How is Charybdis from The Odyssey powered? As odd as it seems, I'm looking for a science-based answer.

  • She needs energy. To suck down warships, she is at least 75 ft in diameter and must suck them at least 15 ft down (probably more). That column of water weighs 2050 tons (and that's a low-end estimate). To raise it back up from where Charybdis is holding it (she spits it back out again). is going to mean lifting 2000+ tons 15+ feet. By my calculations, that's about 20,000 Cal/lift, at 100% efficiency. 3 times a day.
  • She's not eating people: ships rarely sail through the strait and those that do stay near Scylla, so she can't possibly be sitting around sucking water 3 times a day for those few occasions when ships do come by.
  • She's not eating wood, either: she spits out broken bits of Odysseus's ship and he grabs a part to paddle out of there.
  • It seems difficult to believe that she could be filter feeding plankton (or other stuff): she doesn't move and would quickly deplete plankton stocks in her vicinity. Also, her energy consumption of 60,000 Cal is much more than other filter feeders.
  • She's not tidally powered: she is on a 3 cycles/day timer and tides are roughly 2 times/day.

My current best guess is nuclear: she's filtering out deuterium and fusing it for energy, however this seems a little far-fetched.

Note: I couldn't figure out what tags would work for this question, so please edit and add/remove them if needed.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Could it be geography, like a guiser or something like that? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 30 '16 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz I don't think so. The main source of power for naturally occurring whirlpools is the tides, and that is the wrong timing. For a geyser, that would give the reason why water was shooting up, but not why it was being sucked down. However, if you can make it work, go ahead and post an answer. $\endgroup$ – dpdt Jun 30 '16 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ What powers Scylla seems like a creature design question to me. It is on topic...though it does seem either too broad or unclear. dpdt this question is...strangely worded. Asking what powers a magical creature is overly vague...it could be a variety of things...if you can maybe provide a list of possible power sources and ask which is most realistic, or perhaps choose a particular option and ask how it could work biologically that would improve the question significantly. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 30 '16 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, I made it work ☺ $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 30 '16 at 18:00

The raw power is provided by a geothermal vent. It is a tool built as a trap by a particular clan of smart cephalopods. That's why it is a singular monster and not a species to be found as a hazard everywhere!

What would normally be a hot spring (note the presence of volcanic activity in the Mediterranean in general) is a chamber some distance below the sea floor that would normally fill with water through various seepings and plumbing with other vents, with the resulting hot water flowing from a major opening at the top of the chamber. What makes one of these a geyser is how the chamber and plumbing glaze over with mineral scale making a waterproof pot, and inflow is limited. It fills, and when it reaches a boil the steam explosion drives it out the top vent.

This is tamed and modified slightly so as to be controlled by the animals. Only a small inflow is allowed, and the top vent blocked. The chamber is air filled with just a little water simmering at the bottom, the whole thing being carefully tended to keep it stable in this configuration.

When large prey passes through the channel, directly over the top vent, the lid is released. Perhaps it is a mud/stone flap that is single use; crack it and whoosh! the swimming prey is dropped into the hot cave. A surface ship is damaged when the water around it is dropped, as it is then hit by 30-foot waves from all sides that rush in to fill the sudden void.

The secondary vents are then blocked and the water-filled chamber allowed to act as a geyser in normal fashion. This empties the chamber providing now-dead and cooked prey many times larger than the animals that trapped it. As the geyser is petering out a fresh lid is set in place and when the pressure drops it is drawn tightly into place, resetting the trap.

It takes a few hours to cycle, and the trap owners like to eat regularly. Thus, they tend to lure large preditors to their trap as often as they can spring it, which is about three time a day. The accounts don't notice or make note of the huge shark or octopus that was flushed, as it was underwater to begin with. The reporters are focused on ships.

  • $\begingroup$ Very nice! I'm about to accept this. Just one question before I do: The Odyssey says that Charybdis cycles 3 times a day, whether or not something goes by it. Can you explain that? Maybe how the pressure builds up... ? $\endgroup$ – dpdt Jun 30 '16 at 23:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ They normally eat large animals (or shoals of small ones) that are under water. So, people don't notice that, since they only care about ships. Or maybe they can't leave it primed forever but must cycle it. I think that they are eating regularly, perhaps by luring large preditors. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jul 1 '16 at 10:24

Sorry, I'm not very current on that particular myth, but could she be an enormous plant?

Maybe the land on either side of the straight is actually part of her body. Two enormous bulges which rise up out of the water in what was once a much wider channel. With the two halves of her body taking up most of the natural channel's opening, all that is left for hapless sailors is the narrow straight in-between.

If that kind of a design is okay with you, then both of her body bulges could be covered in leaves, soaking up sunshine to fuel her water exercises.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm trying to keep this as close as possible to the description in the myth, which indicates that she is a monster at the bottom of the strait. Also, that doesn't explain why she would be spitting water up. $\endgroup$ – dpdt Jun 30 '16 at 1:20

The legend of Charybdis is generally considered to be based on a naturally-occurring tidal whirlpool in the Strait of Messina (one of the rock formations nearby is thought to be the origin of Scylla). There are many other whirlpools such as these which form in narrow straits and are powered by the tides, forming on schedule several times per day.

Perhaps the creature Charybdis does not create the whirlpool, but rather exploits it - a large, generally stationary sea monster that rests at the bottom of straits with its mouth open, eating fish and plankton that are sucked into the maelstrom. This would not get it as much food as hunting, but since it spends nearly all of its time dormant it doesn't really need much.

The number of times a day a whirlpool forms varies from one instance to another, but is generally either two or four. Maybe you could say they form three times a day on average?


Here is the massive physics problem with Charybdis

Where does the water go? and how can it move enough water to make a vortex?

One thought would be it has a big stomach that its pumping water out of till it opens its mouth sucking in everything above. This has a ton of problems like how does it remain submerged with such a huge bubble, how can it resist the pressure of the ocean around it trying to collapse its bubble. The sheer forces here stretch thin the limits of biologic possibility. Not to mention the energy needed to pump all that water out and create a bubble.

My thought which sounds more plausible to me is that its more like a giant worm/snake/tube. Instead of creating a bubble and resisting all those pressures perhaps it works more like an intestine. Using its muscles to constrict force water from one end to another. That way the pressure inside and out are relatively the same.

It would need to be long, many times longer than it is wide. Its skin would be thick to house the muscles necessary to constrict and expand. It length would also be dependent on how its able to digest what its sucked in.

Also, I don't think it would poop per say. I think its back end would be an open hole constantly excreting water similar in diameter to its mouth.

As a fun thought, it could be that it doesn't intentionally pray upon ships and large fish. It could be a large filter feeder primarily trying to eat algae and plankton and just so happens to get other creatures by chance.

The jagged rocks described at its mouth could be teeth and it could have teeth like structures lining the first part of its inner body to break up large debris entering it. Its lower body would probably have more mesh like structures to more easily extract nutrients.

A Pyrosome is semi relevant in that they are big floating tubes that can suck in water filter it and push it out.

enter image description here


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.