1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Erinyes

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ERINYES (Lat. Furiae), in Greek mythology, the avenging deities, properly the angry goddesses or goddesses of the curse pronounced upon evil-doers. According to Hesiod (Theog. 185) they were the daughters of Earth, and sprang from the blood of the mutilated Uranus; in Aeschylus (Eum. 321) they are the daughters of Night, in Sophocles (O.C. 40) of Darkness and Earth. Sometimes one Erinys is mentioned, sometimes several; Euripides first spoke of them as three in number, to whom later Alexandrian writers gave the names Alecto (unceasing in anger), Tisiphone (avenger of murder), Megaera (jealous). Their home is the world below, whence they ascend to earth to pursue the wicked. They punish all offences against the laws of human society, such as perjury, violation of the rites of hospitality, and, above all, the murder of relations. But they are not without benevolent and beneficent attributes. When the sinner has expiated his crime they are ready to forgive. Thus, their persecution of Orestes ceases after his acquittal by the Areopagus. It is said that on this occasion they were first called Eumenides (“the kindly”), a euphemistic variant of their real name. At Athens, however, where they had a sanctuary at the foot of the Areopagus hill and a sacred grove at Colonus, their regular name was Semnae (venerable). Black sheep were sacrificed to them during the night by the light of torches. A festival was held in their honour every year, superintended by a special priesthood, at which the offerings consisted of milk and honey mixed with water, but no wine. In Aeschylus, the Erinyes are represented as awful, Gorgon-like women, wearing long black robes, with snaky locks, bloodshot eyes and claw-like nails. Later, they are winged maidens of serious aspect, in the garb of huntresses, with snakes or torches in their hair, carrying scourges, torches or sickles. The identification of Erinyes with Sanskrit Saranyu, the swift-speeding storm cloud, is rejected by modern etymologists; according to M. Bréal, the Erinyes are the personification of the formula of imprecation (ἀρά), while E. Rohde sees in them the spirits of the dead, the angry souls of murdered men.

See C. O. Müller, Dissertations on the Eumenides of Aeschylus, (Eng. tr., 1835); A. Rosenber, Die Erinyen (1874); J. E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903); and Journal of Hellenic Studies, xix. p. 205, according to whom the Erinyes were primarily local ancestral ghosts, potent for good or evil after death, earth genii, originally conceived as embodied in the form of snakes, whose primitive haunt and sanctuary was the omphalos at Delphi; E. Rohde, Psyche (1903); A. Rapp in Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie, and J. A. Hild in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquités, s. v. Furiae.