AskDefine | Define Charybdis

Dictionary Definition

Charybdis n : (Greek mythology) a ship-devouring whirlpool lying on the other side of a narrow strait from Scylla

User Contributed Dictionary


Proper noun

  1. A dangerous whirlpool on the coast of Sicily opposite Scylla on the Italian coast.
  2. In Greek mythology, a personification of the above whirlpool as a female monster.

See also

Extensive Definition

In Greek mythology, Kharybdis or Charybdis (; in Greek, Χάρυβδις) was a sea monster, the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. She takes form as a monstrous mouth and swallows huge amounts of water three times a day before belching them back out again, creating whirlpools. Charybdis was originally a naiad, sea-nymph who stole Heracles' cattle until Zeus became angry, threw her into the sea and, as punishment, turned her into a sea monster.
The myth has Charybdis lying on one side of a narrow channel of water. On the other side of the strait was Scylla, another sea-monster. The two sides of the strait are within an arrow's range of each other, so close that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis will pass too close to Scylla and vice versa. The phrase "between Scylla and Charybdis" has come to mean being in a state where one is between two dangers and moving away from one will cause you to be in danger of the other. "Between Scylla and Charybdis" is the origin of the phrase "between the rock and the whirlpool" (the rock upon which Scylla dwelt and the whirlpool of Charybdis) and may also be the genesis of the phrase "between a rock and a hard place".
According to Thomas Bulfinch, Charybdis stole the oxen of Geryon from Hermes, in whose possession they had been at the time, and was transformed into a sea monster as a punishment.

In literature

The Argonauts were able to avoid both dangers because they were guided by Thetis, one of the Nereids. Odysseus was not so fortunate; he chose to risk Scylla at the cost of some of his crew rather than lose the whole ship to Charybdis. (Homer's Odyssey, Book XII). Odysseus successfully navigated the strait, losing only six men to Scylla, but his men offended Helios by killing the god's sacred cattle. Zeus retaliated by destroying ship and crew (excepting Odysseus) with a thunderbolt.
Stranded on a makeshift raft, Odysseus was swept back through the strait to face Scylla and Charybdis again. This time, Odysseus passed near Charybdis. His raft was sucked into Charybdis' maw, but Odysseus survived by clinging to a fig tree grown on the rock overhanging her lair. On the next outflow of water, his raft was expelled, and Odysseus was able to recover it and paddle away.


Traditionally, the location of Charybdis has been associated with the Strait of Messina off the coast of Sicily, opposite the rock called Scylla. The whirlpool there is caused by the meeting of currents but is seldom dangerous. Recently, Tim Severin looked again at the location and suggested this association was a misidentification and that a more likely origin for the story could be found close by Cape Skilla in northwestern Greece.

Popular culture

Charybdis is also referenced in the Wing Commander film. In this film, it is said to be a Quasar which, as in the myth, destroyed many ships.
Charybdis is also referenced in the MMORPG game Final Fantasy XI. It is a lottery pop NM (Notorious Monster) version of a Devil Manta found in Sea Serpent Grotto. It drops the much-sought-after sword, Joyeuse.
Charybdis is also referenced in the lyrics to "Wrapped Around Your Finger" by The Police.
Charybdis is also mentioned in Rick Riordan's second book The Sea of Monsters. Percy Jackson along with his friends have to pass through Scylla and Charybdis, where, in the book, is the passage into the Sea of Monsters.
In the single player campaign of the first-person shooter Tribes II, Charybdis is a fiery planet of magma pools.


Charybdis in Bulgarian: Харибда
Charybdis in Catalan: Caribdis
Charybdis in Czech: Charybdis
Charybdis in Danish: Charybdis
Charybdis in German: Charybdis
Charybdis in Modern Greek (1453-): Χάρυβδη
Charybdis in Spanish: Caribdis
Charybdis in Esperanto: Karibdo
Charybdis in French: Charybde
Charybdis in Croatian: Haribda
Charybdis in Italian: Cariddi
Charybdis in Luxembourgish: Charybdis
Charybdis in Lithuanian: Charibdė
Charybdis in Hungarian: Kharübdisz
Charybdis in Dutch: Charybdis
Charybdis in Japanese: カリュブディス
Charybdis in Norwegian: Karybdis
Charybdis in Polish: Charybda
Charybdis in Portuguese: Caribdis
Charybdis in Romanian: Caribda
Charybdis in Slovenian: Karibda
Charybdis in Serbian: Харибда
Charybdis in Finnish: Kharybdis
Charybdis in Swedish: Karybdis
Charybdis in Ukrainian: Харібда
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