Harpies - a Look in Detail
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Article by Steve Fletcher
Copyright 26/06/2001
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Whilst updating the mythology section of VirtualWorldlets.net one evening, one of the subjects I searched diligently for was the humble harpy.

Since the harpy has long been a well-known figure in mythology, I assumed that articles on this foul, flying creature would be plentiful, or, at the least, detailed.

I was wrong.

This article on the harpy is an attempt to correct that oversight, and bring this creature into the light.

Much of this article has been garnered from the few, brief (usually one-liner) references to harpies on the net. The rest has been inferred from what little information is available on this wondrous species.


In mythology, the original harpies were Grecian in origin, being the three daughters of Electra and Thaumas, Their names were Aello, Podarge, and Ocypete.

Unfortunately, other than their names, nothing about these individuals appears to have survived. The next mention in mythology of these creatures, is when they were tormenting King Phineus, to deprive him of sustenance.

After that mention, the harpies turned up again, living on their own island, where the Argonauts attempted to battle them. The accounts of this battle state a swarm. Three does not constitute a swarm. It is therefore inescapable that harpies are perfectly capable of breeding, and producing more harpies.

Harpies have a fierce, dominating nature. They are foul-tempered beasties, and incredibly self-centred. Basically, so long as the Harpy is comfortable, and satisfied, nothing else matters.

They are as soul-snatchers. Once they hook a being's soul, they carry off to torture, and do unspeakable things to it. In order to take the souls, they rend the flesh apart, to get at the spirit within. Why they do this is unknown, but it is probably an act of supreme spite on their part.

Figure 1: Harpy. Reproduced in part with permission, Bulfinch's Mythology



Whilst all harpies have heads bearing a striking resemblance to those of human females, an all-female harpy population would not lave led to breeding. Since it is beyond question that they did breed - when, in ancient times, the Trojan, Æneas, sailed to their island, he and his men were attacked by a swarm of harpies -three. No matter how you twist it, three does not constitute a swarm.

However, there is another possible reason for an 'attack'. Consider an all-female, half-human population, needing to procreate the species, and a group of healthy men appear. The harpies mighht be looking to take their souls (to infuse their offspring with?), or they might simply be lust-craved, their sharp tallons, flying ability, lack of consideration, and extreme speed of approach tending to have a regrettably fatal effect on the men's bodies.


Due to the foul-temper, and self-centredness of all harpy personalities, they would make incredibly bad parents. A self-absorbed mother is not a good one, and to a harpy, she is the centre of the universe, not her chick. Perhaps this partially explains why their population remains so small, when they have such overpowering abilities.

Mother harpies only feed their young when they feel like it, at other times they simply ignore their young, or shove them out of the way to make room for themselves. The food they do give tends not to be of a very good quality - harpies eat garbage, and rotting flesh most of the time, so the chicks mostly get regurgitated waste. Only the hardiest of chicks would survive this treatment, which would serve to harden them even more.

Undoubtedly the way the young are treated serves to harden their personalities into the typical mould, cutting out virtually any possibility of a kind, and generous harpy.

Because of their intelligence, and cunning, harpies are able to outwit most predators. Consequently, they have few natural enemies, save for other intelligences. Therefore, the breeding, and family rearing trials and tribulations are the only check in keeping the harpy population down.


The harpy's physical form is a little unusual. They resemble monstrous vulture-like birds, with female, human faces. In size, they are about two-thirds of average human size, though their mass is necessarilly about 50% less, in order for their wings to allow them flight.

Harpies lack the beaks of normal birds, but make up for it with their razor-sharp talons, and their sharp, though twisted, intellect.


Harpies, basically, have no care for hygiene. They are dirty, filthy, smelly creatures, whose stink perfectly reflects their usual mood. Their eating habits are that of a perpetually starved creature. Even having just eaten, a harpy will stuff itself with food, should the opportunity present itself.

References And Acknowledgements


Bulfinch's Mythology - Chapter 31
Many thanks to Bob Fisher of Bulfinch's Mythology for the use, and modification of image