In Greek mythology, a harpy ("snatcher", from Latin: harpeia,
originating in Greek: ἅρπυια, harpūia) was one of the winged
spirits best known for constantly stealing all food from
Phineas. The literal meaning of the word seems to be "that
which snatches" as it comes from the ancient Greek word
harpazein (ἁρπάζειν), which means "to snatch".
A harpy was the mother by the West Wind Zephyros of the horses
of Achilles. In this context Jane Ellen Harrison adduced
the notion in Virgil's Georgics (iii.274) that mares became
gravid by the wind alone, marvelous to say.
Hesiod calls them two "lovely-haired" creatures, perhaps
euphemistically. Harpies as ugly winged bird-women, e.g. in
Aeschylus' The Eumenides (line 50) are a late development, due
to a confusion with the Sirens. Roman and Byzantine writers
detailed their ugliness....
（Ἅρπυιαι), that is, "the swift robbers," are, in the
Homeric poems, nothing but personified storm winds. (Od.
20.66, 77.) Homer mentions only one by name, viz. Podarge,
who was married to Zephyrus, and gave birth to the two
horses of Achilles, Xanthus and Balius. (Il. 16.149, &c.)
When a person suddenly disappeared from the earth, it was
said that he had been carried off by the Harpies (Od. 1.241,
14.371); thus, they carried off the daughters of king
Pandareus, and gave them as servants to the Erinnyes. (Od.
20.78.) According to Hesiod (Hes. Th. 267, &c.), the Harpies
were the daughters of Thaumas by the Oceanid Electra, fair-
locked and winged maidens, who surpassed winds and birds in
the rapidity of their flight. Their names in Hesiod are
Aello and Ocypete. (Comp. Apollod. 1.2.6.) But even as early
as the time of Aeschylus (Aesch. Eum. 50), they are
described as ugly creatures with wings, and later writers
carry their notions of the Harpies so far as to represent
them as most disgusting monsters. They were sent by the gods
as a punishment to harass the blind Phineus, and whenever a
meal was placed before him, they darted down from the air
and carried it off; later writers add, that they either
devoured the food themselves, or that they dirtied it by
dropping upon it some stinking substance, so as to render it
unfit to be eaten. They are further described in these later
accounts as birds with the heads of maidens, with long claws
on their hands, and with faces pale with hunger. (Verg. A.
3.216, &c.; Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 653; Ov. Met. 7.4, Fast.
6.132; Hyg. Fab. 14.) The traditions about their parentage
likewise differ in the different traditions, for some called
them the daughters of Pontus (or Poseidon) and Terra (Serv.
ad Aen. 3.241), of Typhon (Val. Flacc 4.428, 516), or even
of Phineus. (Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 166, Chil. 1.220; Palaephat.
23. 3). Their number is either two, as in Hesiod and
Apollodorus, or three; but their names are not the same in
all writers, and, besides those already mentioned, we find
Aellopos, Nicothoe, Ocythoe, Ocypode, Celaeno, Acholoe.
(Apollod. 1.9, 21; Serv. ad Aen. 3.209; Hygin. Fab. Praef.
p. 15, Fab. 14.) Their place of abode is either the islands
called Strophades (Verg. A. 3.210), a place at the entrance
of Orcus (6.289), or a cave in Crete. (Apollon. 2.298.) The
most celebrated story in which the Harpies play a part is
that of Phineus, at whose residence the Argonauts arrived
while he was plagued by the monsters. Hte promised to
instruct them respecting the course they had to take, if
they would deliver him from the Harpies. When the food for
Phineus was laid out on a table, the Harpies immediately
came, and were attacked by the Boreades, Zetes and Calais,
who were among the Argonauts, and provided with wings.
According to an ancient oracle, the Harpies were to perish
by the hands of the Boreades, but the latter were to die if
they could not overtake the Harpies. The latter fled, but
one fell into the river Tigris, which was hence called
Harpys, and the other reached the Echinades, and as she
never returned, the islands were called Strophades. But
being worn out with fatigue, she fell down simultaneously
with her pursuer; and, as they promised no further to molest
Phineus, the two Harpies were not deprived of their lives.
(Apollod. 1.9.21.) According to others, the Boreades were on
the point of killing the Harpies, when Iris or Hermes
appeared, and commanded the conquerors to set them free, or
both the Harpies as well as the Boreades died. (Schol. ad
Apollon. Rhod. 1.286, 297; Tzetz. Chil. 1.217.) In the
famous Harpy monument recently brought from Lycia to this
country, the Harpies are represented in the act of carrying
off the daughters of Pandareus. (Th. Panofka, in the
Archaeol. Zeitung for 1843, No. 4; E. Braun, in the Rhein.
Mus. Neue Folge, vol. iii. p. 481, &c., who conceives that
these rapacious birds with human heads are symbolical
representations of death carrying off everything.) - A
Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology,
William Smith, Ed.