Scylla and Charybdis guarded Homer’s Strait of Messina. Charybdis was a beautiful daughter of Poseidon, changed by Zeus into a monstrous , floppy bladder with flipper limbs and a vast maw. She sucked in huge volumes of water which she then discharged violently 3 times each day, causing the famous whirlpool on the western side of the strait.
Scylla’s origin is still argued, but she was another beautiful young thing, probably transformed by jealous goddess Ceres into a monster. No bladder-mouth for Scylla – she had 6 necks each with its own head and razor sharp teeth, twelve legs, a cat’s tail and four dog’s heads around her waist. Oh, and she also had four eyes. Charybdis sat opposite Scylla at the narrowest part of the strait and attacked passing ships. She took 6 of Odysseus’ crew during his epic passage through the pass.
At its narrowest, the Strait of Messina is only a mile and a half wide. It is said to have been a fearsome stretch of water, plagued by steep seas, whirlpools, tide races and fierce katabatic squalls. Mt Etna erupting above must have been the icing on the cake for frightened mariners. In 1783 an earthquake changed the topography of the seabed, calming the waters enough that passage through the strait is no longer such a daunting exercise.