglich dreimal die Fluten einschlürft und wieder ausspeit, wobei es ganze Schiffe verschlingen kann. Odysseus entkommt ihm, verliert aber sechs Männer durch die Skylla* (Odyssee XII 208–260). Daß… …   Who's who in der antiken Mythologie

  • Charybdis — Cha*ryb dis, n. [L., Gr. cha rybdis.] A dangerous whirlpool on the coast of Sicily opposite Scylla on the Italian coast. It is personified as a female monster. See {Scylla}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Chārybdis — Chārybdis, im griech. Mythus ein der Skylla (s.d.) gegenüberliegender furchtbarer Meeresstrudel in der Meerenge von Sizilien …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Charýbdis — Charýbdis, nach Homer ein Meeresschlund im W. des Erdkreises, der dreimal täglich die Flut im Wirbel einzog und wieder herausschleuderte; später in die sizil. Meerenge unweit Messina verlegt. Gegenüber hauste die Skylla (s.d.). – Vgl. Wasser… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Charybdis — Charybdis, nach der Mythe die Tochter des Gottes der Gewässer und der Erde (Poseidon und Gäa, Neptun und Tellus), wurde von Jupiter wegen räuberischer Gefräßigkeit mit dem Blitze erschlagen und in die Meerenge zwischen Calabrien und Sicilien… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Charybdis — CHARYBDIS, is, Gr. Χάρυβδις, ιος, (⇒ Tab. XI.) Neptuns und der Erde Tochter, ein ungemein gefräßiges Weibesstück, welches dem Herkules einige von des Gerpons Rindern entführete, und verzehrete, allein dafür auch von dem Jupiter mit dem Blitze… …   Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon

  • Charybdis — whirlpool off the coast of Sicily, now known as Galofalo, 1759, from Gk. Kharybdis, of unknown origin. Cf. SCYLLA (Cf. Scylla) …   Etymology dictionary

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