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In Greek mythology the Erinyes or Eumenides (the Romans called them the Furies) were female personifications of vengeance. When a formulaic oath in the Iliad (iii.278ff; xix.260ff) invokes "those who beneath the earth punish whoever has sworn a false oath"—"the Erinyes are simply an embodiment of the act of self-cursing contained in the oath" (Burkert 1985 p 198). They were usually said to have been born from the blood of Uranus when Cronus castrated him. According to a variant account, they issued from an even more primordial level—from Nyx, "Night". Their number is usually left indeterminate, though Virgil, probably working from an Alexandrian source, recognized three: Alecto ("unceasing," who appeared in Virgil's Aeneid), Megaera ("grudging"), and Tisiphone ("avenging murder"). The heads of the Erinyes were wreathed with serpents (compare Gorgon), their eyes dripped with blood, and their whole appearance was horrific and appalling. Sometimes they had the wings of a bat or bird, or the body of a dog.
Two Furies, from an ancient vase.The Erinyes generally stood for the rightness of things within the standard order; for example, Heraclitus declared that if Helios decided to change the course of the Sun through the sky, they would prevent him from doing so. But for the most part they were understood as the persecutors of mortal men and women who broke "natural" laws. In particular, those who broke ties of kinship through patricide, murdering a brother (Fratricide), or other such familial killings brought special attention from the Erinyes. It was believed in early epochs that human beings might not have the right to punish such crimes, instead leaving the matter to the dead man's Erinyes to exact retribution.
The Erinyes were connected with Nemesis as enforcers of a just balance in human affairs. The goddess Nike originally filled a similar role, as the bringer of a just victory. When not stalking victims on Earth, the Furies were thought to dwell in Tartarus, where they applied their tortures to the damned souls there.
The Erinyes are particularly known for the persecution of Orestes for the murder of his mother, Clytemnestra. Since Apollo had told Orestes to kill the murderer of his father, Agamemnon, and that person turned out to be his mother, Orestes prayed to him. Athena intervened and the Erinyes turned into the Eumenides ("goodly ones"), as they always did in their beneficial aspects.
Many scholars believe that when they were originally referred to as the Eumenides it was not to reference their good sides but as a euphemism to avoid their wrath that would ensue from calling them by their true name. This taboo on speaking the names of certain uncanny spirits included Persephone; there are parallels in many cultures (for instance, the tendency to refer to faeries as "the fair folk" or "the little people"]]). The Erinyes might also be recognized as Semnai ("the venerable ones"), the Potniae ("the Awful Ones"), the Maniae ("the Madnesses") and the Praxidikae ("the Vengeful Ones").
One myth had Tisiphone fall in love with Cithaeron. She caused his death by snakebite, specifically, one of the snakes from her head. Another myth says that the Erinyes struck the magical horse Xanthus dumb for rebuking Achilles.
The Furies (their Roman name) or Dirae ("the terrible") typically had the effect of driving their victims insane, hence their Latin name furor.
1 Erinyes in later culture
2 Erinyes in popular culture
3 See also
Erinyes in later culture
In The Divine Comedy Dante sees the Erinyes at the gates of the city of Dis, which is the entry point to the four lower circles of Hell.
Leconte de Lisle's tragedy "Les Érinnyes" (1872), with accompanying music composed by Massenet.
Jean-Paul Sartre's 1943 play The Flies (Les Mouches) uses a retelling of the Oresteia (with the titular Flies being the Furies) in a modern perspective against religion .
Erinyes in popular culture
There is an A Perfect Circle song, entitled "Orestes," that refers to the Erinyes.
The Furies are invoked by Hippolyta Hall in the ninth collection of the DC comic book series The Sandman, The Kindly Ones (which is also named for a translation of a name used for the Furies, Eumenides), because she mistakenly believes that Dream had kidnapped and murdered her child. Officially, the Furies are able to target Dream because he had recently killed his son Orpheus, and the Furies may take revenge on anyone who has shed family blood.
In Wildstorm's The Authority: Human on the Inside, the Furies show up at the request of Dr. Ledbedder to initiate the destruction of the Authority. They claim to punish all who believe themselves good (that is, have superpowers).
Erinyes have been adapted in the TV series Charmed. They were portrayed as dog-faced women from Hell. They were called Furies and attacked human sinners with deadly smoke.
In the science fiction novel In Fury Born by David Weber, Tisiphone, having died when the worship of Greek gods ceased, reappears in the far future. She finds a powerful mind that has suffered a great wrong, and embarks upon a path of destruction to correct it. This involves stealing a powerful starship and wreaking havoc on an interstellar scale.
In the eponymous track of his first album, Rob Dougan calls them Furious Angels and poetically imagines that his love for a woman is so strong that, should she leave him, "furious angels will bring you back to me".
In Stephen King's novel Rose Madder, Erinyes is an angry, blind bull that lives in a maze within a painting.
Erinys, named after Erinyes, is a British security company.
In Robert Weinberg's sorcery-meets-modern-society novel A Calculated Magic, the Erinyes (referred to only as The Kindly Ones, the Furies, and the Eumenides) are regularly hired by a KGB operative to assassinate his targets for him.
In Dungeons & Dragons, erinyes are a kind of baatezu fiend charged with the temptation of mortals into evil deeds and service to the Nine Hells of Baator.
Xena suffered a similar persecution to Orestes at the hand of three Furies in the third season opener of Xena: Warrior Princess.
In Terry Brooks's The Elfstones of Shannara, mystic Druid Allanon battles Furies and the Dagda Mor in his escape from the Druid Keep, Paranor.
Erinyes appeared in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Aria of Sorrow as well, as an enemy monster with the name "Erinys".
The MMORPG Redmoon Online has a set of unique armor pieces called the "Erinyes Set". The set consist of a helmet, an armor plate, an armored pair of pants and a shield. Individually, they would increase a character's attack and defense by a various percentage, but if all were equipped, they would provide an additional bonus.
"Alecto" is the name of a particularly vicious witch in the Harry Potter series.
In the computer game Freespace 2, the Erinyes form a class of assault fighter.
In the computer game Nethack, Erinyes can appear as randomly generated monsters with a limit of three per game.
"The Eumenides" appeared as a minor character in the play "The Family Reunion" (1939) by T.S Eliot. Their presence in the play prompts "Harry" to abandon the fate his mother has preparded for him. Although their presence terrfies Harry, he learns to trust them and join them.
There are three hollowed asteroids named Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone in Melissa Scott's "Five Twelfths of Heaven" (1985) which together with Phobos and Demos make a base for an underworld (criminal) group. Alecto is marked with the face of a fury.
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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Iliad xiv.274-9; xix.259f.
Virgil, Aeneid vii, 324, 341, 415, 476.
Burkert, Walter, 1977 (tr. 1985). Greek Religion (Harvard University Press)
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Categories: Greek goddesses | Vengeance goddesses
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