Wind & Wings & Wretchedness
The symbolic connections between harpies and the wind are easily seen. Through searching our collections, the fierceness and “wonderful rapidity” of the winged women became a recurring theme. Many were associated with death and darkness, figuring as both harbingers of death (harpies and banshees) and actual bringers of death (Valkyrie and sirens). Although there are some winged women portrayed as good, kind, and wise (such as guardian angels and several goddesses), all possess an awesome power that men have categorically seen as a threat.
We have collected a few wonderfully deadly and threatening women below. As you peruse them, consider: Why were stories of winged women brought into being, and how were they designed? What similarities do you see among them? What biases against them? Do these winged women have the “irresistible force” and “special powers of warriors” of the whirlwind? Are these connections alluding to a strength or weakness in women, and according to whom? How do you think these depictions of winged women were interpreted? How, if all all, could they be interpreted differently today? Are they meant to inspire or terrorize the viewer?