Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis Greek Mythology

Charybdis (Ancient Greek Χάρυϐδις / Khárubdis, pron.: [kaʀibd] "karybdis") and Scylla are two sea monsters from Greek mythology, located on opposite sides of a strait traditionally identified as Messina.

The legend is the origin of the expression "to fall from Charybdis into Scylla", which means "to go from bad to worse ".

Greek mythology

Charybdis was the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. She was perpetually hungry. When she devoured the livestock of Heracles, the son of Zeus, he punished her by sending her to the bottom of a strait "formed by an arm of the sea that separates Rhegion from Messene ".

Not far from there lived Scylla. Originally, she was a nymph with whom Glaucos was madly in love. This love was not reciprocated, so Glaucos went to ask the magician Circe for a love potion, but the latter, madly in love with Glaucos and jealous of Scylla, took the opportunity to change the nymph into a terrifying monster.

In the Odyssey, Circe describes the route that Odysseus must follow in these terms: "The road leads you between the Two Scuttles. One raises its pointed top to the vast sky; a cloud surrounds it, dark blue. No mortal could climb it or stand on it for the rock is smooth and seems polished all around. In the middle of this rock, a dark cavern faces northwest towards the Ereb.

Right on it you will put the course of your hollow ship, O noble Ulysses! With an arrow, a robust man shooting from a hollow ship would not touch the bottom of this cave. Scylla with the resounding cry lives there ".


Since Homer, Charybdis and Scylla form two associated terms, both opposites and complementary. Scylla is a high fixed rock that rises to the sky; Charybdis lies in the depths of the sea, like a liquid mass descending and rising in spirals.

These two dangers that threatened the sailors were already identified by Thucydides in ancient times with "the dreaded pass, given its narrowness and its currents" that we now call the Strait of Messina.

This whirlpool and reef are indicated on our nautical charts and defined by the Sailing Directions: "The meeting of two opposing currents produces, in various places in the Strait, whirlpools and large eddies called garofali.

The main garofali are on the coast of Sicily, between Cape Faro and Point Sottile, with the ebb tide, and in front of the tower of Palazzo, with the flood tide; this last garofalo is very strong: it is the Charybdis of the Ancients ".

Following Circe's instructions, Odysseus overtook the mermaids, in whom experienced navigators recognize the Galli, and set course for Scylla: this is a rock that appears on the port side, before the narrow door giving access to the south. It is also indicated by our modern Sailing Directions: "The city of Scilla is built in amphitheatre on the steep cliffs of a point protruding to the North".

On this high and rocky promontory, the Greeks imagined the monster Scylla in its lair. At mid-height, there is indeed a cave and the cliff resounds with the blows of the breaking waves.

Let us also note the numerous philosophical interpretations, sometimes alchemical, both pagan and Christian, of which Scylla and Charybdis have been the object since Antiquity, notably in Heraclides of Pontus, Eustathius and Christopher Contoleon.

In the 20th century, the philosopher Emmanuel d'Hooghvorst also commented on them in this sense: "In Greek oniromancy, the teeth signify the bones.

In each of its mouths, this monster [Scylla] has three rows of teeth: it is the triple series of the vertebrae of man, two of which are mobile, and one fixed. "In these nineteen movable vertebrae, I wear out my life in the vanity of this century," this solitary man will say. Such is the peril, such is the trap of the souls ".


Scylla is presented as a monstrous creature whose resounding cry is a barking sound that echoes off the walls of the cave; Circe calls her "an eternal evil, a terrible scourge, a savage reality that cannot be fought ".

Despite Circe's recommendations, Odysseus takes two long spades to confront the monster, but in vain; he loses six of his sailors and gives the order to move away from the rock as quickly as possible. As for Charybdis, "it swallows the black water; three times a day it vomits it, three times it swallows it ". This abyss is so strong that Poseidon himself would be powerless to save anyone caught in its vortex.


In the story of the Argonauts, they cross the strait without difficulty thanks to divine interventions, going from Sardinia to the Ionian Sea, on their way back from Colchis.

In the Odyssey, Ulysses is called to cross the strait with his ship, then is confronted with Charybdis a second time after a shipwreck.
In Virgil's Aeneid, the hero must cross the strait on his way to Latium.

In the culture


1831: in Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris, the first chapter of the second book is entitled De Charybde en Scylla.

1937: in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the sixth chapter is entitled From Charybdis to Scylla.

1976: in L'Œuvre au noir by Marguerite Yourcenar (chapter Les Fugger de Cologne).

1976 and 1997 : in Ulysse méditerranée and Ulysse atlantique, successive chapters of the book Les grands navigateurs by Alain Bombard, detailing two interpretations of the Odyssey.

1995: Charybdis and Scylla in the work Propos sur la Chrysopée by L.P. Dujols, page 171, appendix 1, the two terms Charybdis and Scylla come back to this: Solve and Coagula.

2006 : in Ulysses by James Joyce, the whole ninth episode refers to this myth.
2006 : in the volume 2, The Sea of Monsters, of the Percy Jackson saga by Rick Riordan.

2007-2010 : in the volumes 2 and 3 of the trilogy Les Lames du cardinal by Pierre Pevel, Charybde and Scylla are the twin dragons of Alessandra di Santi called "the Italian".


In the Blek le Roc albums number 102 published in 1967, professor Occultis uses this expression to show that he, Blek and Roddy were caught between an Indian tribe and the Red Lobsters.

In the manga Knights of the Zodiac, during the attack of the underwater sanctuary of Poseidon, the knight of Andromeda fights the general Io of Scylla, the armor and the powers of the latter referring to the mythological monster.

In the comic book Irredeemable by Mark Waid, Charybdis and Scylla are twin superheroes.

Cinema and animation

In episode 11 of Odysseus 31, Charybdis and Scylla are depicted as two monstrous-looking planets located in a vortex that, when viewed from above, looks like the symbol ∞. The first is fire, and the second ice.

In Season 4 of the Prison Break series, Michael Scofield and his team must take over a memory card named Scylla that is accessed by six electronic keys (referring to the six heads of Scylla in Homer's story). The French titles of the first two episodes of this final season refer to this myth, since they are entitled respectively De Charybde... (# 4.01) and ...En Scylla (# 4.02).

The episodes 20 and 21 of the series Alias are entitled respectively From Charybdis... (# 4.20) ... into Scylla (# 4.21).

In the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the expression "to fall from Charybdis into Scylla" is in the mouth of Gandalf the magician.
In the 2013 film Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, by Thor Freudenthal.


Title of the album released in 2008 by the band Debout sur le zinc.
A song by the band Trivium on the album Shogun is also called Torn Between Scylla & Charybdis which means Torn between Scylla and Charybdis.

A song by The Police evokes the bonds of marriage (Wrapped Around Your Finger) where Sting does not want to be caught between "the Scylla and Charibdes".

The French artist Kentin Jivek pays tribute to this myth in the EP Ava Bm in 2011.

Video games

In Halo 3, the Arbiter mentions this expression, when, after killing the High Prophet of Truth and defeating the Covenants, the Major and the Arbiter are confronted with the Parasite.

In God of War: Ghost of Sparta, Scylla is the very first boss in the game in Atlantis.

In Hi-Rez Studios' game Smite, Charybdis and Scylla are part of the pantheon of gods available to players.

One of the achievements of the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is called From Charybdis to Scylla and is obtained by finishing the level The Enemy of My Enemy...

Origin of the expression

The ancient sailors who had to use this passage were faced with an alternative: to go through Charybdis or to go through Scylla, and thus "to choose between Charybdis and Scylla".

The well-known formula "to fall from Charybdis into Scylla" seems to have been anchored in the language by Jean de La Fontaine with his fable The Old Woman and the Two Handmaids where the implementation of the expression is perhaps more a matter of harmony of the verse.

He had however been preceded by Gautier de Châtillon in his Latin novel of Alexandréide, with the mention: "...incidit in Scyllam cupiens vitare Charybdim..." (he falls on Scylla while trying to avoid Charybdis).