In The Odyssey Homer (8th century bc) tells how his hero, Odysseus is at one point warned by the goddess Circe that he will have to sail through a narrow and dreadful channel between two peaks, in the one peak was the monster Scylla, but below the other rock is an even worse menace, the dreaded whirlpool know as Charybdis:

'Three times a day she spews the waters up, and three times a day she swallows them down again. Heaven keep you from getting too near, for then not even the Earthshaker could save you.' So the choice before Odysseus is stark: either he must lose his whole ship down Charybdis's gullet or just six of the crew to Scylla.

When they come in sight of the whirlpool he tells them to steer as far away as possible. Charybdis is even worse than Odysseus has expected. In his words:

'When she vomited up the waters, she was stirred to her depths and seethed like a cauldron on a blazing fire; and the spray she flung on high rained down on the tops of the crags at either side. But when she swallowed the salt water down, the whole interior of her vortex was exposed, the rocks re - echoed to her fearful roar and the dark sands of the sea bottom came into view.'

Transfixed by this dreadful sight, the crew notice only too late that six of their number have been snatched high into the air and eaten by Scylla. Odysseus lost six of his men, but saved the ship.