that is, "the swift robbers," are, in the Homeric poems, nothing but personified storm winds.
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.
When a person suddenly disappeared from the earth, it was said that he had been carried off by the Harpies; thus, they carried off the daughters of king Pandareus, and gave them as servants to the Erinnyes.
Their names in Hesiod are Aello and Ocypete. But even as early as the time of Aeschylus (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.
Harpies represented in the act of carrying off the daughters of Pandareus.
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. (The Aeneid Book III. Metamorphoses by Ovid VII. Fasti by Ovid)
The traditions about their parentage likewise differ in the different traditions, for some called them the daughters of Pontus (or Poseidon) and Terra, of Typhon or even of Phineus. 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. (Argonautica) Their place of abode is either the islands called Strophades (The Aeneid Book III), a place at the entrance of Orcus, or a cave in Crete. (Apollodorus i)
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. He promised to instruct them respecting the course they had to take, if they would deliver him from tha 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. (Apollodorus i)
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.
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.
Braun conceives that these rapacious birds with human heads are symbolical representations of death carrying off everything.