As told in the folklore and mythology of ancient Greece, there existed a malevolent supernatural entity called Gello, known to target young children and sometimes women. Although some ancient accounts of Gello claimed that the creature hunted unmarried or pregnant women, the most prevalent stories involved Gello stealing or killing young children. So exactly what kind of entity was Gello? The answer varied from storyteller to storyteller. All accounts agreed Gello was an evil demon-like spiritual entity, but the tellers of the tales disagreed on whether Gello was a mythical creature or a supernatural ghost of a former human woman. In the mythical creature camp, Gello was cast as a child-hunting monster similar to the horrific likes of the Empusa, Lamia and Mormo. Alternatively, in the ghost faction, Gello was also said to have been the murderous spirit of a woman from Lesbos, who supposedly had died unmarried and childless—hence the jealous spirit’s targeting of pregnant women and children. In keeping with Gello’s possible origin from Lesbos, it is curious that the Lesbian poetess, Sappho, is the earliest known source to have mentioned the creature. In addition, the saying, “More fond of children than Gello” (Zenobius, Centuries of Proverbs, 1.58) was attributed as having come from Sappho’s poetry. For a curious aside, some scholars propose that Gello may have been related in some way or another to the Sumerian/Akkadian demon, Gallü. Yet, other than the similar name and evil characteristics, there is no real definitive proof to link the Sumerian demon to the murderous supernatural creature identified by Sappho on Lesbos.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (The Water Sprite, by Theodor Kittelsen (dated 1887), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum of Norway).
- The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion, edited by Simon Price and Emily Kearns. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.