Last week on Myth Monday: Anzu from Mesopotamia!
Last time we talked about Percy Jackson: Monsters and Mayhem in The Lightning Thief
Today I’ll be talking about The Sea of Monsters, (referred to as SOM after this), the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (spoiler warning!). If you like mythology and haven’t tried out this series, you should. If you don’t care about mythology but you like salty narrators and lots of action, you should.
As is tradition, Rick Riordan smashes several packs-worth of characters, monsters, and name-drops into a single book. I’m going to focus on the monsters and creatures. For each one, I’ll talk about the “real life” mythological creature, the way Riordan reimagines it, and give it a 1-5 Monstrous Rating for how well Riordan brought it back.
Laestrygonians: You can experience these guys in all their violent glory in The Odyssey. Odysseus’ crew reaches a very promising-looking island, until they’re chased off by giants who throw rocks at them. In SOM, Percy and his prep school classmates have to survive being locked in a gym with Laestrygonians while they play dodgeball with fiery rocks. The Riordan scene is terrifying, and honestly a little too close to real-life school horrors for my taste, but we don’t see the Laestrygonians again – they’re just an opening-scene threat. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.
Cyclopes/Polyphemus: Cyclopes are another race featured in The Odyssey: Odysseus and Co. have to escape from one in particular, Polyphemus, when they stop at his island, and Aeneas and his crew also stop by in The Aeneid. Cyclopes are one-eyed giants, and while they seem to be herdsmen when in their own country, Zeus and Hephaestus use them as workmen at their forges. They supposedly forged Zeus’ famous thunderbolts. They seem to enjoy eating humans when the opportunity arises. One of the most endearing characters in Percy Jackson and The Olympians is Tyson, a Cyclops and Percy’s half-brother. Tyson is really good at building and fixing excellent magical items. Percy and Co. ALSO stop by Polyphemus’ island, because apparently it’s on the Hero Checklist for Important Stops. I like how Riordan gives us the good and bad extremes of Cyclopes, since the myths seem undecided on them. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.
Stymphalian birds: One of Hercules’ twelve impossible labors was to drive the Stymphalian birds away from the country they’re infesting. In SOM, they swarm and attack the chariot race at Camp Halfblood, for reasons that are unclear but make the race much more exciting. I’m not even really sure what they look like but I’m guessing something like giant piranha birds. 2/5 Monstrous Rating.
Hippocampus: Not the part of the brain, but a half horse, half fish creature. I can’t find a myth that these animals are actually in, but they’re awesome. They’re typically associated with Poseidon in Greek mythology, as he’s the god of sea and horses. In SOM, Percy is able to communicate with horses, and thus, hippocampi. They take Percy and his friends on a couple of sea-journeys. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for being adorable.
Oreius and Agrius: There was a lady named Polyphonte who joined the Hunters of Artemis, a group of maidens who swore to stay maidens forever so that they could serve Artemis. For some reason Aphrodite, goddess of love, took issue with Polyphonte’s choice and cursed her to fall in love with a bear. Gross. Bear. Polyphonte then gave birth to two half-bear, half-human sons: Oreius and Agrius. I mean, that’s not their fault. But then they became terrible and also cannibals. In SOM, one of the villains, Luke (a son of Hermes) recruits them, probably by promising they can eat lots of tasty demigods. Oreius and Agrius are the typical big dumb henchmen in this story. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for being kind of obscure and relating to bears.
Pegasus: Pegasus is confusing to me because most of the time you hear about a pegasus as a winged horse species. However, Pegasus in Greek mythology was a SINGLE winged horse, spawned from Medusa’s blood mixing with earth (just go with it). This winged horse was named Pegasus, adopted by the muses, and helped several heroes (including the original Perseus, who slew Medusa in the first place). In SOM, pegasi are a species of winged horse. Percy helps one escape from Luke and his bearish thugs – this pegasus individual turns up in later books and is super wonderful and great. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being kind of inaccurate but producing one of the best non-human characters in the series.
Hydra: The Hydra is another monster that started out as a single unique entity but is now known as a species (or a super-secret super-villain organization). Hercules had to destroy the Hydra as one of his twelve labors. You wanna go for a heart-shot, not a head-shot, in this case, as each time a head is killed or chopped off, two more replace it. Gross. In SOM, Hydras are monsters synonymous with ubiquitous chains, eg Starbucks, or Monster Donut in the series. Percy chops off a head and not only is that head quickly replaced, he spawns a Monster Donut chain store elsewhere in the world. So next time you see five Starbucks in a single-block radius, blame impetuous heroes. 5/5 Monstrous Rating for pure hilarity.
Scylla: Scylla was a water-nymph, and her story is a very typical one. Glaucus, an ocean god, fell in love with her, and since he couldn’t accept a “no” he went to the witch Circe for help. Circe quickly fell in love with Glaucus, and instead of helping him win Scylla over, she poisoned her. Scylla became a horrible monster with lots of heads and tentacles and things, and wound up living in a sea-cave and eating any sailors who passed by. In SOM, Percy meets both Scylla and Circe, although at different points. Scylla eats some of the zombie soldiers crewing the Civil War ironhide Percy and his friends are using to cross the Sea of Monsters. 2/5 Monstrous Rating for being relegated to a convenient plot device.
Charybdis: Charybdis is either a whirlpool, or a monster inside of a whirlpool. It’s sort of unclear. In any case, famous heroes like Odysseus and Aeneas had to get past her/it, and she/it took up the same strait of water that Scylla lived in. As you might imagine, it was always a fun time visiting that watery neighborhood. In SOM, Percy and his friends almost get sucked up by Charybdis, but escape when Percy uses his bottled wind to shoot them away from it. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for being scary but also very momentary.
Sirens: These are sea monsters. We presume they are ladies, but honestly I couldn’t find any explicit reference to their gender. In any case, they sing to sailors, enchant them, and lure them to their deaths, either by drowning or dashing them on rocks. The mermaid comparison is easy. Odysseus wanted to hear the Sirens’ song, so his men tied him to the mast. He said it sounded like they would give him all the wisdom a man could ever need. Orpheus, a famous musician, saved Jason and his Argonauts from the Sirens by playing music the entire time they sailed past. Percy stopped up his ears with wax (like Odysseus’ men) but Annabeth wants to hear the Sirens’ famed wisdom, so she also ties herself to the mast. She sees a vision of everything she ever wanted, if only she could get to it. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being more clear about why the Sirens are so hard to resist, and just as much so to women.
Centaurs: We talked about Chiron last month, but most centaurs are not like Chiron. They’re described as more beast than man, and usually drink a lot, misbehave, and carry off women. In SOM, Chiron’s centaur relatives are portrayed more as drunken frat-boy partiers, but they at least rescue Percy and his friends when the occasion calls for it. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for not being very scary or very helpful.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New American Library, 1969. Print.
Riordan, Rick. The Sea of Monsters. Disney Hyperion, 2006. Print.