Lamia (lamiai) were harmful spirits who killed infants and seduced sleeping men. One myth tells that the original Lamia was a beautiful queen of Libya, daughter of Belus and Libya, who won Zeus’ heart. Hera became jealous of this union and retaliated by killing all her children who were fathered by Zeus. In anger and frustration, Lamia retreated to a cave where she unleashed her wrath by killing the offspring of human mothers, usually by sucking the blood of the children. These actions transformed Lamia’s beauty into ugliness, but she was able to briefly regain her beauty to seduce men, and is said to have drunk their blood.
Philostatus described an account of the lamiai in his Life of Apollonius. This tale told of how one of Apollonius‘ students, Menippus, was attracted to a beautiful rich woman who first appeared to him in an apparition. The apparition gave him details on where to find the girl. Menippus fell in love with the girl and told Apollonius about the event. When they confronted the girl, Apollonius told Menippus, “And that you may realize the truth of what I say, this fine bride is one of the vampires (empusai), that is to say of those beings whom may regard as lamiai and hobgoblins (mormolykiai). These beings fall in love, and they are devoted to the delights of Aphrodite, but especially in the flesh of human beings, and they decoy with such delights those whom they mean to devour in their feats.”
Apollonius then proved his point to Menippus by confronting the lamiai. As he revealed each element, her disguise faded, and soon she admitted her plans and her habit of feeding “upon young and beautiful bodies because their blood is pure and strong.”
The word lamia appears to have many connotations in folklore. She is sometimes associated with Adam’s first wife, Lilith, in Jewish folklore. In Isaiah 34, “lilith” is translated as a screeching owl or night monster in many different translations. Most demonologists considered the lamia to be minor spirits who disturbed sleep in some way.
Dictionnaire Infernal – Collin de Plancy (1863) (paraphrased)
Lamia is queen of Libya. She splits open pregnant women to devour the children developing inside. Her name is derived from lamias, the evil female demons with dragon heads at the end of their feet found in deserts. They are also known to haunt cemeteries, devouring the corpses and leaving nothing but bones.