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The Furies or Erinyes From Greek and Roman Mythology


The Erinyes are usually called the Furies, in English. For those using the Greek names, they are often referred to euphemistically as Eumenides "gracious ones." The Furies pursued particularly heinous criminals and drove them mad with their pursuit.

Their most famous victim was Orestes, whose crime was matricide.

Their origin was said to have been from Nyx (Night) or the drops of blood from the castration of Uranus.

The Erinyes are commonly envisioned living in the Underworld, specifically, Rhadamanthus' Tartarus (e.g. Vergil Aeneid VI.571).

Their number is often said to be 3, although Euripides is the first to give them this number. Prior to him, Aeschylus' chorus was made of Furies; later, Seneca, too, uses a larger number.

Appearance of the Erinyes

Vase, by Eumenides Painter showing Clytemnestra trying to awaken the Erinyes, at the Louvre.
Public Domain. Courtesy of Bibi Saint-Pol at Wikipedia Commons.
The Erinyes are described as not quite woman and not quite Gorgon (Medusa). One possibility is that they may have been ghosts at one time.

Not shown as able to fly, they are associated with the winged Harpies who may serve as their helpers.

The Roman Furies

The Dirae (in Latin) are often assumed to be the same as the Furies (Furiae).

  • "The Lament of Juturna: Pathos and Interpretation in the Aeneid"
    Christine Perkell
    Transactions of the American Philological Association, 1997

The Fury Tisiphone

Tisiphone summons the aid of a column of Furies in Vergil's Aeneid.
  • "Vergil's Furies
    Robert J. Edgeworth
    The Harvard Theological Review, 1983

The Fury Alecto (Allecto)

In Vergil's Aeneid, it's Alecto who precipitates the war with Latium.

  • "Vergil's Dirae, South Italy, and Etruria"
    C. J. Mackie
    Phoenix, 1992

Trivia: Alecto is sometimes spelled Allecto. Some spelling changes are not exceptional: For instance, Julius can be spelled Iulius. Other unexceptional spellings reveal the subtle difference between a Greek and a Latin spelling, as when the ending of a name is -aeus instead of -aios. The double-L in the Latin word suggests assimilation of the prepositional prefix ad- which is not present in the single-L version, so I looked it up. Huys writes that both versions are attested in Greek, but the double-L is used for metrical reasons.
"P. Oxy. 61.4099: A Combination of Mythographic Lists with Sentences of the Seven Wise Men," by Marc Huys. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 1996, p. 209.

The Fury Megaira (Megaera)

Hercules puts Megaera in chains in line 37 of Silius Italicus' Punica III.

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