Homer Hesiod Hymns Tragedy Remythologizing Tools Blackboard Info
Form: Greek.
The goddesses of vengeance. Homer speaks sometimes of one, sometimes of several, but without any definite statement about either number, name, or descent. Hesiod makes them the daughters of Gaia (Earth), sprung from the blood of the mutilated Uranus. According to others they were the daughters of Night (Nyx) or of the Earth, and Darkness (Skotos). Euripides is the earliest writer who fixes their number at three, and considerably later we find them with the names Allecto ("She who rests not"), Tisiphone ("Avenger of murder"), and Magaera ("The jealous one.") They are the avengers of every transgression of natural order, and especially of offences which touch the foundation of human society. They punish, without mercy, all violations of filial duty, or the claims of kinship, or the rites of hospitality ; murder, perjury, and like offences; in Homer even beggars have their Erinys. The punishment begins on earth and is continued after death. Thus they pursue Orestes and Alemaeon, who slew their mothers, and CEdipus for the murder of his father and marriage with his mother, without regard to the circumstances by which their offences were excused. Their principle is a simple one, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." In spite of their terrible attributes as goddesses of vengeance they were called Semnai (the honourable) and Euminedes(the kindly). For the punishment of the evil secures the well-being of the good, and by pursuing and destroying transgressors the Erinyes prove themselves benevolent and beneficent. They were worshipped in Athens under the name of Semnai, and had a shrine on the Areopagus, and the hill of Colonus. Fresh water and black sheep were offered to them in sacrifice. The terrible picture drawn of them by Aeschylus in his Eumenides, as women like Gorgons, with snakes for hair, bloodshot eyes, grinding teeth, and long black robes with blood-red girdles, was softened down in later times. They appear as maidens of stern aspect, with snakes in their hair or round their girdles and arms, torches, scourges, or sickles in their hands, generally in the costume of huntresses, and sometimes with wings as a sign of the swiftness of their vengeance (see cut). The Furies (Furiae or Dirae) of the Roman poets are a mere adaptation of the Greek Erinyes. They are generally represented as torturing the guilty in the world below, but as sometimes appearing on earth, to excite to crime and throw men into madness.

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