THE ERINYES were the three goddess-avengers of the crimes of murder, unfilial conduct, impiety and perjury.
This page describes their role as agents of divine vengeance--bringers of dearth, madness, and sometimes war.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
DIVINE CURSES 1 : BARREN EARTH & DROUGHT
The Erinyes might bring a dearth upon a land harbouring an unpunished murderer. This affliction was usually associated with cases of patricide and matricide.
The power of the Erinyes to make the earth sterile and barren and destroy the crops was closely connected with the story of the their birth--they were daughters of the Earth born when the fertile Sky-Father was made barren by a criminal son. It was also connected with the story of Demeter's rape by Poseidon and her vengeance as a wrathful Erinys.
Virgil, Georgics 3. 551 (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"On this land from the sickened sky there once came a piteous season that glowed with autumn's full heat [i.e. a dearth followed by hunger and disease] . . . Ghastly [Erinys] Tisiphone rages, and, let forth into light from Stygian gloom, drives before her Morbus (Disease) [Nosos] and Metus (Dread) [Phobos], while day by day, uprising, she rears still higher her greedy head. The rivers and thirsty banks and sloping hills echo to the bleating of flocks and incessant lowing of cattle. And now in droves she deals out death, and in the very stalls piles up the bodies, rotting with putrid foulness, till men learnt to cover them in earth and bury them in pits."
Seneca, Oedipus 160 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[Pestilence and drought afflict the city of Thebes :] They have burst the bars of abysmal Erebus, the throng of sisters [the Erinyes] with Tartarean torch, and Phlegethon [the river of fire], changing his own course, has mingled Styx with our Sidonian streams [i.e. to cause deadly fevers]. Dark Mors (Death) [Thanatos], death opens wide his greedy, gaping jaws and unfolds all his wings."
Statius, Thebaid 1. 46 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Her [the Erinys'] skin distends and swells with corruption; a fiery vapour issues from her evil mouth, bringing upon mankind thirst unquenchable and sickness and famine and universal death."
I. DEMETER ERINYS & THE GREAT DEARTH
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 25. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The sanctuary of Demeter in Onkeion (Oncium) [in Arkadia (Arcadia)]. The Thelpousians call the goddess Erinys (Fury) . . . the goddess has the surname Erinys (Fury) for the following reason. When Demeter was wandering in search of her daughter, she was followed, it is said, by Poseidon, who lusted after her. So she turned, the story runs, into a mare, and grazed with the mares of Onkios (Oncius); realizing that he was outwitted, Poseidon too changed into a stallion and enjoyed Demeter. At first, they say, Demeter was angry at what had happened, but later on she laid aside her wrath and wished to bathe in the Ladon. So the goddess has obtained two surnames, Erinys (Fury) because of her avenging anger, because the Arkadians call being wrathful ‘being furious,’ and Lousie (Bather) because she bathed in the Ladon [i.a. as a ritual purification]."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 42. 1 :
"They [the Arkadians] say [that Demeter], angry with Poseidon [who had raped her] and grieved at the rape of Persephone, she put on black apparel [i.e. in her guise as an Erinys] and shut herself up in this cavern for a long time. But when all the fruits of the earth were perishing, and the human race dying yet more through famine, no god, it seemed, knew where Demeter was in hiding, until Pan, they say, visited Arkadia. Roaming from mountain to mountain as he hunted, he came at last to Mount Elaios (Elaeus) and spied Demeter, the state she was in and the clothes she wore. So Zeus learnt this from Pan, and sent the Moirai (Moirae, Fates) to Demeter, who listened to the Moirai and laid aside her wrath, moderating her grief as well."
For MORE information on Demeter and the great dearth see DEMETER WRATH
II. ALCMAEON (ALKMAION) & THE DEARTH OF ARCADIA
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 7. 5 (trans. Frazer) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Alkmaion (Alcmaeon) . . . killed his mother . . . [and] was visited by the Erinys (Fury) of his mother's murder, and going mad he first repaired to . . . Phegeus at Psophis. And having been [unsuccessfully] purified by him [and married his daughter] . . . the ground became barren on his account, and the god [i.e. the oracle of Delphoi] bade him in an oracle to depart to Akheloios (Achelous) and to stand another trial on the river bank."
For the MYTH of the Erinys curse of Alkmaion see:
Family Curses: Eriphyle & Alcmaeon (previous page)
III. OEDIPUS (OIDIPOUS) & THE DEARTH OF THEBES
Thebes was afflicted by the Erinyes with drought and pestilence when Oidipous (Oedipus) became king to punish the realm for harbouring a man who had killed his father and married his mother.
For the MYTH of the Erinys curse of Oidipous see:
Family Curses: Laios & Oidipous (previous page)
IV. PERSONAL BARRENNESS
Individuals might also be made barren by the curse of the Erinyes.
For MYTHS of the curse of barreness upon individual men see:
Family Curses: Filial Betrayal, Amyntor & Phoenix (previous page)
DIVINE CURSES 2 : PERSONAL TORMENT
The Erinyes were sometimes portrayed as agents of divine wrath who punished those who committed crimes against the gods. It was an extension of their role as the exacters of vengeance upon murderers and oath-breakers--crimes which offended the gods.
I. PATRICIDES & MATRICIDES (Crimes Against the Gods)
The crimes of patricide and matricide were sins against the gods and so automatically invoked the wrath of the Erinyes. In the case of other types of murder the goddesses would need to be invoked by the curses of aggrieved relatives.
For MYTHS of the Erinyes as goddess punishers of patricide & matricide see:
Family Curses: Patricide & Matricide (previous page)
II. GHOSTS OF THE DAMNED (Crimes Against the Gods)
The Erinyes tortured those men and women condemned to eternal punishment in Haides for crimes against the gods.
For the MYTH of the Erinyes as jailors of the Damned see:
Erinyes Jailors of the Damned (previous page)
III. ZEUS & PHINEUS (CrimesAgainst the Gods)
Phineos was granted the power of prophesy by the gods but he broke his covenant by revealing their secrets. In anger Zeus sent an Erinys to rob him of his sight and the Harpyiai (Harpies) to torment him.
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2. 220 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"[Phineos (Phineus) addresses the Argonauts :] ‘The Erinys (Fury) quenched my sight, so that I drag myself through my last years in misery.’"
IV. ZEUS & PROMETHEUS (Crimes Against the Gods)
Aeschylus, Fragment 107 Prometheus Unbound (from Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 2. 10. 23-25) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Prometheus laments :] ‘Behold me fettered, clamped to these rough rocks . . . Thus hath Zeus, the son of Kronos, fastened me . . . I tenant this stronghold of the Erinyes (Furies) [i.e. "of the Erinyes" because it is a place of torture]. And now, each third woeful day, with dreadful swoop, the minister of Zeus with his hooked talons rends me asunder by his cruel repast.’"
N.B. In Greek vase painting an Erinys was sometimes depicted alongside the Eagle sent to torment Prometheus.
DIVINE CURSES 3 : MADNESS
As agents of divine wrath the Erinyes might inflict a victim with madness. This affliction was first associated with the guilt and grief inspired by the Erinyes in cases of patricide and matricide. From this they came to be regarded as a source of madness in general, especially in later versions of the stories of Dionysos.
I. HERA & IO (Jealous Wrath)
Hera inflicted an Erinys upon Zeus' mistress Io which drove her to wander in madness from Greece to Egypt. Older versions of the story have a gadfly rather than an Erinys tormenting the cow-shaped maiden.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 722 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Hermes slays Argos Panoptes, the guardian set by Hera to guard the cow-shaped maiden Io.] At once her [Hera's] wrath flared up and soon her anger was fulfilled. Before her rival's [Io's] eyes and in her mind she set a frightful Erinys (Fury) and deep down plunged blinding goads of fear; and Io fled a cowering fugitive through all the world. Her boundless travails found their end at last beside the Nile; there, falling on her knees, her head thrown back, she raised towards the stars all she could raise, her face; her groans and tears, her wild grief-laden lowings seemed to send a prayer to Jove [Zeus] to end her sufferings. And Jove [Zeus] pleaded with Juno [Hera], throwing his arms around her neck, to end the punishment at last."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 4. 392 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Hermes slays Io's guardian Argos Panoptes.] And now, her [Io's] former shape gradually restored by Jove [Zeus], Io is walking the fields victorious over Juno [Hera], when lo! she sees [the Erinys] Tisiphone with brands of fire and coiling snakes and fiendish yells; at the first sight she stops and passes once again into the shape of a hapless heifer, nor bethinks her in what vale or on what height to stay her steps . . . Once more she seeks the woods, once more the pathless wilds, fleeing from that dear head as from hateful Styx; and thence is she hurried through Grecian towns and steep-banked rivers, until the deep waters meet her path, and hesitating awhile she plunges in: the waves dispart and the clam ocean foreknowing the future yields her a path; with high horns she gleams afar, and upholds her dewlaps on the summit of the wave. But the maid [Tisiphone] of Erebus flies through the air to rich Memphis to be beforehand and repel the new-comer from the Pharian land. But Nile withstands Tisiphone and driving her with all his eddying flood plunges her to the depths of his sandy bed, calling for help to Dis [Haides] and all the powers of that cruel realm; here and there are seen her brands and whips far scattered, and the serpents shaken from her dishevelled hair."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 7. 111 ff :
"Wandering Io fled the sandy verge and ventured and shrank again, yet by compulsion of the Erinnyes must she go upon the swelling sea."
II. HERA & SEMELE (Jealous Wrath)
Semele was driven out of her senses by an Erinys when Hera tricked her into asking Zeus to appear before her in his full glory, bringing about her death. The Erinys is not present in old versions of the myth but is placed here by Nonnus to compliment her appearance later in his story.
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 7. 180 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Erinys the Avenger flying by in the air saw Semele bathing in the waters of Asopos [i.e. to clean the blood of a sacrificial animal from her clothes], and laughted as she though how Zeus as to stoke both with his fiery thunderbolt in one common fate."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 8. 389 ff :
"[Semele] in her pride . . . would have grasped the deadly lightning in her own hands--she touched the destroying thunderbolts with daring palm, careless Moira (Fate). Then Semele's wedding was her death, and in its celebration the Erinys (Avenging Spirit) made her bower serve for pyre and tomb."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 8. 402 ff :
"Semele [consumed by the fires of Zeus' lightning-bolts] saw her fiery end, and perished rejoicing in a childbearing death [the infant Dionysos]. In one bridal chamber could be seen Himeros (Desire), Eileithyia (Childbirth), and the Erinyes (Avengers) together."
III. HERA, ATHAMAS & INO (Jealous Wrath)
Hera was furious when she discovered Athamas and Ino were secretly rearing the young god Dionysos, son of her hated rival Semele, and despatched an Erinys to drive the pair insane.
Callistratus, Descriptions 14 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C4th A.D.) :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting :] Athamas goaded on by madness. He was shown as naked, his hair reddened with blood and its locks flying in the wind, his eye distraught, himself filled with consternation; and he was armed not by madness alone for a rash deed, nor did he rage merely with the soul-consuming fears which the Erinyes (Furies) send; nay, he even held a sword out in front of him, like a man making a sally . . . Ino too was present, in a state of terror, trembling slightly, her face place and corpse-like though fright; and she embraced her infant child and held her breast to its lips, letting the nurturing drops fall on the nursling."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 451 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Juno-Hera travels to the ynderworld to rouse the Erinyes against Athamas and Ino, foster-parents of her hated stepson Dionysos :] Juno Saturnia [Hera] forced herself to go--so huge her hate and anger--from her home in heaven. She entered [the Underworld] and the threshold groaned under the holy tread . . . Juno called the Night-Born Sisters (sorores genitae nocte) [ the Erinyes], divinities implacable, doom-laden. There they sat, guarding the dungeon's adamantine doors, and combed the black snakes hanging in their hair. And when they recognised her through the gloom the Sisters rose. ‘The Dungeon of the Damned’ that place is called . . . At all of them [the damned souls], but chiefly at Ixion, Saturnia [Hera] glared, then turned her gaze to Sisyphus and ‘Why should he,’ she said, ‘Of all the brothers suffer punishment for ever, while proud Athamas resides in a rich palace, who with his wife has always held me in contempt?’
She explained her hatred's cause, and why she came, and what she wanted. What she wanted was the fall of Cadmus' house and Athamas dragged down to crime and horror by those Sisters three [the Erinyes]. Prayers, promises and orders, all in one, she poured and begged their aid. When she had done, Tisiphone, dishevelled as she was, shook her white hair and tossed aside the snakes that masked her face. ‘There is no need,’ she said, ‘Of rigmaroles. Count your commands as done. Leave this unlovely realm and make your way back home to the more wholesome airs of heaven.’ . . .
Losing no time, malign Tisiphone seized a torch steeped in blood, put on a robe all red with dripping gore and wound a snake about her waist, and started from her home; and with her as he went were Luctus (Grief) and Pavor (Dread), Terror (Terror), and Insania (Madness) too with frantic face. She stood upon the threshold of the palace; the door-posts shook, it's said; the maple doors turned pale, the sunlight fled. The monstrous sight terrified Ino, terrified Athamas. They made to leave the palace; in the entrance the baleful Erinys stood and barred their way, stretching her arms entwined with tangled snakes, and shaking out her hair. The snakes, dislodged, gave hissing sounds; some crawled upon her shoulders; some, gliding round her bosom, vomited a slime of venom, flickering their tongues and hissing horribly. Then from her hair she tore out two with a doom-charged aim darted them. Down the breasts of Athamas and Ino, winding, twisting, they exhaled their noisome breath; yet never any wound to see, the fateful fangs affect their minds. Tisiphone brought with her poisons too of magic power : lip-froth of Cerberus, the Echidna's venom, wild deliriums, blindnesses of the brain, and crime and tears, and maddened lust for murder; all ground up, mixed with fresh blood, boiled in a pan of bronze, and stirred with a green hemlock stick. And while they shuddered there, she poured the poisoned brew, that broth of madness, over both their breasts right down into their hearts. Then round and round she waved her torch, fire following brandished fire. And so, her task accomplished, victory won, back to great Dis' [Haides'] realm of wraiths she went, and loosed the snake she'd fastened round her waist. Then raving through the palace Aeolides [Athamas] shouted . . . [and in his madness he boiled his elder son alive and attempted to slay his wife and infant son who leapt from a cliff into the sea to escape him]."
For other versions of the MYTH of the Erinys-driven madness of Athamas see:
(1) Family Curses: Filicide, Children vs Athamas (previous page)
(2) Family Curses: Filicide, Nephele vs Ino (previous page)
IV. HERA & DIONYSUS (Jealous Wrath)
Hera later afflicted her stepson Dionysos with madness through the power of the Erinys.
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 31. 70 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Hera complains to Persephone :] ‘Come now, arm your Erinyes against wineface Bakkhos, that I may not see a bastard and a mortal king of Olympos . . . Be the avenger of my sorrow . . .’
The whole mind of Persephoneia was perturbed while she spoke, babbling deceit as the false tears bedewed her cheeks. Goddess bowed assent to goddess, and gave her [the Erinys] Megaira (Megaera) to go with her, that with her evil eye she might fulfil the desire of Hera's jealous heart.
[Dionysos was then waging war against the Indians.] Hera then shot away with stormwinged shoe : three strides she made, and the fourth brought her to Ganges. She pointed out to unsmiling Megaira the crowd of dead Indians, the sweat of the army and prowess of Dionysos. When the Erinys beheld the deathdealing feats of Lyaios (Lyaeus), her jealous heart was furious even more than heavenly Hera. Then Hera was glad; and with a grim laugh she addressed the snakyhaired goddess in despondent voice : ‘See how the young kings of Olympos triumph! . . . Zeus has been delivered of one son from Semele, that he may destroy all the Indians in a mass, the gentle innocents! Let Zeus the lawbreaker learn, and Bakkhos, how great is the strength of Megaira! . . .’
With these words, she flew away through the upper air; and silently in a cave of the neighbouring Kaukasian cliff, Megaira cast off the terrible serpent shape, and waited there in the form of an owl until she should see great Zeus fall asleep, for that was Queen Hera's command."
[N.B. This account continues in the following passage.]
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 32. 100 ff :
"The Erinys of many shapes wandered among the hills armed herself against Dionysos by Hera's commands. She made a great rattling over Lyaios' (Lyaeus') eyes, loudly cracking her snaky whip; she shook her head, and a deadly hiss issued from her quivering serpent-hair, terrible, and fountains of poison drenched the rocky wilderness . . ((lacuna)) At times, again, she showed a face like some wild beast; a mad and awful lion with thick bristles upon his neck, threatening Dionysos with bloody gape.
Then Artemis saw Bakkhos (Bacchus) caught in a fit of mind-marauding madness, and would have driven the madness away, but Hera with heavy noise aloft cast a burning brand to scare her off . . .
Now Megaira (Megaera) black in her infernal robe went back into the darkness, and sent many spectral visions to Lyaios. Showers of poison-drops were shot upon the head of Bromios and big fat sparks; ever in his ears was the whistling sound of the hellish whip which robbed him of his senses.
Thus tormented in the lonely forest, Dionysos paced the ruthless mountains with wandering foot, shaken by terrible pantings . . . [He then slew the beasts of the forest and chased his own Nymphai (Nymphs), Bassarides and Satyroi (Satyrs) across the hills.]"
V. HERA & HERACLES (Jealous Wrath)
Hera angered by Herakles' successful completion of the Twelve Labours, sent an Erinys to drive him mad and slay his own children. In Euripides the agent of the madness is the goddess Lyssa rather than the Erinyes.
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 23 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"The Madness of Herakles (Heracles) . . . He tosses those who approach him and tramples on them, dribbling much foam from his mouth and smiling a grim and alien smile . . . His throat bellows, his neck dilates, and the veins about the neck swell, the veins through which all that feeds the disease flows up to the sovereign parts of the head. The Erinys (Fury) which has gained this mastery over him you have many times seen on the stage, but you cannot see her here; for she has entered into Herakles himself and she dances through his breast and leaps up inside him and muddles his mind."
Seneca, Hercules Furens 75 & 100 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[Hera rages against Heracles :] ‘Then on, my wrath, on, and crush this plotter [Herakles] of big things . . . Rouse the Eumenides from the lowest abyss of Tartarus; let them be here, let their flaming locks drop fire, and let their savage hands brandish snaky whips . . . Begin, [Erinyes] handmaids of Dis [Haides], make haste to brandish the burning pine; let Megaera lead on her band bristling with serpents and with baleful hand snatch a huge faggot from the blazing pyre. To work! claim vengeance for outraged Styx [i.e. the theft of Cerberus from the underworld]. Shatter his heart; let a fiercer flame scorch his spirit than rages in Aetna's furnaces. That Alcides [Heracles] may be driven on, robbed of all sense, by mighty fury smitten, mine must be the frenzy first--Juno, why rav'st thou not? Me, ye sisters, me first, bereft of reason, drive to madness, if I am to plan some deed worthy a stepdame's doing. Let my request be changed; may he come back and find his sons unharmed, that is my prayer, and strong of hand may he return. I have found the day when Hercules' hated valour is to be my joy. Me has he overcome; now may he overcome himself and long to die, though late returned from the world of death. Herein may it profit me that he is the son of Jove [Zeus], I will stand by him and, that his shafts may fly from string unerring, I'll poise them with my hand, guide the madman's weapons, and so at last be on the side of Hercules in the fray. When he has done this crime, then let his father admit those hands to heaven!’"
Seneca, Hercules Furens 982 ff :
"[Heracles driven mad the Erinys cries out :] ‘Fiery Erinys cracks her brandished scourge, and closer, closer yet, holds out before my face brands burnt on funeral pyres. Cruel Tisiphone, her head with snakes encircled, since the dog [Cerberus] was stolen away has blocked the empty gate with her outstretched torch.’"
VI. DIONYSUS & LYCURGUS (LYKOURGOS) (Divine Wrath)
Dionysos set an Erinys upon the impious king Lykourgos (Lycurgus) who had attacked the god and driven him into the sea. The Erinys appears in a C5th B.C. Athenian vase painting depicting the punishment of Lykourgos which suggests it played a role in one of the tragedy-plays dramatizing the story.
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 21. 106 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[The women of Lykourgos' kingdom are driven mad by an Erinys sent by Dionysos :] The woodranging Nysian women, lashed by the whip of dragonhair Megaira (Megaera), bellowed like bulls and murdered their children."
VII. DIONYSUS & PENTHEUS (Divine Wrath)
Pentheus, like Lykourgos, denied the divinity of the god Dionysos and attempted to drive him and his followers from the country. The god afflicted him with the madness of the Erinys, driving him to his doom. In earlier versions of this myth, Dionysos himself is the source of Pentheus' hallucinatory madness.
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 14 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting :] Kithairon (Cithaeron) in the form of a man laments the woes soon to occur on his slopes [i.e. the death of Pentheus], and he wears an ivy crown aslant on his head--for he accepts the crown most unwillingly--and [the Erinys] Megaira causes a fir to shoot up beside him and brings to light a spring of water, in token, I fancy, of the blood of Aktaion (Actaeon) and of Pentheus."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 44. 198 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Dionysos urges Persephone to send the Erinyes against Pentheus :] ‘Persephoneia, whipperin of the dead, and yours are the ghosts which are subservient to the throne of Tartaros, let me see Pentheus a dead man . . . With Tartarean whip of thy Tisiphone, or furious Megaira, stop the foolish threats of Pentheus . . . The race of puny men, whose mind is light, whose threats the whips of the Eumenides [Erinyes] repress perforce . . .’
Persephone was arming her Erinyes for the pleasure of Dionysos Zagreus, and in wrath helping Dionysos his late born brother. Then at the grim nod of Zeus Khthonios (of the Underworld) [i.e. Haides], the Eumenides assailed the palace of Pentheus. One leapt out of the gloomy pit swinging her Tartarean whip of vipers; she drew a stream from Kokytos and water from Styx, and drenched Agaue's [the mother of Pentheus'] rooms with the infernal drops as if with a prophecy of tears and groaning for Thebes; and the deity brought that Attic knife from Attika, which long before murdered Itylos (Itylus), when his mother Prokne (Procne) with heart like a lioness, helped by murderous Philomele, cut with steel the throat of the beloved child of her womb, and served up his own son for cannibal Tereus to eat. This knife, the channel of bloodshed, the Erinys held, and scratching up the dust with her pernicious fingernails she buried the Attic blade among the hillgrown roots of a tall fir, among the Mainades (Maenads), where Pentheus was to die headless [i.e. he was beheaded by his frenzied mother]. She brought the blood of Gorgon Medousa (Medusa), scraped off into a shell fresh when she was newly slain, and smeared the tree with the crimson Libyan drops. This is what the mad Erinys did in the mountains."
VIII. DIONYSUS? & ORPHEUS (Divine Wrath)
An Erinys drove the Thrakian Bakkhantes (Bacchantes) into a mad frenzy causing them to tear the bard Orpheus limb from limb. In older versions of the myth Dionysos himself is the agent of the madness rather than an Erinys.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 11. 14 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"A frenzied band of Thracian women, wearing skins of beats, from some high ridge of ground caught sight of him [Orpheus]. ‘Look!’ shouted one of them, tossing her hair that floated in the breeze, ‘Look, there he is, the man who scorns us!’ and she threw her lance full in Apollo's minstrel's face . . . The reckless onslaught swelled; their fury knew no bounds; stark Erinys (Madness) reigned . . . Bacchic screaming drowned the lyre. And then at last his song unheard, his blood reddened the stones."
IX. APHRODITE & THE LEMNIAN WOMEN (Divine Wrath)
The women of Lemnos refused to worship the goddess Aphrodite and she punished them by driving their men into the arms of captive slave-women. The goddess later sent the Erinyes to drive the women into a mad frenzy, causing them to murder their husbands and sons.
Statius, Thebaid 5. 65 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Aphrodite was enraged by the women of Lemnos who refused her worship :] The goddess, armed with other torches and deadlier weapons, had flitted through the marriage chambers in the darkness of midnight with the sisterhood of Tartarus [the Erinyes] about her, and how she had filled every secret place with twining serpents and our bridal thresholds with dire terror, pitying not the people of her faithful spouse [Hephaistos (Hephaestus)]."
Statius, Thebaid 5. 155 ff :
"They [the Lemnian women] pledged their solemn word [to slay their husbands], and thou wast witness, Martian Enyo, and thou, Ceres of the Underworld [i.e. Persephone], and the Stygian goddesses [the Erinyes] came in answer to their prayers; but unseen among them everywhere was Venus [Aphrodite], Venus armed, Venus kindling wrath . . .
[The women murdered their husbands in their sleep:] When Somnus (Sleep) [Hypnos], shrouded in the gloom of his brother Letus (Death) [Thanatos] and dripping with Stygian dew, enfolds the doomed city, and from his relentless horn pours heavy drowse, and marks out the men. Wives and daughters are awake for murder, and joyously do the Sisters [Erinyes] sharpen their savage weapons. They fall to their horrid work : in the breast of each her Erinys (Fury) reigns . . .
[The day after the slaughter :] The Eumenid band [the Erinyes] and Venus [Aphrodite] sated to the full had fled the stricken city."
X. HEPHAESTUS & APHRODITE (Jealous Wrath)
Hephaistos (Hephaestus) presented Harmonia--the girl born of Aphrodite's adulterous affair with Ares--with a cursed necklace on her wedding day. He used an adder from the head of an Erinys to bind its power and curse anyone who possessed it--including its subsequent owners Semele, Jokasta (Jocasta), and Eriphyle.
Statius, Thebaid 2. 280 ff :
"[Amongst the ingredients used by Hephaistos in the forging of the cursed necklace of Harmonia :] The king adder snatched from [the Erinys] Tisiphone's grisly locks."
For MORE information on the cursed necklace of Harmonia see HARMONIA
DIVINE CURSES 4 : WAR
The Erinyes were sometimes associated with war, usually as exacters of just retribution and the agents of family curses--such as in the cases of the Trojan War and the war between the brothers Polyneikes and Eteokles of Thebes.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 25 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Depicted on the shield of Akhilleus (Achilles) :] And there were man-devouring wars, and all horrors of fight . . . Eris (Strife), and the Erinnyes (Avenging Spirits) fierce-hearted--she, still goading warriors on to the onset they, outbreathing breath of fire. Around them hovered the relentless Keres (Death Spirits)."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 6. 403 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[The Erinys] Tisiphone stirs Roman legions and their princes to war, whose lines on either side glitter with eagles and with spears."
For MORE information on Erinyes as goddesses of war see:
(1) Other Curses: Oath-Breakers, Paris & the Trojans (previous page)
(2) Family Curses: Oedipus & his Sons (previous page)
(3) Erinyes Messenger of Il-Omen (next page)
- Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Callistratus, Descriptions - Greek Rhetoric C4th A.D.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Virgil, Georgics - Latin Bucolic C1st B.C.
- Seneca, Hercules Furens - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Seneca, Oedipus - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides (only partially quoted).