Greek Mythology >> Bestiary >> Lamia


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Large Shark (lamia)

LAMIA was a child-devouring sea-monster or night-haunting daemon. She was a daughter of Poseidon and mother of the monsters Skylla (Scylla) and Akheilos (Acheilus, the Shark).

Lamia was originally a Libyan queen loved by Zeus. When his jealous wife Hera learned of their affair she stole away Lamia's children and the woman, driven mad with grief, tore out her own eyes. Zeus then transformed her into a monster allowing her to exact revenge by devouring the children of others.

Lamia was often described as a bogeyman--a night-haunting daemon which preyed on children. She was sometimes pluralised into host of ghostly, vampiric Lamiai (Lamiae).

Lamia was no doubt first envisaged, however, as a sea-monster for she was a daughter of Poseidon and her name is simply the ancient Greek word for a large, dangerous lone-shark. She was probably identified with the sea-goddess Keto (Ceto) for both are described as the mother of the monstrous Skylla. Her other child, Akheilos "the lipless one", was transformed into a small shark by Aphrodite.



[1.1] POSEIDON (Stesichorus Frag 220, Pausanias 10.12.2)
[2.1] BELOS (Other references)


[1.1] SKYLLA (Stesichorus Frag 220, Eustathius on Homer's Odyssey 1714)
[2.1] AKHEILOS (by Zeus) (Ptolemy Hephaestion Bk6)
[3.1] SIBYLLA HEROPHILE (by Poseidon) (Pausanias 10.12.2)
[3.2] SIBYLLA (by Apollon) (Suidas 'Sibylla)


LA′MIA (Lamia). 1. A daughter of Poseidon, became by Zeus the mother of the Sibyl Herophile. (Paus. x. 12. § 1; Plut. de Pyth. Orac. 9.) 2. A female phantom, by which children were frightened. According to tradition, she was originally a Libyan queen, of great beauty, and a daughter of Belus. She was beloved by Zeus, and Hera in her jealousy robbed her of her children. Lamia, from revenge and despair, robbed others of their children, and murdered them; and the savage cruelty in which she now indulged rendered her ugly, and her face became fearfully distorted. Zeus gave her the power of taking her eyes out of her head, and putting them in again. (Diod. xx. 41; Suidas, s. v. ; Plut. de Curios. 2; Schol. ad Aristoph. Pac. 757; Strab. i. p. 19.) Some ancients called her the mother of Scylla. (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1714; Arist. de Mor. vii. 5.) In later times Lamiae were conceived as handsome ghostly women, who by voluptuous artifices attracted young men, in order to enjoy their fresh, youthful, and pure flesh and blood. They were thus in ancient times what the vampires are in modern legends. (Philostr. Vit. Apollon. iv. 25; Horat. de Art. Poet. 340; Isidor. Orig. viii. 11; Apulei. Met. i. p. 57.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.



Bell, Women of Classical Mythology (sourced from Diodorus Siculus 22.41, Suidas s.v. Lamia, Plutarch On Being a Busy-Body 2, Scholiast on Aristophanes' Peace 757, Eustathius on Homer's Odyssey 1714) (Mythology dictionary C20th) :
"Lamia was a daughter of Belus and a queen in Libya. She was very beautiful and attracted the attention of the ever-watchful and far-seeing Zeus. He had children by her, but Hera discovered their involvement and kidnapped the children. Their ultimate fate is unknown. This loss drove Lamia insane; in revenge and despair she snatched up the children of others and murdered them. The cruelty, which became obsessive, caused her appearance to change, and she became ugly with distorted features [a shark]. Perhaps in a well-intended gesture, Zeus inexplicably gave her the power to take out her eyes and then reinsert them."


Stesichorus, Fragment 220 (from Scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes 4.825) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (Greek lyric C7th to C6th B.C.) :
"Stesichorus in his Skylla says that Skylla is the daughter of Lamia--perhaps Libyan Lamia, or Lamia child of Poseidon."

Eustathius on Homer's Odyssey 1714 (Greek scholia) :
"Some ancients called her [Lamia] the mother of Skylla (Scylla)."

Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 6 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"It is said that there was born also a son of Zeus and the Lamia called Akhilleus (Achilleus); he was of an irresistable beauty [but challenged Aphrodite to a beauty contest and was cursed with ugliness]."


The Libyan Sibylla Herophile, one of the first prophetesses of Delphoi (Delphi), was a daughter of Zeus and Lamia.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 12. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"There is a rock rising up above the ground [at Delphoi (Delphi)]. On it, say the Delphians, there stood and chanted the oracles a woman, by name Herophile and surnamed Sibylla (Sibyl). The former Sibylla I find was as ancient as any; the Greeks say that she was a daughter of Zeus by Lamia, daughter of Poseidon, that she was the first woman to chant oracles, and that the name Sibylla was given her by the Libyans."

Suidas s.v. Sibylla (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Sibylla : [The daughter] of Apollon and Lamia, though according to some [there were other Sibyls] . . . An Erythraian (Erythraean), because she was born in a region of Erythrai (Erythrae) . . . Some supposed her a Sikelian (Sicilian) [Sibyl], others a Leukanian (Leucanian), others a Sardanan, others a Gergithian, others a Rhodian, others a Libyan, others a Samian."






Other references not currently quoted here: Suidas s.v. Lamia, Plutarch On Being a Busy-Body 2, Scholiast on Aristophanes' Peace 757, Eustathius on Homer's Odyssey 1714.


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