Once upon a time, a king named Nisus ruled over the city of Megara. Nisus had a secret gift, a shock of purple hair that grew on his head, hidden among his thick, golden locks. The purple hair gave him the power over death and also the power to protect his city from all invaders.
No mortal knew Nisus’ secret. No one, that is, but his daughter, Princess Scylla.
One day a rival king, Minos, sent spies into the city to learn Nisus’ secret, for Minos wanted to lay siege to Megara. When his spies returned, they confessed they had been unable to uncover the mystery of the unconquerable king. And so Minos disguised himself and ventured into the city to learn the secret for himself.
In the city, Minos met the beautiful Princess Scylla, who fell in love at once with the handsome warrior. “I love you,” Scylla said. “I am a princess, and I want you to be my husband.” When Minos realized that this was the daughter of the famed king of Megara, he begged her to help him overcome Nisus.
“There must be a secret,” Minos whispered, and Scylla, her heart swelling with love, took his hands in hers. “Yes,” she whispered, “my father has a secret, and only I know what it is.”
“Help me,” Minos said, and he knelt before her and kissed the tips of her fingers. “Help me to take the city away from your father.”
“I will,” she promised, “and then we shall be together, you and I, king and queen of Megara.”
That night as Nisus slept, Scylla slipped into her father’s bedroom and snipped off the lock of his purple hair. Then she raced toward the woods to tell Minos the city would be his.
At dawn, Minos’ army marched into the city, killed the king and conquered Megara.
Scylla, unrepentant, rushed to the palace to see her beloved and cried, “We have succeeded,” but when Minos saw her, his heart turned to stone. He felt a terrible ache in his heart, for though her deed had helped him to gain victory, he could not stop thinking about her wicked betrayal. If Scylla could destroy the father she once claimed to love, she could not be trusted, and so Minos ordered her to be banished to the sea.
Scylla shrieked with rage when she heard Minos’ plan. “You will pay for this!” she cried as his soldiers carried her away.
Minos’ soldiers attached her to the prow of his ship, and they set sail in stormy seas. Poseidon, the god of the sea, raged. He too had once loved the princess, but he could never forgive such betrayal. “You will never be at peace,” he cried, and he set the sea roiling and waving and carried Scylla off to a faraway shore where the ship abandoned her.
As Scylla lay upon the rocky shore, Glaucus swam past. Glaucus had once been a fisherman, but years before the sea goddesses had cleansed him of his mortality. Since that time he had been a merman, with broad shoulders, his legs a fishtail, his cheeks bearded, his chest and arms tinted green and bronze.
When Glaucus spied the beautiful princess, he fell in love with her, and for days he swam close to her and promised her undying love.
When the beautiful and powerful sea witch known as Circe learned of this union, she vowed to destroy Scylla. Circe had long loved Glaucus, and so she gathered all the sea goddesses together. “We must save our beloved Glaucus from the terrible Scylla,” they all agreed. No one could forgive Scylla’s betrayal of her father.
Circe blended her magical herbs and brewed a terrible enchantment. One evening, as Scylla prepared to bathe, Circe secretly poured the potion into Scylla’s pool. When Scylla stepped into the water, she was instantly transformed into a sea monster with tentacles and six hideous creatures growing from her middle.
Scylla howled with rage, and each of the creatures screamed. The terrifying wail echoed across the ocean, a cry so dreadful that all the sailors who heard it pressed their hands to their ears and set sail, trying to flee the sound.
Glaucus, seeing the transformation of the woman he had loved, raced away beneath the waves. Scylla dived into the ocean and began to chase Glaucus, but again Poseidon’s magic worked its spell. The waves crashed over her, the currents carried her, and soon Scylla was trapped in an ocean cave beside a narrow strait.
Ever since that time, Scylla has lain in wait there for every sailor and seaman who passes her way. She is always prepared to devour anyone who comes too near, and at night sailors can hear her wail.