Who is Lamia in Greek Mythology?
Lamia, in Greek mythology, is a female daemon who devoured children (also known as the child-eating monster). According to some sources, she was the daughter of Poseidon and a beautiful queen of Libya who had an affair with Zeus. Upon having this affair, she was transformed into a monster by Hera from Jealousy—or may have been transformed by Zeus as a way of protection and revenge.
The Origin of Lamia
Throughout every country and every culture, there is always a cautionary tale told to children—a tale of a monster or a demon that preys on those who misbehave. And today, that tale is the story of Lamia, the ancient Greek equivalent to the Boogeyman.
Lamia was not always seen as a monster, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. She was a queen in the region of Libya and the daughter of Poseidon. She was loved and admired by many, including Zeus.
But like many of the women that Zeus loved, Hera became extremely jealous of the queen, and when Lamia and Zeus had children, she began to plot how she would remove the Queen from the equation.
What Hera did to Lamia does vary. In some stories, she kidnapped and killed her children, and in another, she made Lamia kill her children. This punishment alone was on enough for Hera, and so, she made it so Lamia could never sleep, cursing her to endlessly walk the earth, mourning for her lost children.
Lamia, being driven mad, attempted to gouge out her own eyes, but she could not do so. She had gone from a respected queen with loving children to a hermit-like figure, ridiculed and shamed by the people that once respected her so dearly.
Lamia Turned to A Monster
When Zeus saw what had have become with the woman he once loved, he decided that he would turn her into a monster—a monster that would be greatly feared and could exact revenge on anyone who dared to mock her.
He gave her the ability to remove her own eyes, which would allow her to ease her pain and rest. But, in turn, this also made her more terrifying.
She became known as the demon that would devour children in the cover of night so that others could feel the same pain that she felt. Naturally, this led to terrified parents warning their children of Lamia, and thus a cautionary tale was started.
Some varying accounts claim it was, in fact, Hera that turned Lamia into a serpent and cursed her, so she was unable to close her eyes. In this variation, it was once again Zeus that took pity upon her, giving her the ability to remove her eyes and rest.
Many believe that she was somewhat of a shapeshifter, transforming from a serpent into a beautiful woman, shedding her skin whenever she pleased—a talent that she would use to seduce and devour men instead of children.
Lamia was also associated with magic and witchcraft. She had the gift of prophecy, a side effect of Hera’s curse, granting her visions in her dreams whenever she attempted to sleep.
Many also saw her as a minor sorceress, brewing potions and pacing enchantments on men so that her presence didn’t arouse suspicion.
The Children of Lamia
Zeus and Lamia’s children are an interesting point of discussion—the ones that did survive went on to be quite recognizable.
The most well-known of those children was Skylla, or Scylla, as you may know her—the six-headed sea monster who killed hundreds if not thousands of sailors and is one of the most iconic creatures of the sea within Greek mythology.
Scylla had only one sister, the sea nymph Sybil (also called Sibylla), who had the gift of prophecy and could predict anyone’s death if they were brave enough to ask.
Zeus and Lamia’s last surviving child was Achilleus, who, unlike his sisters, inherited his mother’s Beauty, which was ultimately the source of his downfall as he challenged Aphrodite to a beauty contest; one that he could never win.
As a punishment, when he did eventually lose, Aphrodite transformed him into an ugly, lipless shark, and he would be referred to as the lipless one.
The Depiction of Lamia
The physical depiction of Lamia is something that has changed numerous times over the years. Some Greek writers believe that when she was cursed, only her face changed, becoming contorted and more and more disfigured by the more people she killed.
The traditional depictions of Lamia were similar to that of Medusa—the upper body of a woman and the lower body of a serpent. This form was believed to almost mesmerize men; her movement was graceful, and her scales were often described as resembling precious gems.
There are also depictions of Lamia as a sea monster, as she was the daughter of Poseidon, and the word Lamia was used in ancient Greek to refer to a large shark.
With one of her children even being shown as a shark, it isn’t too unreasonable to imagine that she may have been seen as one herself, preying on children swimming in the ocean.
A poet known as John Keats created an extremely beautiful and alluring version of Lamia, one that is still used even to this day.
She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,John Keats, Lamia
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries —
So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,
She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.
Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire
Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne’s tiar:
Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet!
She had a woman’s mouth with all its pearls complete:
And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there
But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?
After Keats’ poem was published, Lamia began to be seen as an extremely enchanting creature, which differs drastically from her depiction as a monster in traditional Greek mythology.
Humans have been turned into animals and monsters by the gods, which we see fairly often in Greek mythology. Lamia is quite an interesting figure because her behaviour and physical depictions have changed drastically over the years.
She went from a respected Queen to a monster known for devouring children, to even a seductress he murdered men.
Lamia was also applied to refer to a group of vampire-like demons who assumed young women’s form, luring men into their beds and feeding on their flesh and blood. Behind the illusions of their beautiful exterior was a creature with a long Serpent’s tail in place of legs.
Lamia’s story appears in both Homer and Horus’s ancient writings, and she had somewhat of a place amongst ancient Greek people. Tales of Lamia still even told to this day to frighten children into good behaviour
Did you imagine her as a half-human half serpent creature that resembles Medusa in the Gorgons? Or did you picture her as something?
Image Sources: Lokkende, Seraph777, AlexAlexandrov, DavidGalopim.