back-to-top

Mythagora Home Page

Erinys

Ἐρινὺς

Punisher of the Unfaithful

Furies

Immortals Index
Previous Page

The presence of Erinys foreshadows misery shrouded in darkness. She is the punisher of the unfaithful and the protector of supplicants. She should be treated with fear and respect because she will harass and injure her prey but not kill them ... her brass wings make escape impossible, her ripping claws make her torment relentless and horrible.

Erinys is called Fury, Mist-Walker, Wrecker of Houses, and Murderous Spirit ... and strangely enough, the Kindly One.

There is another dimension to the concept of Fury ... three daughters of Nyx [Night] are called the Erinyes [Ἐρινὺας] or Furies or Eumenides [the gracious goddesses]. Their names are Tisiphone, Megaera and Alekto. Their mission is essentially the same as Erinys but they work as a team or perhaps it might be better to think of them as a pack of wolves or jackals. The ancient Greek writers and poets were always careful to differentiate Erinys from the Erinyes.

The Erinyes are imagined to be winged women of fierce countenance but according to the traveler/historian Pausanias [fl. 160 CE], their images on the Acropolis at Athens were not fierce or supernatural.

When the Argonauts were on their Quest for the Golden Fleece, they encountered Erinys and the Erinyes. When Orestes killed his mother and uncle, he was harassed by the Erinyes. The Spartans were also plagued by the Erinyes. In all of those situations, proper respect and supplication averted a malevolent outcome.

The Quest for the Golden Fleece

The Quest for the Golden Fleece was not only a grueling and dangerous sea voyage, it was also a constant battle against Erinys and the Erinyes.

On their way to Kolchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece, the Argonauts encountered the blind prophet Phineus. He was being punished by Zeus and Helios [Sun] by having the Harpies defile his food ... he explained that the Fury had put her foot on his eyes and that he was doomed to spend the rest of his life in darkness.

When Jason and the Argonauts arrived at Kolchis, Aphrodite [goddess of love] made sure that the king's daughter, Princess Medeia, would fall in love with Jason and help him steal the Golden Fleece from her father, King Aietes. Medeia was the niece of the Dread-Goddess Kirke [Circe] and a priestess of the Roaring Goddess Hekate. Medeia knew many charms and spells, and was well acquainted with the Dark Spirits that could be called down to inflict punishment on the weak and uninitiated.

After helping Jason steal the Golden Fleece and escape from Kolchis with her father's men in hot pursuit, Medeia suspected that Jason was going to abandon her. In order to protect herself, she threatened to call down the Erinyes to punish him if he did not fulfill his oath to take her to his home and marry her. Jason quickly renewed his oath in fear of the divine powers he had personally seen her summon with her skills as a sorceress.

Jason had avoided having Medeia call down the Erinyes but he blindly called them down upon himself when he and Medeia made plans to ambush Medeia's half-brother Apsyrtos. Medeia lured Apsyrtos to a lonely spot and Jason killed him without mercy ... Jason even drank Apsyrtos's blood.

With Apsyrtos's men pursuing them, Jason and Medeia sought sanctuary on the island of the Phaiakians. King Alkinoos and Queen Arete knew that the fugitives had stolen the Golden Fleece but they did not know of the blood-guilt that Jason and Medeia had incurred. Medeia commanded the Phaiakians to protect her and honor her sanctity as a supplicant ... otherwise, she swore that she would call down Erinys to avenge her. They believed her without question and gave Jason and Medeia sanctuary on the condition that they marry one another. This was only a momentary reprieve ... a more lasting solution was needed if the murderous couple was going to be freed of their blood-guilt and the retribution of the Erinyes.

After leaving the island of the Phaiakians, Jason, Medeia and the Argonauts were plagued with hardships. The goddess Hera informed Jason that his fate was hanging by a thread because Zeus was incensed by Apsyrtos's murder ... she told him that the only way he and Medeia could escape Zeus's wrath was to seek out Medeia's aunt, the Dread Goddess Kirke, and ask her to preform a ritual cleansing to absolve them of their blood-guilt. With no other options, Jason and Medeia went to Kirke's island of Aiaia and presented themselves to the goddess as supplicants.

Before Jason and Medeia arrived, Kirke had been troubled by nightmares in which the walls of her palace dripped blood, Also, in the dreams, flames consumed the drugs she used to bewitch strangers. She was bathing in seawater trying to wash away the aftereffects of the troubling dreams when she became aware that a ship had landed on her island and that a group of men accompanied by a maiden were approaching her. Using a charmed hand-gesture, Kirke motioned for the Argonauts to follow her but Jason ordered them to wait while he and Medeia followed Kirke to her palace. The goddess was slightly amazed to see that only Jason and Medeia had obeyed her ... she asked them sit on a polished bench but they went to the hearth and assumed the posture of supplicants ... Jason looked at the floor and Medeia hid her face in her hands.

Kirke immediately recognized that her guests were guilty of murder ... in reverence for Zeus, the god of supplicants, she began to offer the proper sacrifice to cleanse them of their guilt. She held a sow that had recently given birth above their heads and severed its neck ... she sprinkled their hands with blood ... the Naiad Nymphs that attended Kirke cleaned away the defilements of the sacrifice. Next Kirke made propitiation with drink offerings while she called upon Zeus the Cleanser, the protector of murder-stained supplicants ... Kirke burned atonement cakes without wine and prayed that the Erinyes and Zeus would forgive her guests for the crimes they had committed.

Kirke's supplications were effective ... the Argonauts returned to Greece without further interference from the Erinyes.

Orestes

Agamemnon was the commander or the Achaean Greeks at the siege of Troy. After successfully capturing Troy, Agamemnon returned home but instead of a hero's welcome, he was murdered by his wife Klytemnestra and his cousin Aegisthus, who had become Klytemnestra's lover. The murder of Agamemnon took place circa 1240 BCE and Orestes would have probably been in his late teens.

With his father dead and fearful that Aegisthus would kill him to gain direct access to the throne of Mykenai, Orestes went into hiding for eight years. With his friend and loyal companion Pylades by his side, Orestes returned to Mykenai to avenge his father's murder. Without mercy or hesitation, Orestes killed his mother and Aegisthus. The justice of the crime was overshadowed by the fact that matricide was one of the most heinous crimes a man could commit.

Orestes fled Mykenai but could not escape the punishment of the Furies. While traveling through Messene on the Peloponnesian Peninsula, Orestes was overtaken by madness induced by the Erinyes. In his deranged state of mind, he bit off one of his fingers. The locals documented the event by naming the place Maniae [Madnesses] and burying the severed finger in what was called the Tomb of the Finger, which was marked by a carved stone finger protruding from the burial mound. Not far from the Tomb of the Finger is the place where Orestes recovered his senses, it is called Ake [Remedies]. Orestes saw the Erinyes dressed in black before his bout with madness and dressed in white when he recovered.

Apparently Orestes traveled throughout the Peloponnesian Peninsula seeking absolution for his crime. There were several places that had artifacts commemorating his absolution. The cleansing of Orestes was closely related to Apollon and Artemis. Outside the temple of Apollon at Troezen was the Booth of Orestes where he stayed because no citizen would allow him in their home until after he had been cleansed. Also at Troezen, there was a Sacred Stone on which nine men of Troezen purified Orestes.

After the ritual purification was complete Orestes went to Athens and was put on trial. The court was convened on the Hill of Ares with the goddess Athene defending Orestes. The Erinyes wanted Orestes to be found guilty of murder but Athene demanded mercy, saying that Orestes acted in the name of "justice" and not "revenge." Athene placated the Erinyes by offering them a shrine on the Acropolis. After his acquittal, Orestes was allowed to return to his family home and assume the kingship of Mykenai and Sparta.

The Spartans

One of the great clans of the Spartans, the Aegidae, owe their survival to their sincere appeasement of the Erinyes. The children of the Aegidae were dying and leaving no heirs. When the Spartans consulted an oracle for a solution, they were told to erect a temple for the Erinyes of Laius and Oedipus, meaning that the Spartans should build a place of worship honoring the Erinyes who punished the infamous kings of Thebes, Laius and Oedipus.

Laius and Oedipus were not associated with Sparta in any way but the manner in which they treated their sons made them infamous throughout Greece. Laius had his infant son [Oedipus] hobbled and abandoned in the mountains. Oedipus, having survived his father's harsh treatment, disowned his two sons knowing that they would kill each other in their fight for the throne of Thebes.

The curse that was afflicting the Spartans was caused by an Aegidae named Theras who had cursed his son for disobedience. Theras called his son Oeolykos, which meant that he was a sheep among wolves. The temple was built for the Erinyes of Laius and Oedipus, and the curse was lifted.

We often confuse the Erinyes with the Roman goddesses, the Furiae.

Erinys in the Iliad

[from four different translations]

Richmond Lattimore

Loeb Classical Library

Robert Fagles

Robert Fitzgerald

Erinys in the Odyssey

[from four different translations]

Richmond Lattimore

Loeb Classical Library

Robert Fagles

Robert Fitzgerald

Furies

Other Text References

Theogony

Works and Days

Catalogue of Women

[Loeb Classical Library vol. 503, Hesiod II]

The Thebaid

The Histories by Herodotus

The Argonautika by Apollonius Rhodius

Immortals Index   Mythagora Home Page
Copyrighted Material—All Rights Reserved