Mercy, Compassion (eleos)
ELEOS was the goddess or personified spirit (daimona) of mercy, pity and compassion. Her opposite number was Anaideia (Ruthlessness).
FAMILY OF ELEOS
E′LEOS (Eleos), the personification of pity or mercy, had an altar in the agora at Athens. "The Athenians," says Pausanias (i. 17. § 1), "are the only ones among the Hellenes that worship this divine being, and among all the gods this is the most useful to human life in all its vicissitudes." Those who implored the assistance of the Athenians, such as Adrastus and the Heracleidae, approached as suppliants the altar of Eleos. (Apollod. ii. 8. § 1, iii. 7. § 1; Schol ad Soph. Oed. Col. 258 )
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 167 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[The sons of Herakles (Heracles) sought refuge in Athens after the death of their father :] Eurystheus told them to give themselves up and even threatened them with war. They left Trakhis (Trachis) in fear and fled through Hellas, with him in pursuit. They reached Athens where they occupied the altar of Eleos (Mercy) and demanded help. Rather than surrender them, the Athenians stood up to Eurystheus."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 7. 1 :
"[After the War of the Seven Against Thebes :] Having succeeded to the kingdom of Thebes, Kreon (Creon) cast out the Argive dead unburied, issued a proclamation that none should bury them, and set watchmen . . . Adrastos (Adrastus) fled to Athens and took refuge at the altar of Eleos (Mercy), and laying on it the suppliant's bough he prayed that they would bury the dead. And the Athenians marched with Theseus, captured Thebes, and gave the dead to their kinfolk to bury."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 17. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"In the Athenian market-place among the objects not generally known is an altar to Eleos (Mercy), of all divinities the most useful in the life of mortals and in the vicissitudes of fortune, but honoured by the Athenians along among the Greeks."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Nox (Night) and Erebus [were born] : Fatum (Fate), Senectus (Old Age), Mors (Death), Letum (Dissolution), Continentia (Moderation), Somnus (Sleep), Somnia (Dreams), Amor (Love)--that is Lysimeles, Epiphron (Prudence), Porphyrion, Epaphus, Discordia (Discord), Miseria (Misery), Petulantia (Wantonness), Nemesis (Envy), Euphrosyne (Good Cheer), Amicitia (Friendship), Misericordia (Compassion) [i.e. Eleos], Styx (Hatred); the three Parcae (Fates), namely Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos; the Hesperides." [N.B. Eleos is named Misericordia in this Latin text.]
Statius, Thebaid 12. 481 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"There was in the midst of the city [of Athens] an altar belonging to no god of power; gentle Clementia (Clemency) [Eleos] had there her seat, and the wretched made it sacred; never lacked she a new suppliant, none did she condemn or refuse their prayers. All that ask are heard, night and day may one approach and win the heart of the goddess by complaints alone. No costly rites are hers; she accepts no incense flame, no blood deep-welling; tears flow upon her altar, sad offering of severed tresses hang above it, and raiment left when fortune changed. Around is a grove of gentle trees, marked by the cult of the venerable, wool-entwined laurel and the suppliant olive. No image is there, to no metal is the divine form entrusted, in hearts and minds does the goddess delight to dwell. The distressed are ever nigh her, her precinct ever swarms with needy folk, only to the prosperous her shrine is unknown. Fame says that the sons of Hercules, saved in battle after the death of their divine sire, set up this altar; but fame comes short of the truth; ‘tis right to believe that the heavenly ones themselves, to whom Athens was ever a welcoming land as once they gave laws and a new man [Triptolemos] and sacred ceremonies and the seeds that here descended upon the empty earth, so now sanctified in this spot common refuge for travailing souls, whence the wrath and threatenings of monarchs might be far removed, and Fortuna (Fortune) [Tykhe (Tyche)] depart from a shrine of righteousness. Already to countless races were those altars known; hither came flocking those defeated in war and exiled from their country, kings who had lost their realms and those guilty of grievous crime, and sought for peace; and later this abode of kindliness o’ercame the rage of Oedipus and sheltered the murder of Olynthus and defended hapless Orestes from his mother. Hither guided by the common folk comes the distressful band of Lerna [the widows of the army of the Seven Against Thebes seeking the aid of Athens], and the crowd of previous votaries give way before them. Scarce were they arrived, when their troubles were soothed and their hearts had rest."
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 11. 15 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"Lucius, you have reached [in your spirit] the harbour of Quietis (Quiet) [Hesykhia] and the altar of Misericordia (Mercy) [Eleos]."
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Apuleius, The Golden Ass - Latin Novel C2nd A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Scholiast on Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus 258, Scholiast on Aristophanes Knights 11151, Timocles 31.