I’ve absolutely adored venturing into the past and finding interesting stories from other cultures or eras, such as my dive into traditional Japanese horror art or the works of Gustave Doré. What makes them so exciting is how much I learn and the appreciation I come away with once the piece is ready to go live. There are absolutely wonderful and fascinating stories out there to be discovered, places and times where horror has had a strong influence and shaped the very myths, legends, and folklore that was passed down from generation to generation.
While there hasn’t been a true horror movie based on Greek mythology, many films and games have dabbled in that world, utilizing several of those creatures and characters to bolster their usually epic storyline. Both the original and remake of Clash of the Titans, for example, features the Kraken, a gigantic sea beast whose origins come from ancient Norse myths. Then there is the God of War franchise, which saw Kratos face off against gods, titans, creatures, and monstrosities at pretty much every turn of a corner.
Since I love the aforementioned movie (the original) and game series, I thought I’d look further into Greek mythology and see if I could find some spooky creatures to bring to all of you. As you can easily imagine, I found a wealth of options, so head on down to see what I dug up!
Written as a gigantic humanoid race, the Cyclops were known for the single large eye that was set in the middle of their forehead. They were often seen as workers of the blacksmith god Hephaestus, whose workshop was deep in the bowels of Mount Etna. This association may have come about because many blacksmiths at the time would wear an eyepatch to protect one eye from being blinded by sparks.
The Cyclops are often written as man-eaters, with Homer’s rendition of Polyphemus eating two men a day. He was ultimately outwitted by Odysseus, who blinded him by plunging a sharpened log into his eye.
Other Cyclops were once imprisoned by the ruling Titan Cronus. Upon being freed by Zeus, the three Cyclops, Arges, Steropes, and Brontes, gifted Zeus the weapons of lightning and thunder, becoming the forgers of his thunderbolts.
A creature that usually has the head and body of a lion, a goat head emerging from its back, and a tail that ends with a snake’s head, the Chimera is sometimes said to be able to breathe fire and seeing it meant that it was a harbinger of doom, specifically shipwrecks or volcanic eruptions. There are other forms the creature can take, so long as it is an amalgamation of multiple animals.
Nowadays, the term Chimera is used to describe anything that is piecemealed together, such as a Frankenstein-esque creature or one could even make a very convincing argument that the final monster at the end of The Thing fits the description.
Gorgons are a bit difficult to define as the name is used to describe many female creatures. However, the term most often applies to the three Gorgon sisters Stheno, Eurylae, and, perhaps the most infamous Greek mythological creature, Medusa. A winged creature with the upper body of a human, the lower body of a serpent, and hair made of hissing snakes, Medusa was purported to be so ugly and hideous that a mere gaze from her would turn any person into stone.
Her origin was that she was originally a human, one so beautiful that the god Poseidon raped her in a temple of Athena. Instead of finding displeasure with Poseidon, Athena instead chose to punish Medusa, turning her into the creature we all know today.
A multi-headed serpentine beast, the Lernaean Hydra was claimed to be the gatekeeper at one of the entrances to Hades, the Underworld. Slicing off one of its heads only led to another two sprouting in the original’s place. It also had poisonous breath and extremely toxic blood. To defeat it, Heracles (aka Hercules) would slice off a head and then use a torch to cauterize the stump before more heads could appear.
Cerberus is a three-headed dog with the tail of a serpent – and supposedly snakes poking out from various parts of its body – that guards the gates of the Underworld and ensures no soul escapes. It was the brother of the Lernaean Hydra, the Chimera, and Orthrus, a two-headed dog that guarded the cattle of Geryon.
Described by a wide variety of poets and authors, the one constant through all the various descriptions of Cerberus is that it was a fearsome and fierce creature, one that struck fear into the hearts of all who dared approach it.
A large and imposing beast, the Minotaur had the head of a bull and the body of a man. It was the guardian of a labyrinthian maze built by Daedalus and his son Icarus. The only way this creature could survive was by eating the flesh of humans, which came ultimately in the form of seven maidens and seven youths, tributes from Athens.
The Minotaur was eventually slain by Theseus, the son of the Athenian King Aegeus.
Hailed as one of the deadliest creatures in Greek mythology, Typhon was supposedly a gigantic beast whose head touched the stars when standing upright. He was humanoid from the waist up, his shoulders bearing the heads of 100 snakes with wings upon his back, while his legs were two coiled serpents. It ultimately took Zeus to defeat this monster and send it to Tartarus, which is essentially the basement of Hades.
This is the one that gets under my skin the most. Arachne was a normal person who challenged Athena to a weaving contest. Upon winning, Arachne was cursed by Athena for her insolence and pride, turning her into a half woman/half spider. Arachne didn’t really do anything evil or complicated after that. She just looks terrifying in her new form, as sad as that it so say.
Seductive women whose song lures sailors and their boats to their doom, Sirens appear in different forms. Many times they are seen as birdlike creatures with the heads of beautiful women. Other times, they are gorgeous women with the legs of birds, sometimes with wings and sometimes without. They also often were holding harps, although this changed frequently. No matter what they looked like or what instruments they played (or didn’t play), the Sirens were deadly, causing countless sailors to steer their ships into razor-sharp rocks.
Avian monsters with the heads and torsos of women – sometimes beautiful and sometimes hideous – but the wings, legs, and talons of vicious birds, Harpies were agents of torture and violence. They would abduct humans and inflict pain as they took them to the bowels of Tartarus and were also associated with sharp gusts of wind.