In Greek mythology and Roman mythology, a harpy (plural harpies, Greek: ἅρπυια, harpyia, pronounced [hárpyi̯a]; Latin: harpȳia) was a half-human and half-bird personification of storm winds, in Homeric poems.
They were generally depicted as birds with the heads of maidens, faces pale with hunger and long claws on their hands. Roman and Byzantine writers detailed their ugliness. Pottery art depicting the harpies featured beautiful women with wings. Ovid described them as human-vultures.
To Hesiod, they were imagined as fair-locked and winged maidens, who surpassed winds and birds in the rapidity of their flight.
“…the Harpyiai (Harpies) of the lovely hair, Okypete (Ocypete) and Aello, and these two in the speed of their wings keep pace with the blowing winds, or birds in flight, as they soar and swoop, high aloft.”
But even as early as the time of Aeschylus, 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. The Pythian priestess of Apollo recounted the appearance of the Harpies in the following lines:
“Before this man an extraordinary band of women [i.e. Harpies] slept, seated on thrones. No! Not women, but rather Gorgons I call them; and yet I cannot compare them to forms of Gorgons either. Once before I saw some creatures in a painting, carrying off the feast of Phineus; but these are wingless in appearance, black, altogether disgusting; they snore with repulsive breaths, they drip from their eyes hateful drops; their attire is not fit to bring either before the statues of the gods or into the homes of men. I have never seen the tribe that produced this company, nor the land that boasts of rearing this brood with impunity and does not grieve for its labor afterwards.”
“Bird-bodied, girl-faced things they (Harpies) are; abominable their droppings, their hands are talons, their faces haggard with hunger insatiable”
“They are said to have been feathered, with cocks’ heads, wings, and human arms, with great claws; breasts, bellies, and female parts human.”