Summer Monsters

Happy Memorial Day!

Summer Monster season is upon us. That means I’ll be doing daily battle with the sunburn demon (my silver bullets are expensive French sun block with a high SPF and hiding in the shade). But freckles, wrinkles and skin cancer are not the only scary beasts of summer. It’s the season of sea beasts and creatures of the deep.

Anyone old enough to remember the summer of 1975 will recall how JAWS — the Steven Spielberg film based on Peter Benchley’s book — changed that summer. You didn’t even have to see the movie to experience a sudden fear of beaches. Just the thought of a gigantic, man-eating shark lurking close to the shore drove people away from the waves. Most of them wound up inside dark, air-conditioned theaters where the monster chomped his way through the populous.

Creatures of the deep have always been figures of legends. I love those old maps where large bodies of water are drawn with Loch Ness style sea monsters to add a little dramatic tension.

Since I blogged about mermaids very recently, today I’d like to focus on the sea monsters of classical mythology. I’m particularly fascinated by the Sirens — famous for luring sailors to their deaths with a beautiful song. It’s a very romantic notion. Lovely voices wafting over the waves, enticing men to jump into the ocean where they would drown, never reaching the source of the song.

What did these devious sea monsters look like? No one knows. In some versions of the stories no sailor survived contact long enough to describe them. In other incarnations, they are beautiful winged creatures singing from a conveniently located rock, but the basic story of the Sirens makes me think that they could also be depicted as Mermaids.

Avoiding their seductive Siren song was a challenge. Jason did it by asking Orpheus to drown out the lovely voices with his own music. Odysseus took another approach. Being a super macho guy, he ordered his men to stuff their ears with wax and ordered them to tie him to the mast. He wanted to hear the Sirens sing but avoid the madness their song inspired.

Scylla and Charybdis, two other classical sea monsters, had a more direct approach to killing sailors. They shared a sea cave and worked together (nothing like teamwork). Scylla was a multi-headed dog creature. She ate sailors alive. Charybdis inhaled and exhaled vast quantities of water, creating deathtrap whirlpools. The sailors drowned in a terrifying version of body surfing.

Jaws had nothing on Scylla & Charybdis.


  1. Metan

    I was too small in 1975 to go to the movies to see Jaws but the age at which I read the book was probably far too young! I have forever had an irrational and ridiculous fear of sharks 🙂

    I love those old maps too, the mystery of the ‘here be dragons’.

    The historical monsters of the deep were far more scary than the movie monsters of today, weren’t they. Imagine setting out on a journey across the ocean in a time when people believed those monsters really existed. Scary stuff.

    • Candy

      Yes, just imagine how it must have felt to get on a ship (not knowing how to swim) and head out to open water where you KNEW there were monsters lurking in the waves.

      The definition of a scary tale!

      • I’m a hopeless swimmer and hate boats – possibly thanks to Jaws – but I think my deep respect for the ocean came much earlier than that from reading kids versions of those old greek myths.

        Scylla and Charybdis scared me silly coz I figured there had to be /some/ truth to the story! Ditto the Kraken. And lo and behold we now know there are MASSIVE squid in the depths of the ocean 🙁

        • Candy

          Isn’t it amazing, and disturbing, when our nightmares come to life? Even if it’s only in part or a variation on the theme. The giant squid/Kraken and scary whirlpool or rip tide/Charybdis…

          The secrets of the deep!