between Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters of Greek mythology who were situated on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy. They were located in close enough proximity to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too closely to Scylla and vice versa.


Scylla was a creature who dwelt in a rock, and regularly ate sailors who passed by too closely. Her appearance has varied in classical literature; she was described by Homer in The Odyssey as having six heads perched on long necks along with twelve feet, while in Ovid's Metamorphoses, she was depicted as having the upper body of a nymph, with her midriff composed of dogs' heads. Charybdis had a single gaping mouth that sucked in huge quantities of water and belched them out three times a day, creating whirlpools.

Odysseus was forced to choose which monster to confront while passing through the strait; he opted to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship into the whirlpool. Jason and the Argonauts were able to navigate through without incident due to Hera's assistance, while Aeneas was able to bypass the deadly strait altogether.

Media appearances


Both characters appeared in NBC's 1997 miniseries adaptation of The Odyssey. Scylla inhabited a lengthy cave in an unspecified location and was depicted with three long-necked heads, and graphically devoured two of Odysseus's crewmen. Charybdis sat at the bottom of a long waterfall below the cave's exit, and was shown as a massive gaping and multifanged entity, similar to the Sarlacc from Star Wars, in lieu of a whirlpool. After swallowing the rest of the crew and their ship, she violently spewed up the seawater in a geyser that knocked Odysseus off a tree from which he was hanging in order to keep from falling into Charybdis' maw. The force of the spray sent him plummeting into the sea and clinging to the remnants of the ship, before washing up onto Calypso's island.

A toned-down version of the Charybdis scene from the miniseries was featured in an episode of the children's animated series Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend, which was titled "Ulysses and Penelope" and first aired on October 9, 1999. When Charybdis belched up the water, the force merely shot Odysseus's ship skyward rather than destroying it, and it dropped into the open sea and sailed away fully intact with Odysseus left behind.

In season four of the fox programme Prison Break the gang have to hunt down a data card called Scylla, after retrieving the first one they realise there are another five and soon go about tracking them down. It is also the name of the season premiere episode which can also refer to the deciding between two unattractive choices, they either retrieve Scylla and risk getting killed in the process, or go back to prison.


The Police referenced Scylla and Charybdis in their 1983 hit single "Wrapped Around Your Finger" from Synchronicity. Track 2 on the 2008 album Shogun by Thrash Metal band Trivium is entitled "Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis".


The Radio Tales drama "Homer's Odyssey: The Voyage Home" is a dramatic retelling of the portion of Homer's epic poem featuring the Sirens, Charybdis and Scylla, the cattle of Hyperion, Calypso, and the return to Ithaca. The drama first aired via XM Satellite Radio on April 26, 2003.

Literary references

The phrase between Scylla and Charybdis, although infrequently used today, has meant having to choose between two unattractive choices, and is the progenitor of the phrase "between a rock and a hard place."

James Gillray used this metaphor in a caricature published June 3, 1793 and entitled Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis. In it, "William Pitt helms the ship Constitution containing an alarmed Britannia between the rock of democracy (with the liberty cap on its summit) and the whirlpool of arbitrary power (in the shape of an inverted crown), to the distant haven of liberty."

The phrase found new life in 2008 among journalists reporting on Microsoft's ongoing attempts to acquire Yahoo!. In an April 2008 ResearchRecap article, Christa Quarles of Thomas Weisel Partners was quoted, "Choosing between Microsoft and Google must seem like sailing between Scylla and Charybdis for Yahoo."

On May 1, 2008, All Things Digital columnist Kara Swisher published an online article titled "MicroHoo: Caught Between Scylla and Charybdis," describing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's hesitance in reaching a deal with Yahoo! due to monetary issues. The story was even illustrated with the Henry Fuseli painting Odysseus in front of Scylla and Charybdis.

See also


External links

Search another word or see between Scylla and Charybdison Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature