Famous Creatures from Greek Mythology
Ancient Greek mythology is full of fearsome and terrible monsters, which have inspired writers from Homer down to the modern day. According to most accounts, these mythical creatures were the descendants of the horrid Typhon and Echidna, spawned beneath Mount Etna in Sicily. Here are just some of the many Greek mythological creatures that haunted the imaginations of the Classical world. To learn more about the Greek monsters that fought with the mighty Heracles--the Lernaean Hydra,the Nemean Lion, and more--read our article on the Labors of Heracles.
Argus was a giant who had as many a hundred eyes which were located all over his body. He was given the name "Panoptes", or "All-Seeing". Hera employed him as a guard to watch over the nymph Io, to keep Zeus from bedding her. Argus was also the slayer of the monster Echidna. He was killed by Hermes. Afterward, Hera put Argus's eyes in the tail of the peacock, her favorite bird.
Centaurs are half-man half-horse creatures who appear in many Greek myths. Perhaps the most famous is Chiron, the wise counselor who trained the young hero Achilles. Unlike Chiron, most centaurs are depicted as bestial raiders and brutes (perhaps inspired by Greek opinions of the horse-riding Scythians).
Cerberus was a huge and powerful three-headed dog. He was owned by Hades, god of the dead, who used the fearsome hound to guard the entrance to the underworld. In his final labor, Hercules went to the underworld and kidnapped Cerberus.
The Chimera is one of the most famous monsters of Greek mythology, appearing in art for thousands of years. It has the (fire-breathing) head and body of a lion, a snake for a tail, and the head of a goat protruding from its back. It was slain by the hero Bellerophon, aided by the Pegasus.
Each of the Cyclopes was gigantic and had a single eye in the middle of its forehead. The Cyclopes made lightning and thunderbolts for Zeus to use. The brutal Polyphemus, a Cyclops and a son of the sea god Poseidon, lived on an island, where he was blinded by Odysseus in the Odyssey.
The Gorgons were horrifyingly ugly monsters who lived at the edge of the world. Their hair was made of serpents, and one look from a Gorgon's eyes would turn a man to stone. Athena aided the hero Perseus in killing the Gorgon Medusa by beheading her while looking only at her reflection. From her severed neck sprang the winged horse Pegasus.
Harpies are female monsters either depicted as half-woman half-birds creatures, or as birds with the heads of women. They famously appear in the story of Jason and the Argonauts, where they torment the Greek heroes on their voyage.
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The Hydra was a massive and poisonous serpent with nine heads. Every time one head was injured, another two grew in its place. Hercules sought out the monster in its dark marsh and succeeded in destroying it.
The lamia is a child-eating monster, sometimes considered a wicked spirit or daemon. Lamia was a Libyan queen who lost her children and went mad with grief. In pop culture, the lamia is typically depicted as half-woman and half-snake, although this wasn't a common image in Ancient Greece.
The Minotaur was a man-eating monster with the head of a bull. King Minos kept it hidden in a labyrinth (a maze) in Knossos, on the island of Crete, where he used it to frighten his enemies. The maze was designed by the mythical Daedalus. He demanded a tithe of young men from Athens, who were fed to the minotaur. The Athenians were saved by the hero Theseus, who killed the Minotaur and escaped with the help of Minos's daughter Ariadne.
Scylla and Charybdis
The powerful sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis lived together in a sea cave. Scylla had many fierce dog heads and ate sailors alive; Charybdis created whirlpools by sucking in and spitting out seawater. Both Jason and Odysseus safely traveled by these monsters.
The Sirens were giant, winged creatures with the heads of women (not to be confused with harpies, another monster with the appearance of a bird woman). They lived on rocks on the sea, where their beautiful singing lured sailors to shipwreck. Odysseus filled his sailors' ears with wax so that they might sail safely past the Sirens.
The Sphinx was a large creature with the body of a lion and the torso of a beautiful woman. The Sphinx terrorized the city of Thebes, posing riddles to travelers in and out of the city and eating those that failed. The Sphinx was defeated by the hero Oedipus, a feat which set him on his tragic course as king of Thebes.