Erinyes: Meet the Furies of Greek Mythology


     The Erinyes (or Furies) are, in Greek and Roman Mythology, women represented as a symbol of revenge. They are very similar to the Keres and, also, often confused, check it out.

Erinyes in Greek Mythology:

     The Erinyes live in Erebus and are older than any of the Olympian deities. Its task is to hear complaints brought by mortals against the insolence of the young to the elderly, from children to parents, from hosts to guests, and from householders or town councils to supplicants, and to punish these crimes by relentlessly pursuing the culprits. The Erinyes are ancient and, depending on the authors, described as having snakes in their hair, dog heads, coal-black bodies, bat wings and bloodshot eyes. In their hands they carry scourges studded with brass, and their victims die in torment.

     Erinyes are commonly associated with night and darkness. With various accounts claiming they are the daughters of Nyx, the goddess of night, they are also associated with darkness in the works of Aeschylus and Euripides, both in their physical appearance and the time of day they manifest.

The Erinyes are better known by the name of Furies.


     According to Hesiod's Theogony, when the Titan Cronus castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea, the Erinyes (along with the Giants and Melias) emerged from the drops of blood that fell on the earth (Gaia). , while Aphrodite was born from the crests of sea foam. According to varying accounts, they emerged from an even more primordial level, from Nyx, or from a union between the air and mother earth, while in Virgil's Aeneid, they are the daughters of Hades and Nyx.

     Their number is usually left undetermined. Virgil, probably working from an Alexandrian source, recognized three: Alecto or Alekto (endless rage), Megaera (jealous rage), and Tisiphone or Tilfousia (vengeful destruction), all of which appear in the Aeneid.

     Dante Alighieri followed Virgil in portraying the same three-character triptych of Erinyes; in Canto IX of Inferno they confront the poets at the gates of the city of Des. While the Erinyes were usually depicted as three maiden goddesses, Erinys Telphousia was usually a nickname for the wrathful goddess Demeter, who was worshiped under the title of Erinys in the Arcadian city of Thelpousa.


     Vociferous Bacchanal Furies, listen! Ye, I invoke, whom all reverence; every night, deep, in secret they withdraw, Tisiphone, Alecto, and Megara terrible: In the depths of a molten cave, enveloped in night, near where the Styx flows impervious to sight; Ever present in mysterious, furious and fierce rites, whom the terrible law of Fate enchants; Vengeance and terrible sorrows belong to you, hidden in a savage veil, severe and strong, terrible Virgins, who dwell forever endowed with various forms, in the deepest hell; Aerial, and invisible to the human species, and running fast, fast as the mind.

     In vain the Sun with bright winged radiance, in vain the Moon, much softer light, Wisdom and Virtue may try in vain; and pleasant, Art, our transportation to obtain Unless with these you readily conspire, and avoid their utterly destructive wrath. The limitless tribes of mortals you see, and rule justly with the impartial eye of the Right. Come, serpent hair, Fate manifold, divine, suppress your anger, and bow to our rites.


     In Sophocles' play Oedipus at Colonus, it is significant that Oedipus arrives at his final resting place in the grove dedicated to the Erinyes. This shows that he paid his penance for his bloody crime, as well as came to integrate the powers of balance into his initial over-reliance on Apollo, the god of the individual, the sun, and reason. He is invited to make an offering to the Erinyes, and he complies, having made peace.

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