Mega-awesome Roman poet, Ovid wins the award for most famous version of the tale of "Glaucus and Scylla." In his huge collection of mythological poems, The Metamorphoses, he lays out the whole sad story. Glaucus and Scylla each make separate appearances in other well-known works. The Argonauts get some help from Glaucus, the prophetic merman, in the Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius and The Library of History by Diodorus Siculus. Monster-fied Scylla munches on some of Odysseus' crew in Homer's Odyssey. Much later, in the 1700's, a composer name Jean-Marie Leclaire wrote an opera version of the story called Scylla et Glaucus. (Not the most original title, but okay.)
Nobody's bothered to make a modern movie version of this story, though we think there's really a missed opportunity here. (Come on, Hollywood, this story is gold.) You'll find Scylla in her monster form in pretty much every film version of the Odyssey ever. It's pretty hard for those filmmakers to resist a giant monster that viciously devours a bunch of Odysseus' crew. (Hey, if it puts butts in the seats... ) Glaucus hasn't made an appearance in any movies that we know of, but biologists have used his name for a particularly weird-looking breed of sea slug. Most people would probably not be too honored by this, but we're guessing Glaucus thinks it's cool. He's never been big on looks, anyway.
When Glaucus lays some dead fish down in an untouched meadow of super green grass, the fish surprise the carp (pun intended) out of him by coming to life and flipping into the sea. The fisherman suddenly realizes that this is no ordinary meadow he's stumbled upon. After Glaucus eats some of the greenery, he transforms into an immortal sea god, and he feels an irresistible longing to jump into the water. It's interesting that such a beautiful piece of land ends up being Glaucus' gateway to a life under the ocean's waves.
Everything and everybody in this story centers around the sea. Glaucus is a sea god and spends most of his life under the water. Scylla is a sea nymph and loves to swim in ocean pools and bask on sunny beaches. Circe is a sea witch and always hangs out on her mystical island surrounded on all sides by water. One of the things that each character shares is their love of the water. All the magical events that go down in this tale seem to reflect our continual fascination with the mystical sea.
We just want to take a second to zoom in on Circe's mystical island, where Glaucus goes to pick up his ill-fated love potion. The name of the island is Aeaea (say that three times fast). Glaucus is far from the only person to ever land on this island, and have their lives thrown for a loop by Circe. One famous visitor is Odysseus who ends up getting trapped there for a while by the wily sea witch. We hear about it in Homer's Odyssey, in which Circe's island is described in more detail. In this famous epic poem, we hear all about Circe's fabulous mansion, which is surrounded by packs of lions and other animals, who are really men she's transformed. The Argonauts make a pit stop on Circe's island as well, where the sea witch cleanses Jason and Medea of the murder of Medea's brother.
The Hero's Journey is a framework that scholar Joseph Campbell came up with that many myths and stories follow. Many storytellers and story-readers find it a useful way to look at tale. (That's actually putting it lightly. Some people are straight-up obsessed.) Chris Vogler adapted Campbell's 17 stages of a hero's journey, which many screenwriters use while making movies. Vogler condensed Campbell's 17 stages down to 12, which is what we're using. Check out a general explanation of the 12 stages.
The story of "Glaucus and Scylla" doesn't fit perfectly into the Hero's Journey structure, but we're giving it a shot. As the gross old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.
Once a simple fisherman, Glaucus is transformed into an immortal merman, a sea god with powers of prophecy. The ordinary world for him is swimming around, telling people they're futures, and being all godly and stuff.
When Glaucus sees the beautiful sea nymph, Scylla, walking naked on a beach, however, his watery world comes to a boil.
Unlike in some hero's journeys, Glaucus doesn't refuse the call at all. He swims right up to Scylla and tries to put the moves on her. Unfortunately for him, Scylla is not into mermen, and it's she who refuses the cat-call.
Determined to be with Scylla, Glaucus swims to the sea witch, Circe, to get a love potion. Circe isn't your typical mentor, however. Instead of helping him in his quest to claim Scylla, the sea witch tries to claim Glaucus for herself.
When Glaucus refuses Circe, she pretends to give him the love potion he requested, and the sea god swims off to pour the potion in a pool where Scylla likes to bathe.
Is Circe really a friend? Will Scylla be his? (Really, this section is kind of spread out over the other steps in the journey.)
As Glaucus swims toward Scylla's pool, his heart is beating fast. He wants so badly for the love potion to work.
Yeah, there's a pretty big ordeal here, but Glaucus isn't the one who goes through it. After he pours the potion in the pool, Scylla gets in and suffers a horrible transformation. Instead of making Scylla fall in love, Circe's potion causes a pack of vicious dogs to grow from her lower body. (Looks like Circe wasn't a friend at all.)
There's no reward here. Glaucus really botched this one.
Glaucus returns to his watery home, but not in victory.
In this part, the hero usually almost dies, but emerges victorious. This just doesn't happen in this story, though. Glaucus has already left the scene. The only sort of resurrection we can see happens to Scylla, who emerges from her horrible experience to live life as an awful monster.
Glaucus doesn't succeed in his quest of love, so this part doesn't really apply. The only bit of new knowledge he has to go forward with, is that he should never ever trust a sea witch.
Love triangles hardly ever turn out well— not in real life, or mythology either. The Glaucus/Scylla/Circe triangle leaves Scylla a horrible monster, Glaucus really sad, and Circe... well, Circe doesn't really care that much. In any case, the tale of "Glaucus and Scylla" is far from the only myth to include highly unfortunate love triangles.
One super famous love triangle comes from the court of King Arthur. You've probably heard of this guy, right? He was an awesome king who invented chivalry and recruited a bunch of noble knights to bring justice to England. Trouble came, though, when his best knight, Lancelot, and his gorgeous wife, Guinevere, fell in love. In many versions of the story, the affair that resulted ended up destroying Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and Camelot itself. For more on this tale, check out Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory.
Some think that this popular medieval tale might have actually influenced the Arthur/Lancelot/Guinivere story. In this myth, King Mark's trusted nephew and awesome knight, Tristan, is sent to Ireland to bring Iseult back as a bride for Mark. Unfortunately, Iseult and Tristan accidentally drink a love potion on the way back to England and fall in love. Their secret passion ends up causing all kinds of problems, in many versions leading to all of their deaths.
This story is dripping with sea imagery. How could it not be when it all takes place in and around the sea? All the locations we go to are either in the water, under the water, or near the water. You've got beautiful beaches, mysterious islands, and the vast ocean deep. All the characters are associated with the sea as well. Glaucus is a sea god, Circe is a sea witch, and Scylla is a sea nymph who turns into a sea monster. Everything in this tale is sopping wet and covered in seaweed. Overall, it seems like all this sea imagery adds to the magical, mystical feeling of the story.
You could see the potion that Circe gives Glaucus as being symbolic of the destructive power of love. Circe tells the sea god that it's a love potion guaranteed to make the beautiful sea nymph, Scylla, his forever. Glaucus swims toward his reluctant love, hoping that his future will be full of happiness. Unfortunately for Glaucus and Scylla, the potion is really meant to transform Scylla into a horrible monster. Though the potion was requested as an act of desperate love, it instead ends up destroying Glaucus' object of affection. You could also see the potion as embodying what happens when true love is mistaken for obsession.