roman mythology

F is for Furies

The Furies, or Dirae, are part of Roman mythology. In Greek mythology, they’re called Erinnýes (“the angry ones”) or Eumenídes (“the Kindly Ones”). They’re the embodiments of vengeance. One description of their existence is that they came from the blood of Caelus (Greek: Uranus) when it fell upon Terra Mater (Gaia) due to Saturn (Cronus) castrating him. Another variation is that they were born from the primordial goddess of night, Nox (Nyx).

While typically thought of as three sisters, according to mythology, the real number of them are unknown. Virgil, the classical Roman poet, was first to recognize the three known Furies. Their names are Alecto (which means “unceasing”), Megaera (“grudging”), and Tisiphone (“avenging murder”). They tend to appear as women with serpent wreathes on their heads, blood running from their eyes and the wings of a bat or bird. And occasionally even the body of a dog.

When they’re not pursuing wrongdoers on Earth, the Furies are thought to spend most of their time in Tartarus, which is in the underworld below Hades, torturing damned souls.

‘Orestes Pursued by the Furies’ (1921) by John Singer Sargent

Interesting Tidbits:

  • On a rare few occasions, they would be called to punish a god, but mostly, they sought justice on mortals who broke laws such as murdering kin or breaking oaths.
  • A common Greek story featuring the Furies is “Eumenides” by Aeschylus. The Furies torment Orestes until he begs the goddess Athena to convince the Furies to leave him alone.
  • The Furies are known to be just, so if one repents, they will stop tormenting the person and sometimes bestow upon them blessings.
Good links to check out for more information:

What are your thoughts on the Furies? Have you experienced any books, movies, or games with them in it?