Greek Mythology >> Bestiary >> Phasma >> Empousa & Lamia (Empousa & Lamia)


Greek Name

Εμπουσα Εμπουσαι

Λαμια Λαμιαι


Empousa, Empousai

Lamia, Lamiai

Latin Spelling

Empusa, Empusae

Lamia, Lamiae


Moves on One-Leg

Large Shark (lamia)

THE EMPOUSAI (Empusae), LAMIAI (Lamiae) and MORMOLYKEIAI (Mormolyceae) were fearsome daimones which assumed the forms of beautiful women to lure young men to their beds to feed on their flesh and blood. Behind the illusory facade the creatures were truly demonic--the Lamia had the tail of a serpent in place of legs, while the Empousa had flaming hair and two mismatched legs, one of brass, one of an ass.

Later authors describe the Lamiai as ghosts (phasma) which used illusion to seduce young men. They were companions of the goddess Hekate which followed her to earth from the depths of the underworld.

The Empousai and Lamiai were the ancient equivalent of vampires and succubi--vampiric ghosts and demons.



[1] Perhaps HEKATE
[2] Some were ghosts of dead women


[1] ARISTONYMOS & AN ASS (Aristocles Frag, Plutarch Greek & Roman Parallel Stories 29)


LAMIA KORINTHIA (Corinthian Lamia) A demon which haunted the city of Korinthos (Corinth), seducing and feeding upon handsome young men.

LAMIA LIBYS (Libyan Lamia) A Libyan queen loved by Zeus. When her children were stolen by the goddess Hera, she fell into a crazed, child-murdering frenzy and was transformed into a demon.

LAMIA PHILINNION The ghost of a Makedonian woman who returned from the dead to seduce a young man.


EMPU′SA (Empousa), a monstrous spectre, which was believed to devour human beings. It could assume different forms, and was sent out by Hecate to frighten travellers. It was believed usually to appear with one leg of brass and the other of an ass. (Aristoph Ran. 294, Eccles. 1094.) Whenever a traveller addressed the monster with insulting words, it used to flee and utter a shrill sound. (Philostr Vit. Apoll. ii. 4.) The Lamiae and Mormolyceia, who assumed the form of handsome women for the purpose of attracting young men, and then sucked their blood like vampyrs and ate their flesh, were reckoned among the Empusae. (Philostr Vit. Apoll. iv. 25; Suid. s. v.)

LA′MIA (Lamia). 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. [p. 714] (Philostr. Vit. Apollon. iv. 25; Horat. de Art. Poet. 340; Isidor. Orig. viii. 11; Apulei. Met. i. p. 57; comp. Spanheim, ad Callim. Hymn. in Dian. 67.)

MORMO (Mormô), a female spectre, with which the Greeks used to frighten little children. (Aristoph. Acharn. 582, Pax, 474.) Mormo was one of the same class of bugbears as Empusa and Lamia.

MORMO′LYCE or MORMOLYCEION (Mormolukê, Mormolukeion), the same phantom or bugbear as Mormo, and also used for the same purpose. (Philostr. V'it. Apollon. iv. 25; Menandr. Reliq. p. 145, ed. Meineke; Aristoph. Thesin. 417 Strab. i. p. 19; Stob. Ecloq. p. 1010.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


Greek Name










Latin Spelling






Terrible One


Terrible Wolf


Greek Name










Latin Spelling






Terrible Wolves

To be scared by Mormo

With an Ass's Leg



Erinna, The Distaff (trans. Page, Vol. Select Papyri III, No. 120) (Greek poetry C6th B.C.) :
"We clung to our dolls in our chambers when we were girls . . . Oh, what a trembling the Mormo brought us then, when we were little ones!--On its head were huge ears, and it walked on all fours, and changed from one face to another!"

Aristophanes, Frogs 288 ff (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"[Comedy in which the god Dionysos travels to the underworld. He and his slave Xanthias encounter and Empousa amongst the guardians of Haides after crossing Lake Akheron :]
Xanthias : We'd best be moving on. This is the spot where Herakles declared those savage monsters dwell . . . Hallo! I hear a noise.
Dionysos : Where? what?
Xanthias : Behind us, there.
Dionysos : Get you behind.
Xanthias : No, it's in front.
Dionysos : Get you in front directly.
Xanthias : And now I see the most ferocious monster.
Dionysos : O, what's it like?
Xanthias : Like everything by turns. Now it's a bull: now it's a mule : and now the loveliest girl.
Dionysos : O, where? I'll go and meet her.
Xanthias : It's ceased to be a girl: it's a dog now.
Dionysos : It is Empousa!
Xanthias : Well, its face is all ablaze with fire.
Dionysos : Has it a copper leg?
Xanthias : A copper leg? yes, one; and one of cow dung.
Dionysos : O, whither shall I flee?
Xanthias : O, whither I?
Dionysos : My priest, protect me, and we'll sup together.
Xanthias : King Herakles [Dionysos is dressed up as Herakles], we're done for.
Dionysos : O, forbear, Good fellow, call me anything but that.
Xanthias : Well then, Dionysos.
Dionysos : O, that's worse again,
Xanthias (to the Spectre) : Aye, go thy way. O master, here, come here.
Dionysos : O, what's up now?
Xanthias : Take courage; all's serene. And, like Hegelokhos, we now may say ‘Out of the storm there comes a new weather.’ Empousa's gone.
Dionysos : Swear it.
Xanthias : By Zeus she is.
Dionysos : Swear it again.
Xanthias : By Zeus.
Dionysos : Again.
Xanthias : By Zeus. O dear, O dear, how pale I grew to see her, but he, from fright has yellowed me all over."

Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae 1057 :
"[A young man disparages an old woman who had tried to seduce him :] It is an Empousa with a body covered with blemishes and blotches."

Aristophanes, Acharnians 582 ff :
"Your terrifying armor makes me dizzy. I beg you, take away that Mormo (Bogy-Monster)!"

Aristophanes, Peace 474 ff :
"This is terrible! You are in the way, sitting there. We have no use for your Mormo's (Bogy-Like) head, friend."

Plato, Crito 46c (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Children are frightened with bogeys (mormolyttomai)."

Plato, Phaedo 77e :
"Try to persuade him not to fear death as if it were a Mormolykeion (Hobgoblin)."

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 2. 2 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"Where can you find an old wife senseless enough to be afraid of the monsters of the lower world [presumably Empousai, et. al.] that were once believed in? The years obliterate the inventions of the imagination, but confirm the judgements of nature."

Suidas s.v. Empuosa (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Empousa (Empusa). A demonic ghost (phantasma daimonios) sent by Hekate and appearing to the ill-fated. [Something] which seems to change into many forms. Aristophanes in Frogs [indicates this]. [It is called] Empousa from the fact that it moves on one leg (heni podizein), i.e. that its other leg is bronze. Or because it used to appear from dark places to the initiated. She was also called Oinopole. But others say [that it bore this name] because it changed form. It also seems to appear in the light of day, when they are offering sacrifices to the dead. Some say that she is the same as Hekate. But [another name for her is] Onokole, because she has an ass's leg; which they call manure (bolitinon), that is donkey manure. For bolitos [is] the proper word for donkey excrement. Aristophanes in Frogs [says] : ‘by Zeus, I see a huge wild beast.--What kind?--Terrible. It appears to be everywhere at once : at times it is a cow, then a mule, then again a most beautiful woman.--Where is she? I'm heading towards her.--She is no longer a woman, but a dog now.--It is Empousa, then.--At any rate the whole face is glowing with fire and she has a bronze leg.’"

Bell, Women of Classical Mythology (sourced from Aristophanes Frogs 294; Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 1094; Philostratus Life of Apollonius of Tyana 2.4 & 4.25; Suidas s.v. Empusa) :
"EMPUSA was yet another female monster. She was in the train of Hecate and originally was sent out to frighten travellers. She was supposed to have on leg of brass and one of an ass. This absurd combination lends a certain comical effect rather than one of horror. Moreover, a traveller could rout the monster with insulting words, causing her to flee with a shrill shrieking. Naughty children were threatened with visits from this awkward creature. But the Empusae (plural for Empusa) were not comical at all when it came to their real design--luring men, especially young ones, to bed. For this purpose they could turn themselves into beautiful women, in which shape they sucked the blood from their victims and ate their flesh. In this respect they were related to the Lamiae and Mormolyceia."

Bell, Women of Classical Mythology (sourced from Philostratus Life of Apollonius of Tyana 4.25; Horace Ars Poetica 340; Apuleias Golden Ass 1.57) :
"LAMIAE, obviously related to the persona of Lamia, the fearful child-snatcher, were handsome, ghostly women who by various sensuous means lured young men to their beds. There they enjoyed the fresh, youthful energy of their victims, then drank their blood and ate their flesh. They were in ancient times the equivalent of vampires in modern legends."

Bell, Women of Classical Mythology (sourced from Philostratus Life of Apollonius of Tyana 4.25; Aristophanes Archanians 582; Aristophanes Peace 474) :
"MORMO was a female spectre that the Greeks used to frighten little children. She was one of the same class of frightful creatures as Empusa and Lamia. The Mormolyceia further were said to be able to assume the form of beautiful women for the purpose of luring young men to bed, where they sucked their blood and consumed their flesh."


Pseudo-Plutarch, Greek & Roman Parallel Stories 29 (from Scholiast on Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae) (trans. Babbitt) (Greek historian C2nd or 3rd A.D.) :
"[The scholiast on Aristophanes quotes a story attributed to Plutarch describing the origin of the Empusai.]
Aristonymos of Ephesos, the son of Demostratos, hated women and used to consort with an ass; and in due time the ass gave birth to a very beautiful maiden, Onoskelis (Girl with an Ass's Legs) by name. So Aristocles in the second book of his Strange Events."


Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 2. 4 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"[The C1st A.D. pagan prophet Apollonios of Tyana and his companion Damis :] They were travelling by bright moonlight [across Mount Kaukasos (Caucasus)], when the figure of an Empousa appeared to them, that changed from one form to another, until finally it vanished into nothing. And Apollonios realised what it was, and himself heaped abuse on the Empousa and instructed his party to do the same, saying that this was the right remedy for such a visitation. And the phantasm (phasma) fled away shrieking even as ghosts do."

Eusebius, Treatise Against Hierocles 13 (trans. Jones) (Greek rhetorician C4th A.D.) :
"He [Philostratos relates how] Apollonios and his companions saw [in Persia on their way to India] some sort of Daimon, to which he gives the name Empousa, along the road, and of how they drove it away by dint of abuse and bad words."







Other references not currently quoted here: Horace Ars Poetica 340 [Lamiai].


A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.