Harpies: Circle 7, Inferno 13
The Harpies--foul creatures with the head of a woman and body of a bird--are perched in the suicide-trees, whose leaves they tear and eat--thus producing both pain and an outlet for the accompanying laments of the souls (Inf. 13.13-15; 101-2). Harpies, as Dante-narrator recalls (Inf. 13.10-12), play a small but noteworthy role in Aeneas' voyage from Troy to Italy. Newly arrived on the Strophades (islands in the Ionian sea), Aeneas and his crew slaughter cattle and goats, and they prepare the meat for a sumptuous feast. Twice the horrid Harpies--who inhabit this island after being driven from their previous feeding location--spoil the banquet by falling upon the food and fouling the area with repugnant excretions. The Trojans meet a third attack with their weapons and succeed in driving away the Harpies. However, Celaeno--a Harpy with the gift of prophecy--in turn drives away the Trojans when she announces that they will not accomplish their mission in Italy without suffering such terrible hunger that they are forced to eat their tables (Aen. 3.209-67). The Trojans in fact realize that their journey is over when they eat the bread--that is, the "table"--upon which they have heaped other food gathered from the Italian countryside (Aen. 7.112-22).