The sea has always inspired the deepest respect from those who spend time upon it, for the dangers of shipwreck and drowning are manifold. In earlier times there was the added threat of monsters lurking in the depths to cast fear into the hearts of mariners.
Scylla and Charybdis were two immortal and irresistible monsters who beset the narrow waters of the Straits of Messina destroying ships as they attempted to navigate through.
Scylla was dreadful with six heads, twelve feet and a voice like the howl of a maddened dog. She dwelt in a sea-cave looking to the west, far up the face of a huge cliff. Out of her cave she stuck her heads, fishing for marine creatures and snatching the sailors out of passing ships.
Scylla was the beautiful daughter of Phorcys and one of the original Titans, Ceto. One day as she walked along the sea strand, Glaucus lusted after her and showing himself on the surface, spoke his heart, but Scylla turned and ran till she had gained a cliff overlooking the sea.
Glaucus, partly emerging from the water and supporting himself against a rock, said, “Maiden, I am no monster, nor a sea animal, but a god: and neither Proteus nor Triton ranks higher than I. Once I was a mortal, and followed the sea for a living; but now I belong wholly to it.”
Then he told the story of his metamorphosis, and how he had been promoted to his present dignity, and added, But what avails all this if it fails to move your heart? He was going on in this manner, but Scylla turned and hastened away. So Glaucus turned to the enchantress Circe for help.
Circe was in love with Glaucus herself and consumed with jealousy, turned her wrath against poor Scylla. She took plants of poisonous powers and mixed them together with spells and charms. Then she passed through the crowd of gambolling beasts, the victims of her art, and proceeded to the coast of Sicily, where Scylla lived. There was a little bay on the shore to which Scylla used to resort, in the heat of the day, to breathe the bracing air of the sea, and to bathe in its waters. Here the goddess poured her poisonous mixture, and muttered over it incantations of mighty power.
Scylla came as usual and plunged into the water up to her waist. To her horror she perceived a brood of serpents and barking monsters surrounding her! At first she couldn’t imagine they were a part of herself, and tried to run from them, and to drive them away; but as she ran she carried them with her, and when she tried to touch her limbs, she found her hands touching only the yawning jaws of monsters.
Scylla remained rooted to the spot. Her temper grew as ugly as her form, and she took pleasure in devouring hapless mariners who came within her grasp. Thus she destroyed six of the companions of Odysseus, and tried to wreck the ships of Aeneas, till at last she was turned into a rock.
And as such, Scylla continues to be a terror to mariners.