About Erinyes – Three Deities of the Underworld
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In Greek mythology, the Erinyes are three deities of the underworld. According to The Illiad, the Erinyes “take vengeance on men, whosoever hath sworn a false oath.” Known in Roman mythology as the Furies, the Erinyes have been depicted variously as curses personified and the spirits of the murdered.
The Erinyes are sometimes also known as the Eumenides, which means “the Kindly Ones.” This names was used ironically by Euripides, under the assumption that it was dangerous to use their real name. Here’s more information about them:
Who were the Erinyes of Greek Mythology?
In the Theogeny, the poet Hesiod depicts the Erinyes as beings born out of the blood spilled when the Titan Cronus castrated his father, Uranus, and cast his genitals into the sea. The Erinyes are often depicted as three sisters: Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone.
Alecto means “unceasing in anger.” Her role was to discipline mortals for moral crimes, particularly the sin of wrath. As a method of punishment, Alecto drove mortals to insanity. As documented by the poet Virgil in the Aeneid, one of her major accomplishments was to sabotage the Trojans, protecting King Latinus in the process.
Megaera translates to “the jealous one.” Befittingly, her role was to discipline sins such as infidelity and dishonesty. The minor planet 464 Megaira was named after her. She was the expression of her name and was always the one who acted out of jealousy.
Tisiphone was the “avenger of murder.” In the Aeneid Virgil presents her as the guardian to the gates of Tartarus, which was the prison for the Titans. Virgil describes Tisiphone as “clothed in a blood-wet dress,” guarding the gates both day and night. Similarly, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Tisiphone wears a “dripping red robe,” “a writhing serpent” wrapped around her waist. Tisiphone appears in Geoffrey Chaucer’s epic poem Troilus and Criseyde to instruct the poem’s narrator in the art of properly writing a tragedy.
The Dark Legacy of the Erinyes
The Erinyes were featured prominently in the literature of Ancient Greece, including Homer’s The Illiad and Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus. In Aeschylus’ The Eumenides, the Erinyes serve as the play’s chorus. They also play an integral role in this play, as they pursue the protagonist, Orestes, for killing his mother. Orestes turns to the goddess Athena for help, who sets up a trial in which the Erinyes act as Orestes’ accusers. During the trial, votes in favor of and against Orestes are split evenly, and he is only acquitted by the grace of Athena.
Since the times of Ancient Greece, the Erinyes have continued to enjoy reference in a wide range of artistic media. In Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the Erinyes appear at the gates of the City of Dis, where they threaten to reveal the head of Medusa to Dante. In his comic book Sandman, the Erinyes are given a modern interpretation, preferring to be called “the Kindly Ones.” They also appear as the main antagonists of the video game God of War: Ascension.
Categorized in: Greek Mythology
This post was written by Greek Boston