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A dilemma (Greek δί-λημμα "double proposition") is a problem offering at least two solutions or possibilities, of which none are practically acceptable; one in this position has been traditionally described as "being on the horns of a dilemma", neither horn being comfortable; or "being between a rock and a hard place", since both objects or metaphorical choices being rough.

Scylla & Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters of Greek mythology who were situated on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Calabria, in Italy. They were located in close enough proximity to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too closely to Scylla and vice versa.

Scylla was a creature who lived in a rock, and regularly ate sailors who passed by too closely. Her appearance has varied in classical literature; she was described by Homer in The Odyssey as having six heads perched on long necks along with twelve feet, while in Ovid's Metamorphoses, she was depicted as having the upper body of a nymph, with her midriff composed of dogs' heads. Charybdis had a single gaping mouth that sucked in huge quantities of water and belched them out three times a day, creating whirlpools.

Odysseus was forced to choose which monster to confront while passing through the strait; he opted to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship into the whirlpool. Jason and the Argonauts were able to navigate through without incident due to Hera's assistance, while Aeneas was able to bypass the deadly strait altogether.


The phrase between Scylla and Charybdis, although infrequently used today, has meant having to choose between two unattractive choices, and is the progenitor of the phrase "between a rock and a hard place."

James Gillray used this metaphor in a caricature published June 3, 1793 and entitled Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis.[2] In it, "William Pitt helms the ship Constitution containing an alarmed Britannia between the rock of democracy (with the liberty cap on its summit) and the whirlpool of arbitrary power (in the shape of an inverted crown), to the distant haven of liberty."[3]

The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley used Scylla and Charybdis in an analogy of how society is poised between anarchy and despotism in his work, in defence of poetry. The passage reads:

'The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism'

H.L.A Hart uses the metaphor to describe the relationship between Formalism and Rule-scepticism in juristic theory.[4]

The phrase is found in the AA "Big Book" on page 175 in "Dr. Bob's Nightmare" originally published in 1939. "Alcoholics Anonymous" 1939, 1955, 1976, 2001. AA World Services.

The phrase found new life in 2008 among journalists reporting on Microsoft's ongoing attempts to acquire Yahoo!. In an April 2008 ResearchRecap article, Christa Quarles of Thomas Weisel Partners was quoted, "Choosing between Microsoft and Google must seem like sailing between Scylla and Charybdis for Yahoo."[5]

See also


  1. Wrapped Around Your Finger lyrics - LyricsFreak.com
  2. Gillray on Sheridan
  3. The Impact of the French Revolution (2005), Cambridge University Press
  4. HLA Hart 'The Concept of Law,' p147, Ch7
  5. Research Recap Archive - April 10, 2008

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