About the Greek Goddess Lyssa

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Lyssa, also spelled Lytta, was the Greek goddess of rage and crazed fury. She also controlled rabies in animals. When the Romans adopted Greek mythology, they gave her several names: Ira, Furor, and Rabies. Occasionally, they portrayed her as multiple beings called the Irae or Furores. She was often associated with the Maniae, the spirits of insanity. Here’s more information about her:

Who Was Lyssa?

Rather than being one of the Olympic gods, Lyssa was a primordial spirit (daimona), which means that she existed in ancient times before the Olympians took control of the world. At the behest of the gods, she could provoke blind rage in mortals, and even deities like herself. However, she was often loathe to do so.

Lyssa is pictured in several paintings on vases. In these images, she has just made the dogs of Aktaion, a hunter, go mad and tear Aktaion apart as punishment for viewing the goddess Artemis naked. Lyssa is a female figure in a short skirt, wearing a dog’s head cap that suggests her power over rabies.

There are two different accounts of Lyssa’s birth. In Euripedes’s tragedy Heracles (Hercules), written in the fifth century BC, Lyssa was the daughter of the primordial deity Nyx (the night) and the Titan Uranus. She grew from Uranus’s blood when his son, Cronus, castrated him. Hyginus, a less ancient writer from the first century AD, gives her a different parentage: Gaea (the earth) and Aether (the air and, disturbingly, also the father of Gaea).

Stories Involving Lyssa

Several Athenian tragedies features Lyssa. In a play by Aeschylus, the god of wine, Dionysius, sends her to madden the daughters of Minyas. He wishes to punish them for neglecting to properly worship him. In their frenzy, they dismember Pentheus, king of Thebes.

One of the best known stories about Lyssa is in Heracles. The demi-god Heracles fails to please the queen of the gods, Hera, so Hera sends her handmaiden, Iris, to order Lyssa to strike him with insanity. Iris takes Lyssa to Heracles’s city, but the deity of rage is reluctant to smite the hero.

She replies to Iris, “These prerogatives I hold, not to use them in anger against friends, nor do I have any joy in visiting the homes of men; and I wish to counsel Hera, before I see her err, and you too, if you will hearken to my words.”

Lyssa insists that this action is evil, but Iris overrules her. Accordingly, she inflicts Heracles with madness and anger, which leads him to murder his wife and children.

Lyssa has the power to cause other beings to go mad with rage. However, she also has self control with this power, only using it when she has no other choice. She also sends rabies upon dogs, as in the story of Aktaion. She is often an agent of the gods’ punishment, maddening those who have displeased the gods.

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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