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Meet the Furies: 3 Vengeful Goddesses of Greek Underworld

Meet the Furies: 3 Vengeful Goddesses of Greek Underworld

The Furies, also known as the Erinyes, are among the most fearsome and formidable goddesses in Greek mythology. They are the agents of divine retribution, who pursue and punish those who commit heinous crimes against the natural order. They are closely associated with the Greek underworld, where they dwell and torment the souls of the wicked. In this blog post, we will explore each of the three Furies and their significance in Greek mythology.

The Furies: An Overview

The Furies are usually depicted as three winged women with snakes for hair and eyes that drip with blood. Their alternate name, Erinyes, means “the angry ones” or “the avengers” in Greek. They are the daughters of Gaia, the earth goddess, and Uranus, the sky god, who were born from the blood that spilled when Cronus castrated his father. They are also sometimes considered to be the sisters of the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Hecatoncheires.

The Furies are the embodiment of blood and vengeance. They are responsible for enforcing the laws of nature and morality, especially those related to kinship and oaths. They pursue those who commit crimes such as murder, incest, adultery, perjury, and sacrilege, and inflict them with various forms of suffering, such as madness, disease, famine, and death. They are relentless and merciless in their pursuit, and they never forgive or forget their targets.

Alecto: The Unyielding Fury

Alecto, the unrelenting greek fury

The first of the three Furies is Alecto, whose name means “unceasing” or “unresting” in Greek. She is the Fury who avenges crimes against family bonds, such as parental abuse, sibling rivalry, or marital infidelity. She is also associated with anger and discord.

One of the most notable myths involving Alecto is her role in the Aeneid by Virgil. In this epic poem, Alecto is sent by Juno to incite a war between the Trojans and the Latins. She first inflames the rage of Queen Amata, who opposes the marriage of her daughter Lavinia to Aeneas. She then provokes Turnus, the king of the Rutuli and Lavinia’s suitor, to challenge Aeneas to a duel. Finally, she instigates a conflict between Ascanius, Aeneas’ son, and a local hunter named Allecto.

Megaera: The Envious One

The second of the three Furies is Megaera, whose name means “grudging” or “envious” in Greek. She is the Fury who punishes oath-breakers and those guilty of perjury. She is also associated with jealousy and envy.

One of the most famous stories involving Megaera is her role in the Oresteia by Aeschylus. In this trilogy of tragedies, Megaera and her sisters pursue Orestes, who kills his mother Clytemnestra to avenge his father Agamemnon. Orestes is tormented by the Furies for his matricide until he seeks refuge at the temple of Apollo in Delphi. There, he is put on trial by Athena and a jury of Athenian citizens. The Furies act as the prosecutors, while Apollo acts as the defender. The jury is evenly split on whether to acquit or condemn Orestes, so Athena casts her vote in favor of Orestes. The Furies are appeased by Athena’s offer to make them honored goddesses in Athens under a new name: the Eumenides or “the kindly ones”.

Tisiphone: The Avenger of Blood

Tisiphone, the greek fury of vengence art concept. by LLH

The third of the three Furies is Tisiphone, whose name means “avenger of murder” or “blood-revenge” in Greek. She is the Fury who avenges acts of murder, particularly matricide and patricide. She is also associated with violence and bloodshed.

One of the most gruesome tales involving Tisiphone is her role in Metamorphoses by Ovid. In this collection of myths, Tisiphone is summoned by Juno to punish Athamas and Ino, who incur her wrath for raising Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Semele. Tisiphone drives Athamas mad and makes him kill his son Learchus. Ino then flees with her other son Melicertes but jumps into the sea with him out of despair. Tisiphone also causes madness to another son of Zeus: Heracles. She makes him kill his wife Megara and their children in a fit of rage. Heracles then undergoes twelve labors to atone for his crime.

Their Mythological Context

The Furies have a rich and complex mythology that reflects their role as the enforcers of justice and morality in the Greek world. They have various origin stories, depending on the source. Some say they were born from the blood of Uranus, as mentioned earlier. Others say they were born from the blood of Cronus, when he was wounded by Zeus during the Titanomachy, the war between the Titans and the Olympians. Still others say they were born from the blood of Medusa, when she was beheaded by Perseus.

The Furies are also closely connected to the Greek underworld, where they reside and torment the souls of the damned. They are often seen as the servants or allies of Hades, the god of the dead, and Persephone, his queen. They also have a special relationship with Hecate, the goddess of magic and crossroads, who guides them to their victims. The Furies are sometimes depicted as carrying torches, whips, or snakes as their weapons or symbols.

The Furies also undergo a transformation in some myths, as seen in the Oresteia. They change from being the Erinyes, the angry ones, to being the Eumenides, the kindly ones. This transformation represents a shift from an archaic system of blood vengeance to a more civilized system of law and order. It also symbolizes a reconciliation between the old and the new gods, as well as between the Furies and their former enemies.

The Legacy of the Furies

The Furies have a lasting impact on Greek mythology and culture, as well as on literature, art, and culture throughout history. They are often used as a metaphor or a symbol for justice, vengeance, or morality in various works of fiction and non-fiction. They also inspire many artistic representations and interpretations in different media and genres.

Some examples of works that feature or reference the Furies are:

  • Dante’s Inferno: In this part of the Divine Comedy, Dante encounters the Furies at the gates of Dis, the city of hell. They threaten to summon Medusa to turn him into stone.
  • Shakespeare’s Macbeth: In this tragedy, Macbeth is haunted by visions of blood and ghosts after he murders King Duncan and his friend Banquo. He is also compared to Orestes by Macduff, who seeks revenge for his family’s death.
  • Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound: In this play, Prometheus is chained to a rock by Zeus for giving fire to humanity. He is visited by various characters, including the chorus of Oceanids, who pity him and call him “the Erinyes’ friend”.
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci: In this drama, Beatrice Cenci is abused by her father Count Cenci and plots to kill him with her lover and her brother. She is pursued by remorse and guilt after the deed, and compares herself to Orestes and Clytemnestra.
  • William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: In this poem, Blake contrasts the conventional views of heaven and hell with his own visionary insights. He writes: “The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses calling them by names and adorning them with properties of woods rivers mountains lakes cities nations whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive / And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country placing it under its mental deity / Till a system was formed which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract / The mental deities from their objects thus began Priesthood / Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales / And at length they pronounc’d that the Gods had orderd such things / Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast”.

The Furies are still relevant today as they reflect timeless themes of justice, vengeance, and morality that resonate with human experience. They challenge us to think about our actions and their consequences, as well as our values and beliefs. They also invite us to explore further or engage in discussions about their enduring significance.

Conclusion

The Furies are among the most fascinating and formidable goddesses in Greek mythology. They are the vengeful goddesses who pursue and punish those who commit heinous crimes against nature and morality. They are closely associated with the Greek underworld, where they dwell and torment the souls of the wicked. They also undergo a transformation from being the Erinyes to being the Eumenides in some myths, representing a shift from an archaic system of blood vengeance to a more civilized system of law and order. The Furies have a lasting impact on Greek mythology and culture, as well as on literature, art, and culture throughout history. They are often used as a metaphor

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