Web Theoi
ERINYES 2 CURSES
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Names Translation
Ερινυς
Ερινυες
Erinys
Erinyes
Furia, Dira
Furiae, Dirae
Murky, Dark, Misty
Ones (eêroeis)
OTHER ERINYES PAGES
Erinyes 1 Introduction
Erinyes 3 Curses: Oidipous
Erinyes 4 Curses Orestes
Erinyes 5 Curses, Divine Wrath
Erinyes 6 Omens, Animals, Titles, Cult

THE ERINYES were the three goddess avengers of the crimes of murder, unfilial conduct, impiety and perjury.

This page describes various instances in which the curse of the Erinyes


GODDESSES OF PUNISHMENT & RETRIBUTION

The Erinyes were goddesses who punished the impois and criminal. They were particularly concerned with those crimes which most offended gods: patricide, matricide, betrayal of parents and family, murder, manslaughter, the breaking of oaths and crimes against the gods.

The Erinyes as punishers of specific crimes are described in more detail in the sections which follow.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 638 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"When a messenger with gloomy countenance reports to a people dire disaster of its army's routone common wound inflicted on the State, while from many a home many a victim is devoted to death . . . when, I say, he is packed with woes like this, he should sing the triumph-song of the Erinyes (Avenging Spirits)."

Orphic Hymn 69 to the Erinyes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To mankind’s impious counsels ever nigh, fateful, and fierce to punish these you [the Erinyes] fly. Revenge and sorrows dire to you belong, hid in a savage vest, severe and strong . . . The boundless tribe of mortals you descry, and justly rule with Dike’s (Justice’s) impartial eye."

Orphic Hymn 70 to the Eumenides (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Illustrious Eumenides . . . whose piercing sight with vision unconfined surveys the deeds of all the impious kind. On fate attendant, punishing the race with wrath severe, of deeds unjust and base . . . eternal rulers, terrible and strong, to whom revenge and tortures dire belong; fateful, and horrid to the human sight."

Orphic Hymn 29 to Persephone (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Praxidike (Exacter of Justice) [Persephone], subterranean queen. The Eumenides’ [Erinyes’] source."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 10. 260 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"The Litai (Prayers), the daughters of Zeus the thunderer, whose anger followeth unrelenting pride with vengeance, and the Erinnys executes their wrath."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 470 ff:
"May his soul suffer all torments that the Erinnyes (Avenging Fiends) devise for villains!"

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 25. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"In Keryneia [in Akhaia] is a sanctuary of the Eumenides (Kindly Ones) [the Erinyes] ... Whosoever enters with the desire to see the sights, if he be guilty of bloodshed, defilement or impiety, is said at once to become insane with fright."

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 9. 29 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"One day Sokrates came home from a dinner at a late hour of the night. Some badly behaving youths learned of his movements in advance and lay in wait for him. They carried lighted torches and wore masks of the Erinyes, it being their habit to misuse their leisure by playing tricks on other people. Sokrates was not frightened when he saw them; he stopped and began asking them questions." [N.B. "Masks of the Erinyes" refers to the masks worn by actors portraying the goddesses in Greek tragedy.]

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 18 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"The Furiae [Erinyes] are goddesses, presumably in their capacity of detectors and avengers of crime and wickedness."

Virgil, Aeneid 12. 848 ff (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"Two demon fiends there are, called by the name of Furiae [Erinyes] . . . These creatures attend on Juppiter’s [Zeus’] throne, at the house of heaven’s stern ruler, ready to stab fear into the hearts of anguished mortals whenever the king of the gods is dealing out pestilences and hideous death, or affrighting guilty cities with war."

Seneca, Hercules Furens 579 (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"They [the Erinyes] who with awful brows investigate men’s crimes and sift out ancient wrongs."

Statius, Thebaid 1. 227 (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"The array of warring Eumenides [Erinyes] so oft summoned from the depths of hell."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 730 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Thou, O maid [Dike lady Justice], that dost report guilty deeds to Jove [Zeus], who lookest down upon earth with unerring eyes, ye avenging goddesses [Erinyes], thou Divine Law, and thou Poena (Retribution), aged mother of the Furiai [Erinyes]."

Suidas s.v. Aei parthenous (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Aei parthenous (Eternal virgins): The Erinnyes. This is legendary. It is necessary to consider them incorruptible and [that they] never stained their powers with bribes from wrong-doers."


FAMILY CURSES 1: FILIAL BETRAYAL

The Erinyes were goddesses of the curses levelled against a family member as punishment for an act of betrayal. The most powerful of these were the curses of parents directed against their children.

See also Family Curses 2-4 below.

I) OURANOS & KRONOS (Father vs Son)

Kronos castrated his father Ouranos (the Sky) as he was descending to lie with Gaia (the Earth). From the dripping blood of his wound Gaia was impregnated and gave birth to the father-avenging Erinyes. They were the Daimones who, it was implied, drove Zeus to avenge the crime by deposing Kronos and casting him into the Tartarean pit. The Erinyes were the embodiment of the curses of Ouranos against his son.

For the MYTH of castration of Ouranos see Parentage of the Erinyes (this page)
For MORE information on the castration of Ouranos see OURANOS

II) OIDIPOUS & HIS SONS (Father vs Sons)

After Oidipous discovered that he had slain his father and married his mother he tore out his own eyes in grief. His sons Polyneikes and Eteokles showed no sympathy, but immediately seized his throne and set to mocking him in his misery. Oidipous called down the curse of the Erinys upon them for this mistreatment.

For the MYTH of Oidipous' curse upon his sons see:
Family Curses: Oidipous & His Sons (this page)

III) ALTHAIA & MELEAGROS (Mother vs Son)

Althaia called down the curse of the Erinys upon her son Meleagros in revenge for the slaying of her brothers.

For the MYTH of Althaia's curse upon her son see:
Family Curses: Althaia & Meleagros (this page)

IV) PENELOPE & TELEMEKHOS (Mother vs Son)

Telemakhos professes to fear that his mother with call down her Erinyes (or curses) upon him if he forces her to marry one of the suitors.

Homer, Odyssey 2. 136 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Antinous leader of the suitors to Telemakhos son of Odysseus] `We will neither return to our estates nor depart elsewhere till she [Penelope] takes for husband whichever of us Akhaians she may choose.'
Thoughful Telemakhos answered him: `Antinous, I cannot unhouse [force her to marry another] against her will the mother who bore me and who bred me . . . dark powers also will do me evil because when my mother quits this house she will call down the grim Erinyes on me; and with fellow-men I shall be a byword.'"

V) AMYNTOR & PHOINIX (Father vs Son)

Amyntor called on the Erinyes to curse his son Phoinix, and make him childless, as punishment for lying with his mistress.

Homer, Iliad 9. 450 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"`I [Phoinix] first left Hellas . . . running from the hatred of Ormenos' son Amyntor, my father; who hated me for the sake of a fair-haired mistress. For he made love to her himself, and dishonoured his own wife, my mother; who was forever taking my knees and entreating me to lie with this mistress instead so that she would hate the old man. I was persuaded and did it; and my father when he heard of it straightway called down his curses, and invoked against me the dreaded Erinyes that I might never have any son born of my seed to dandle on my knees; and the divinities, Zeus Khthonios (of the underworld) [Haides] and Persephone the honoured goddess, accomplished his curses.'"

VI) KINYRAS vs MYRRHA (Father vs Daughter)

Myrrha fell in love with her own father Kinyras and conspired to lie with him. The Erinyes in these quotes probably represent the curses cast down upon Myrrha by her father when he learned the truth.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 313 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Cupidus [Eros] himself denies his arrows hurt Myrrha [and made her fall in love with her own father Kinyras] and clears his torch of that offence. One of the three dread Sorores (Sisters) [the Erinyes] blasted her with viper’s venom and firebrands of Stygia (Hell). To hate one’s father is a crime; this love [sexual desire] a greater crime than hate."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 349 ff :
"[Myrrha is warned by her nurse that the curse of the Erinys would be fall upon her if she proceeded with her plan to seduce her own father:] 'Will you become your father’s concubine, your mother’s rival? . . . Surely the snake-haired Sorores (Sisters) [Erinyes] frighten you, whom guilty souls see aiming at their eyes their fiendish flaming torches. Come, while yet no sin’s committed, banish thoughts of sin, nor ever foul great nature’s covenant by that forbidden act!"


FAMILY CURSES 2: FAMILY BETRAYAL

The Erinyes were goddesses of the curses levelled against a family member as punishment for an act of betrayal.

See also Family Curses 1-4 (above and below)

I) ZEUS & POSEIDON (Elder Brother vs Younger)

The Erinyes sided with Zeus as the eldest son in support of his right to rule the family of the gods. Poseidon is warned not to challenge him, as the Erinyes would punish this betrayal.

Homer, Iliad 15. 200 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Iris addresses Poseidon who is supporting Trojans in battle against the will of Zeus:] `Will you change a little? The hearts of the great can be changed. You know the Erinyes, how they forever side with the elder.'"

II) THE PHRIXIDES & AEETES (Grandsons vs Grandfather)

Aeetes falsely accusing his grandsons of plotting against him and banished them from the land. Medea suggests that the Erinyes brought them back with the Argonauts to avenge this betrayal of his own kin.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3. 775 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"[Medea:] `Some god, some Erinys (Fury) rather, must have brought them [the sons of Phrixos, returning to Kolkhis with the Argonauts] back with tears and grief for us [i.e. Aeetes and his family].'"

III) KHALKIOPE & MEDEA (Sister vs Sister)

Khalkiope threatens to return as a ghost with the Erinyes in tow to haunt her sister Medea, if she does not help defend her and her sons from death at the hands of their cruel father.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3. 401 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"[Khalkiope to her sister Medea] `I implore you . . . not to stand by while they [her sons] are mercilessly done to death. If you do so, may I die with my dear sons and haunt you afterwards from Haides like an avenging Erinys (Fury) . . . ’
[Medea to Khalkiope:] `Sister you left me speechless when you talked of curses and avenging Erinyes (Furies).'"

For other MYTHS of Medea and the curse of the Erinys see:
(1) Family Curses: Fratricide, Apsyrtos & Medea (this page)
(2) Other Curses: Oath-Breakers, Medea & Jason (this page)


FAMILY CURSES 3: PATRICIDE & MATRICIDE

The most terrible of the family curses were those inflicted for the crimes of patricide or matricide. The ghost of the dead parent would return from the Underworld with avenging Erinyes (Furies) to haunt and drive mad the criminal child. Only through severe atonement could the wrath of the ghost and their Furies be abated.

The three most famous victims of the Erinys-curse were: Orestes for the slaying of his duplicitous mother, Oidipous for his unintentional patricide, and Alkmaion for the crime of matricide.

See also General Curses: Murder & Manslaughter below

I) LAIOS & OIDIPOUS (Ghost of Father vs Son)

For the MYTH of the Erinys curse of Laios upon his son see:
Family Curses: Laios & Oidipous (next page)

II) ERIPHYLE & ALKMAION (Ghost of Mother vs Son)

For the MYTH of the Alkmaion and the Erinyes see:
Family Curses: Eriphyle & Alkmaion (this page)

III) KLYTAIMNESTRA & ORESTES (Ghost of Mother vs Son)

For the MYTH of Orestes and the Erinyes see:
Family Curses: Klytaimnestra & Orestes (next page)


FAMILY CURSES 4: FRATRICIDE & SORORICIDE

The slaying a brother or sister was avenged with fury by the Erinyes. The curse was cast upon the guilty child by his/her grieving parents.

I) HIPPOLYTE & PENTHESILEIA (Ghost of Sister vs Sister)

Penthesileia accidentally slew her sister whilst hunting. She was forced into exile and came to King Priamos of Troy seeking purification to appease the vengeful Furies.

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 28 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Then [to Troy] from Thermodon, from broad-sweeping streams, came, clothed upon with beauty of Goddesses, Penthesileia - came athirst indeed for groan-resounding battle, but yet more fleeing abhorred reproach and evil fame, lest they of her own folk should rail on her because of her own sister's death, for whom ever her sorrows waxed, Hippolyte, whom she had struck dead with her mighty spear, not of her will - 'twas at a stag she hurled. So came she to the far-famed land of Troy. Yea, and her warrior spirit pricked her on, of murder's dread pollution thus to cleanse her soul, and with such sacrifice to appease the Awful Ones, the Erinnyes, who in wrath for her slain sister straightway haunted her unseen: for ever round the sinner's steps they hover; none may 'scape those goddesses."

II) APSYRTOS & MEDEA (Ghost of Brother vs Sister)

When Jason and Medea were fleeing Kolkhis and King Aeetes with the Golden Fleece, Medea slew and dismembered her own brother Apsyrtos to slow the pursuing Kolkhians. Her aunt Kirke purified her of the stain of murder and appeased her brother's Erinys (Fury). Later Medea's tragic end with Jason is blamed on the Erinys of Absyrtos.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 473 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"Apsyrtos sank to his knees in the porch [slain by Iason with the aid of Apsyrtos' sister Medea] and in his death throes cupped his hands over the wound to stanch the dark blood. Even so, as Medea shrank aside, he pained red her silvery veil and dress. With eyes askance the unforgiving and indomitable Erinys (Fury) took quick note of the heinous deed."

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 700 ff :
"She [Kirke] set about the rites by which a ruthless slayer is absolved when he seeks asylum at the hearth. First, to atone for the unexpiated murder [Jason & Medea's murder of Apsyrtos], she took a suckling pig from a sow with dugs still swollen after littering. Holding it over them she cut its throat and let the blood fall on their hands. Next she propitiated Zeus with other libations, calling on him as Hikesios (the Cleanser), who listens to a murderer’s prayers with friendly ears. Then the attendant Naiades who did her housework carried all the refuse out of doors. But she herself stayed by the hearth, burning cakes and other wineless offerings with prayers to Zeus, in the hope that she might cause the loathsome Erinyes to relent, and that he himself might once more smile upon this pair, whether the hands they lifted up to him were stained with a kinsman’s or a strangers blood."

Seneca, Medea 948 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[Medea prepares to slay her children:] `Now will they be torn from my bosom and carried away from me, midst tears and sighs and kisses. – Let them be lost to their father; they are lost to me. My grief grows again and my hate burns hot; Erinys, as of old, claims my unwilling hand. O wrath, where thou dost lead I follow. I would that from my womb the throng of proud Niobe had sprung, and that I had been the mother of twice seven sons! Too barren have I been for vengeance – yet for my brother and my father there is enough, for I have borne two sons.
Whither hastes that headlong horde of Furiae? Whom seek they? Against whom are they preparing their flaming blows? Whom does the hellish host threaten with its bloody brands? A huge snake hisses, whirled with the writhing lash. Whom does Megaera seek with her deadly torch? Whose shade comes there dimly seen, its limbs all scattered? It is my brother [Absyrtos, whom Medea slew], and ‘tis punishment he seeks. We’ll pay, yes, all the debt. Plunge your brands into my eyes, tear, burn; see, my breast is open to the Furies.
O brother, bid the avenging goddesses depart from me, and go in peace to the deep-buried ghosts; to myself leave me and use this hand, brother, which has drawn the sword – [She slays the first son.] With this victim I appease thy ghost."

For other MYTHS of Medea and the curse of the Erinys see:
Other Curses: Oath-Breakers, Medea & Jason (this page)

III) AESON & PELIAS (Ghost of Brother vs Half-Brother)

Aeson, father of the Argonaut Jason, was forced to commit suicide by his half-brother King Pelias. Before he consumed the deadly draught, he summoned forth the Erinyes and the ghost of his father Kretheus using necromancy to avenge himself on Pelias.

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 730 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Aeson saw that the bull still remained at the hour of the awful rites unslain [in the necromantic rituals used by Aeson to summon forth a ghost from the underworld and an avenging Erinyes], he dooms him to death, and with one hand upon the horns of the fated victim speaks for the last time `O ye [ghost of Kretheus] who received from Jupiter [Zeus] your reign and the light of life not idly spent . . . my father, summoned forth from the shades to view my death and to endure again the forgotten sorrows of men on earth, O grant me entry to the abode of quiet [Haides], and may the victim that I send before me win favour for me in your dwelling. Thou, O maid [Dike lady Justice], that dost report guilty deeds to Jove [Zeus], who lookest down upon earth with unerring eyes, ye avenging goddesses [Erinyes], thou Divine Law, and thou Poena (Retribution), aged mother of the Furiai [Erinyes], enter into the sinful palace of the king [Pelias], and bring upon him your fierce torches. Let accursed fear ravish his maddened heart; nor let him deem that my son alone will come with grim weapons in his bark [and take vengeance on the king] . . . '
Then he appeased the goddess of triple form [Hekate], and with his last sacrifice offers a prayer to the Stygian abodes . . . The chief of the Furiai [Erinyes] stood close by him, and touched with heavy hand the cup that steamed with deadly venom; eagerly they drank and drained the blood from the bowl."


FAMILY CURSES 5: FILICIDE

Filicide was the murder of a son or daughter. The curse of the Erinys was usually called down upon the murderous parent by guiltless one.

I) TEREUS & PROKNE (Husband vs Wife)

Tereus cursed his wife Prokne with the wrath of the Erinys for the murder of their son, whom she had served up to him as a meal.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 428 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"When they [the doomed Tereus and Prokne] were married, Juno [Hera] was not there to bless the rite, nor Hymenaeus [torch-bearing god of marriage] nor the Gratia [Kharis]. The Eumenides [Erinyes] held the [wedding] torches, torches seized from mourners’ hands; the Eumenides made their bed [as an omen of what was to come]. An unclean screech-owl like a nightmare sat above their chamber one the palace roof. That bird [or omen] haunted the couple’s union, that bird [or omen] haunted their parenthood."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 663 ff :
"With a great shout the Thracian king [Tereus, realising he had been fed his own son by his wife] thrust back the table, calling [with curses] from the chasms of Stygia (Hell) the snake-haired Sisters(Sorores Vipereae de valle Stygia) [Erinyes]."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 44. 198 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The deity [an Erinys] brought that [cursed] Attic knife from Attika [as her accursed weapon], which long before murdered Itylos, when his mother Prokne 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."

II) JASON & MEDEA (Husband vs Wife)

The Erinyes were present when Medea slew her children by Jason in revenge for his betrayal of his oaths of loyalty to her. The Erinyes probably here were presiding over both the just revenge exacted upon Jason, and his own curses laid upon Medea for her filicide.

For the MYTHS of Medea and the curse of the Erinys see:
Other Curses: Oath-Breakers, Medea & Jason (this page)

III) CHILDREN VS ATHAMAS (Child Ghosts vs Father)

Themisto the wife of Athamas tried to murder her two stepchildren and, in a case of mistaken identity, slew her own two children instead. In one version of the story of the madness of Athamas, it was the ghosts of these children who inflicted the Erinys upon him. He murdered his other two children in the process.

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 10. 1 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The murderous mother [Themisto wife of Athamas] killed her sons in madness. Athamas their father, under the punishment which attested that he had beside his hearth Themisto the destroyer of her own offspring, was tormented by the maddeninglash of Pan [i.e. he went into a crazed panic] . . . He [Athamas in madness] would see the serpentine image of the goddess of Tartaros [an Erinys], and leap up scared at the many-coloured vision of the spectre, spitting snowy foam to witness his frenzy, rolling eyes drunken and full of threats. His eyes grew bloodshot as he stared about under vagrant impulses; inside his wagging head the flimsy brains rolled about behind his brows
A third part of his soul was lost [ie reason]; steady thoughts were gone from his crazy brain; the glances of the maddened man went wildly round with flickering movements; the hair of his untended head shook disordered over his back. His mouth moved stammering; when he opened his lips he sent out into the air meaningless words of strange outlandish sound. The blasts of the Eumenides had carried away the troubles of mortal life, and his tongue was laden with the cries of madness. When he moved his face about he saw as his forehead turned a false transformed shape of the unseen Megaira. So the madman shook with a distracted spasm, and tried to tear the whip of snakes from the grim hand of the reason-destroying goddess; he bared his sword in the face of the Avenger [Alekto], and tried to cut the viper-curls of Tisiphone."

For other versions of the MYTH of the Erinys-driven madness of Athamas see:
(1) Family Curses: Filicide, Nephele vs Ino (this page)
(2) Divine Curses: Madness, Hera vs Athamas & Ino (next page)

IV) NEPHELE vs INO (First Wife vs Second Wife)

In another version of the madness inflicted upon Athamas and Ino by the Erinyes, the vengeance goddesses were driven by Nephele, first wife of the king, whose daughter Helle was killed through her stepmother's plotting.

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 10. 67 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Ino fleeing her mad husband Athamas cries out:] `I know where this disaster came from, rolling upon your mother: I know! It is Nephele sends the Erinyes after me, that I may die in this sea where maiden Helle fell.'"

For other versions of the MYTH of the Erinys-driven madness of Athamas see:
(1) Family Curses: Filicide, Children vs Athamas (this page)
(2) Divine Curses: Madness, Hera vs Athamas & Ino (next page)


FAMILY CURSES: ALTHAIA & MELEAGROS (MURDER)

Althaia called down the curse of the Erinys upon her son Meleagros when he slew her brothers in a dispute.

Homer, Iliad 9. 565 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Meleagros lay mulling his heart-sore anger, raging by reason of his mother’s [Althaia’s] curses, which she called down from the gods upon him, in deep grief for the death of her brother, and many times beating with her hands on the earth abundant she called on Haides and on honoured Persephone, lying at length along the ground, and the tears were wet on her bosom, to give death to her son; and Erinys, the mist-walking, she of the heart without pity, heard her out of the dark places."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 31. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"As to the death of Meleagros, Homer says that the Erinys heard the curses of Althaia [his mother], and that this was the cause of Meleagros’ death."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 8. 480 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Althaia cries, angry at her son Meleagros for the slaying of her brothers:] `Ye Eumenides [Erinyes], ye Deae Triplices Poenarum (three goddesses of vengeance), see and mark my rite of doom. My vengeance is my guilt [she is contriving the death of her own son], death must be paid with death, crime piled on crime, bloodshed on bloodshed. Sorrow mountain-high must overwhelm this house of wickedness . . . Only be sure, Shades of my brothers, ghosts new-made, to mark my service and accept my sacrifice made at such cost, my womb’s most bitter birth.'"


FAMILY CURSES: ERIPHYLE & ALKMAION (MATRICIDE)

Eriphyle was slain by her son Alkmaion who sought to avenge the death of his father, for which she was culpable. He was plagued by her Erinys (Fury) and driven mad.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 7. 5 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"After the capture of Thebes, when Alkmaion learned that his mother Eriphyle had been bribed to his undoing also [persuading him to go to war like his father in the belief that he would die],he was more incensed than ever, and in accordance with an oracle given to him by Apollon he killed his mother. Some say that he killed her in conjunction with his brother Amphilokhos, others that he did it alone. But Alkmaion was visited by the Erinys (Fury) of his mother's murder, and going mad he first repaired to Oikles in Arkadia, and thence to Phegeus at Psophis. And having been purified by him he married Arsinoe, daughter of Phegeus, and gave her the necklace and the robe. But afterwards the ground became barren on his account [the purification was unsuccesful], and the god [the oracle of Apollon] bade him in an oracle to depart to Akheloios and to stand another trial on the river bank. At first he repaired to Oineus at Kalydon and was entertained by him; then he went to the Thesprotians, but was driven away from the country; and finally he went to the springs of Akheloios, and was [fully] purified by him."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 73 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Amphiaraus was an augur who knew that if he went to attack Thebes he would not return. And so he hid himself, with the knowledge of his wife Eriphyle . . . When Adrastus [organiser of the campaign] was hunting for him, however, he . . . offered her a gift to his sister Eriphyle, who betrayed her husband . . . Amphiaraus instructed his son Alcmaeon to punish his mother after his death. After Amphiaraus was swallowed up by the earth at Thebes, Alcmaeon, remembering his father’s instructions, killed his mother. The Furiae [Erinyes] later pursued him."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 9. 410 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The prophet [Amphiaraus] yet alive shall see his ghost as earth gapes open [he was swallowed up by the earth during the war against Thebes]; and his son [Alkmaion] parent on parent shall avenge, a deed of loving duty and a deed of crime. Distraught with troubles, driven from his mind and home, the Eumenides [Erinyes] and his mother’s [Eriphyle’s] ghost (umbra) shall hound him till his consort shall demand the fatal golden necklace, and the sword of Phegeus drain the blood of kith and kin."

Statius, Thebaid 4. 210 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"The fatal gold [of the bribe of the necklace of Harmonia] made entry to the chambers of Eriphyle, and set in motion the beginning of great crimes, and Tisiphone laughed loud, exulting in what should come to pass [Alkmaion slays his mother Eriphyle and is pursued by her Erinyes]."


OTHER CURSES 1: MURDERERS

The Erinyes were goddesses of vengeance for the crimes of murder and manslaughter, and of the penalties exacted thereof. They represented the power of curses cast upon a criminal by the ghost of the dead or his living relatives.

The usual punishment for murder was the payment of some recompense to the victim's family and period of exile for the criminal lasting four years. The banished murderer lay under the curse of the Erinyes until due atonement was paid and the rites of purification were completed.

There are many references in classical literature to the penalties imposed upon a murderer, but only a few (quoted below) explicitly mention the role played by the Erinyes.

See also the sections above on Patricide, Matricide, Fratricide, Sororicide and Filicide. Such crimes were the special prerogative of the Erinyes, who were driven by the ghosts of the dead to exact the harshest penalty on the family member who committed such a crime against the natural order.

For the Erinyes avenging family murders see:
(1) Family Curses: Patricide & Matricide
(2) Family Curses: Fratricide & Sororicide
(3) Family Curses: Filicide

GENERAL ERINYES AVENGERS OF THE DEAD

Homer, Iliad 19. 257 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"The Erinyes, who underground avenge dead men."

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 461 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"The gods are not blind to men with blood upon their hands. In the end the black (kelainai) Erinyes bring to obscurity that one who has prospered in unrighteousness and wear down his fortunes by reverse."

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 700 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"The loathsome Erinyes . . . [plague those whose] hands . . . were stained with a kinsman’s or a strangers blood."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 25. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"In Keryneia [in Akhaia] is a sanctuary of the Eumenides (Kindly Ones) [the Erinyes] . . . Whosoever enters with the desire to see the sights, if he be guilty of bloodshed, defilement or impiety, is said at once to become insane with fright."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 3. 380 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"It is not right to engage in reckless slaughter and to drive hence with the sword souls that would yet tarry, and seeds that will one day return to heaven; for we are not dissolved into the breezes or into mere bones at the last: anger abides and grief endures. Thereafter when they are come to the throne of Awful Jove [Haides] and have set forth all the sorrowful story of their dreadful end, the gate of death is opened for them and they may return a second time [to the earth as veangeful ghosts]; one of the Sisters [Erinyes] is given them as a companion, and they range together over lands and seas. Each involved in penalties the guilty souls of his own foes; they rack them with various terrors after their deserving. But those whose hands have dripped with blood unwillingly - or were it cruel mischance, though nigh to guilt, that swept away the wretches - these men their own minds harry in divers ways, and their own deeds vex the doers; languid now and ventureless they decline into tears and spiritless alarms and sickly sloth [in their grief at having accidentally killed someone]: such thou dost here behold . . .
Celaeneus [Apollon], sitting sable-shrouded and sword in hand, cleanses the innocent [unintentional killers] from their error, and remitting their fault unwinds a spell to appease the angry Shades. He it was who taught me [the seer Mopsos] what lustrations should be made to the slain, he of his good pleasure opened the earth to Erebus below. When therefore the orient sets the crimson seas aflame, do thou summon thy comrades to sacrifice, and bring two steers to the mighty gods; for me were it wrong meanwhile to approach your gathering, until I spend the night in cleansing prayers [in preparation for the ceremony of purification to cleanse a man of the crime of murder, driving away the haunting Erinyes and the ghost of the dead]."

GENERAL MURDER-PENALTIES

Lycophron, Alexandra 1035 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"For never will the ally of Dike (Justice), the Hound Telphousia [the Erinys] that dwells by the streams of Ladon, allow the murderer to touch with his feet his fatherland, if he has not spent a great year [four years] in exile. Thence, fleeing from the terrible warfare [at Troy] of the serpent-shaped vermin [Erinys], he [Elephenor in exile for murder] shall sail to the city of Amantia."

I) A MAN & MELAMPOS (Manslaughter)

Melampos was exiled from Pylos by King Neleus as punishment for the manslaughter of some man. The suffering he endured during that time, cruel imprisonment at the hands of King Phylakos, was blamed on the wrath of an avenging Erinys (Fury).

Homer, Odyssey 15. 234 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Melampos went to a land of strangers, seeking escape from his own country and from bold Neleus . . . Melampos, who all the while was imprisoned in galling bonds in the house of Phylakos, enduring violent ill-usage because of Neleus’ daughter [whose hand in marriage he was trying to win for his brother] and because of the lamentable folly which the grim Erinys (Vengeance) [as punishment for a murder] had laid upon his mind."

II) AGAMEMNON, KLYTAIMESTRA & AIGSITHOS (Murder)

Klytaimestra and her lover Aigisthos conspired to murder King Agamemnon, in a palace coup, along with loyal members of his court. The curse of the Erinys then fell upon them, which eventually drove Orestes to avenge his father.

For the related MYTH of Orestes haunted by the Erinys of his mother Klytaimnestra see: Family Curses: The Saga of Orestes (next page)

III) IBYKOS & THE ROBBERS (Murder)

Ibykos was a historical poet murdered by robbers. Sympathetic cranes who witnessed his murder called upon the Erinys (Fury) to exact reveange on the perpetrators.

Ibycus, Fragment 5 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III from Palatine Anthology: Antipater of Sidon) (C6th B.C.) :
"Ibykos robbers murdered you ... but only after you had cried out to a cloud of cranes which came as witnesses to your grievous death. Nor did you shout in vain, for thanks to their [the birds'] screams an avenging Erinys exacted the penalty for your killing in the land of Sisyphos [Korinthos]. O greedy robber-bands, why do you not fear the anger of the gods? Even Aigisthos who in olden days murdered the bard did not escape the eye of the black-robed Eumenides."

IV) HELENE & POLYXO (Responsible for death)

Polyxo avenged the death of her husband Tlepolemos in the Trojan War on Helene, whom she blamed for the war. Dressing up as Erinyes, she and her handmaidens seized and hanged the woman.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 19. 10 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Polyxo [Queen of Rhodes] desired to avenge the death of Tlepolemos [her husband killed in the Trojan War] on Helene, now that she had her in her power. So she sent against her when she was bathing handmaidens dressed up as Erinyes, who seized Helene and hanged her on a tree, and for this reason the Rhodians have a sanctuary of Helene of the Tree."

V) OINOE & PARIS (Responsible for death)

Paris cursed his former wife Oinoe with the wrath of the Erinyes, for refusing to heal him of his wounds when she had the power.

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 10. 260 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Paris mortally wounded begs Oinone to heal him:] `Remember not those pangs of jealousy, nor leave me by a cruel doom to die low fallen at thy feet! This should offend the Litai (Prayers), the daughters of Zeus the thunderer, whose anger followeth unrelenting pride with vengeance, and the Erinnys executes their wrath.'"

VI) AIAS & ODYSSEUS (Responsible for suicide)

Aias cursed Odysseus with the wrath of the Erinyes before committing suicide, blaming the hero for his dishonour.

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 470 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Aias curses Odysseus:] `O may his soul suffer all torments that the Erinnyes (Avenging Fiends) devise for villains!'"

VII) AKHILLEUS & THE TROJANS (Battle-Death)

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 166 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"He [the dying Akhilleus] shouted unto them: `Trojan and Dardan cravens, ye shall not even in my death, escape my merciless spear, but unto mine Erinnyes (Avenging Spirits) ye shall pay - ay, one and all - destruction's debt!'"


OTHER CURSES 2: CRIMES AGAINST SUPPLIANTS

The Erinyes were the goddess protectors of supplicants. Those who sought mercy at the altars of the gods should be spared and protected or incur the wrath of the Erinyes. This curse was associated with both those of murder and oath-breaking, but was instigated by the wrathful gods.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 1042 (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"Respect your covenants and oaths. Fear the suppliants’ Erinys."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 25. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The wrath of [Zeus] Hikesios (the God of Suppliants) is inexorable. The god at Dodona too manifestly advises us to respect suppliants. The god at Dodona too manifestly advises us to respect suppliants. For about the time of [the historical] Apheidas the Athenians received from Zeus of Dodona the following verses: - `Consider the Areopagos, and the smoking altars of the Eumenides, where the Lakedaimonians are to be thy suppliants, when hard-pressed in war. Kill them not with the sword, and wrong not suppliants. For suppliants are sacred and holy.'
The Greeks were reminded of these words when Peloponnesians [army] arrived at Athens . . . certain Lakedaimonians, who got unnoticed within the walls in the night, perceived at daybreak that their friends had gone, and when the Athenians gathered against them, they took refuge in the Areopagos at the altars of the goddesses called Semnai (the August) [Erinyes]. On this occasion the Athenians allowed the suppliants to go away unharmed."


OTHER CURSES 3: OATH-BREAKERS

OATHS & COVENANTS GENERAL

Homer, Iliad 19. 257 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Agamemnon makes an oath, swearing to Akhilleus:] `Let Zeus first be my witness, highest of the gods and greatest, and Gaia (Earth), and Helios (the Sun), and the Erinyes, who underground avenge dead men, when any man has sworn to a falsehood, that I have never laid a hand on the girl Briseis [the slave mistress of Akhilleus].'"

Hesiod, Works and Days 802 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"Avoid fifth days: they are unkindly and terrible. On a fifth day, they say, the Erinyes assisted at the birth of Horkos (Oath) whom Eris (Strife) bare to trouble the forsworn [Horkos was the Daimon who punished those who broke their oaths]."

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 1042 (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"Respect your covenants and oaths. Fear the suppliants’ Erinys."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 33. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"At Haliartos [in Boiotia] there is in the open a sanctuary of the goddesses they call Praxidikai (Those who exact punishments) [the Erinyes]. Here they swear, but they do not make the oaths rashly. The sanctuary of the goddesses is near Mt Tilphusios."

I) MEDEA & JASON (Oath-Breaking)

Jason swore an oath of loyalty to Medea for the assistance she rendered him in the recovery of the Golden Fleece. As the Argonauts sailed back to Greece, pursued by the Kolkhian fleet, she threatened him with the wrath of the Erinyes should he abandon her. When he finally reneged on his oath, many years later in Korinthos, the Erinyes descended upon him. Medea herself acted as their agent in the murder of his betrothed as well as their own children.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 383 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"[Medea threatens Jason with the curse of the Erinyes should he hand her over to the pursuing Kolkhians:] `I hope the fleece will vanish like an idle dream, down to Erebos. And may my avenging Erinyes (Furies) chase you from your home and so repay me for all I have endured through your inhumanity. You have broken a most solemn oath. It is not in reason that my curses should miscarry.'"

Seneca, Medea 948 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[Medea prepares to slay her children:] `Now will they be torn from my bosom and carried away from me, midst tears and sighs and kisses. – Let them be lost to their father; they are lost to me. My grief grows again and my hate burns hot; Erinys, as of old, claims my unwilling hand. O wrath, where thou dost lead I follow.'"

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 5. 444 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Depicted on the walls of the palace of Aeetes:] A city [Korinthos] between the waters of two seas, with mirth and song and marriage torches at night, and a bridegroom [Jason] proud of his royal bride [Glauke]; his former spouse [Medea] he abandons: avenging Dirai [Erinyes] watch from the palace roof. His wife, sore distressed in her chamber and moved to anger by her rival, prepares a robe and the deadly gift of a jewelled crown [which burn Glauke to death when she puts them on]."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 7. 500 ff :
"[Jason to Medea:] `If thou find me ever regardless of this promise [to remain ever faithful to her] … then in my very home let thy flames and cunning arts affright me; let none be nigh to help me thus ungrateful, and if thou hast aught more baneful than these, add it, and amid terror leave me.’ The Furor [Erinys] heard it, who ever avenges the complaints of lovers, and therewith pledged due retribution to his perjury [for Jason did eventually abandon her].'"

For other MYTHS of Medea and the curse of the Erinys see:
Family Curses: Fratricide, Apsyrtos & Medea (this page)

II) MENELAOS, PARIS & TROY (Covenant-Breaking)

Paris broke the covenants of hospitality when he abducting the wife of his host Menelaos in Greece. The Trojans further earned the enmity of the Erinyes when they broke their oaths promising the return of Helene upon the Greek's first landing at Troy. The vengeance goddesses were therefore present ten years later to oversee the city's destruction.

Pindar, Paean 8 (trans. Sandys) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"When Hekabe told the Trojans the vision which she saw, when she carried this man [Paris] in her womb. She deemed that she bare a fiery hundred-handed (Hekatonkheira) Erinys, who with his strength hurled all Ilion to the ground."

Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 965 (from Dio Chrysotom, Orations) :
"The poets say of Hekabe [Queen of Troy] that to crown all her misfortunes the Erinyes made her a flashing-eyed bitch [after she was carried off as a captive, following the fall of Troy]; and from her grey jaws came a brazen cry that was heard by Ida and sea-girt Tenedos and the wind-loving Thrakian rocks."

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 69 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"This is now the tenth year since Priamos' mighty adversary, king Menelaos, and with him king Agamemnon, the mighty pair of Atreus' sons, joined in honor of throne and sceptre by Zeus, set forth from this land with an army of a thousand ships manned by Argives, a warrior force to champion their cause. Loud rang the battle-cry they uttered in their rage, just as eagles scream . . . But some one of the powers supreme - Apollon perhaps or Pan, or Zeus - hears the shrill wailing scream of the clamorous birds, these sojourners in his realm, and against the transgressors sends the Erinys (Vengeance) at last though late. Even so Zeus, whose power is over all, Zeus, lord of host and guest, sends against Alexandros [Paris] the sons of Atreus, that for the sake of a woman with many husbands he may inflict many and wearying struggles . . . on Danaans and on Trojans alike. The case now stands where it stands - it moves to fulfilment at its destined end. Not by offerings burned in secret, not by secret libations, not by tears, shall man soften the stubborn wrath of unsanctified sacrifices."

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 737 ff :
"At first, I would say, there came to Ilion the spirit of unruffled calm [i.e. Helene] . . . love's flower that stings the heart. Then, swerving from her course, she brought her marriage to a bitter end, sped on to the children of Priamos under escort of Zeus, the warder of host and guest, ruining her sojourn and her companions, a vengeful Erinys (Fury) who brought tears to brides."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 13. 377 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Thoughts of vengeance, which were now fulfilled by the dread Goddess Dike (Justice) [when Troy fell to the Greeks], for that theirs was that first outrage touching Helene, theirs that profanation of the oaths, and theirs that trampling on the blood of sacrifice when their presumptuous souls forgat the Gods. Therefore the Erinnyes (Vengeances) brought woes on them thereafter, and some died in fighting field, some now in Troy by board and bridal bower."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 25 ff :
"And there [depicted on the shield of Akhilleus] 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)."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 22. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"But when Menelaos had taken Ilion [Troy] and had returned safe home . . . he set up near the sanctuary of Migonitis [Aphrodite] an image of Thetis and the goddesses Praxidikai (Exacters of Justice) [Erinyes]."

IV) ETEOKLES & POLYNEIKES (Covenant-Breaking)

Eteokles swore to share the throne of Thebes with his brother Polyneikes, but when it came time for him to hand over the kingdom he broke his covenant and exiled Polyneikes instead. The wrath of the Erinys later fell upon Eteokles and Thebes, when the brother returned with an Argive army. The breaking of the coventant was only one aspect of the Erinys curse, which derived ulitimately from the curses of their dishonoured father Oidipous.

For the MYTHS of the curse of Eteokles & Polyneikes see:
Family Curses: Oidipous & his sons (this page)


ERINYES INVOKED IN NECROMANTIC CURSES

The Erinyes were invoked alongside Hekate in the magic of necromancy -- the summoning forth of ghosts from the underworld. Sometimes the necromancy was performed with the sole purpose of bringing down the curse of the Erinyes upon some individual -- a necromantic summoning with appropriate offerings to the chthonian gods being thought more effective than the mere declaration of a curse in the goddesses' name.

Statius, Thebaid 4. 410 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"He [the seer Teiresias] prepares the rites of Lethe [nekromankia - the summoning of ghosts] . . . [Teiresias] bids the dark-fleeced sheep and black oxen be set before him ... Then he entwined their fierce horns with wreaths of dusky hue, handling them himself, and first at the edge of that well-known wood [sacred to Hekate] he nine times spills the lavish draughts of Bacchus [libations of wine] into a hollowed trench, and gifts of vernal milk and Attic rain [honey] and propitiatory blood to the Shades below; so much is poured out as the dry earth will drink. Then they roll tree trunks thither, and the sad priest bids there be three altar-fires for Hecate and three for the maidens born of cursed Acheron [the Erinyes] . . .
And now, their lofty heads marked with the sword and the pure sprinkled meal, the cattle fell under the stroke; then the virgin Manto [daughter of Teiresias], catching the blood in bowls, makes first libation, and moving thrice round all the pyres, as her holy sire commands, offers the half-dead tissues and yet living entrails . . .
For those who died in crime, who in Erebus, as among the seed of Cadmus, are most in number, be thou their leader, Tisiphone, go on before with snake thrice brandished and blazing yew-branch, and throw open the light of day, nor let Cerberus interpose his heads, and turn aside the ghosts that lack the light."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 730 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Aeson saw that the bull still remained at the hour of the awful rites unslain [in the necromantic rituals used by Aeson to summon forth a ghost from the underworld and an avenging Erinyes], he dooms him to death, and with one hand upon the horns of the fated victim speaks for the last time `O ye [ghost of Kretheus] who received from Jupiter [Zeus] your reign and the light of life not idly spent . . . my father, summoned forth from the shades to view my death and to endure again the forgotten sorrows of men on earth, O grant me entry to the abode of quiet [Haides], and may the victim that I send before me win favour for me in your dwelling. Thou, O maid [Dike lady Justice], that dost report guilty deeds to Jove [Zeus], who lookest down upon earth with unerring eyes, ye avenging goddesses [Erinyes], thou Divine Law, and thou Poena (Retribution), aged mother of the Furiai [Erinyes], enter into the sinful palace of the king [Pelias], and bring upon him your fierce torches. Let accursed fear ravish his maddened heart; nor let him deem that my son alone will come with grim weapons in his bark [and take vengeance on the king] . . . ‘ Then he appeased the goddess of triple form [Hekate], and with his last sacrifice offers a prayer to the Stygian abodes . . . The chief of the Furiai [Erinyes] stood close by him, and touched with heavy hand the cup that steamed with deadly venom; eagerly they drank and drained the blood from the bowl."


PURIFICATION & ATONEMENT TO APPEASE THE ERINYES

To appease the wrath of the Erinyes, the murderer or killer had to undergo the rite of ritual purification, and perform some act of atonement.

RITES OF PURIFICATION (DESCRIPTION)

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 700 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"She [Kirke] set about the rites by which a ruthless slayer is absolved when he seeks asylum at the hearth. First, to atone for the unexpiated murder, she took a suckling pig from a sow with dugs still swollen after littering. Holding it over them she cut its throat and let the blood fall on their hands. Next she propitiated Zeus with other libations, calling on him as Hikesios (the Cleanser), who listens to a murderer’s prayers with friendly ears. Then the attendant Naiades who did her housework carried all the refuse out of doors. But she herself stayed by the hearth, burning cakes and other wineless offerings with prayers to Zeus, in the hope that she might cause the loathsome Erinyes to relent, and that he himself might once more smile upon this pair, whether the hands they lifted up to him were stained with a kinsman’s or a strangers blood."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 28. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Hard by [the Areopagos or Hill of Ares, the murder court of Athens] is a sanctuary of the goddesses which the Athenians call Semnai (August) . . . by which sacrifice those who have received an acquittal on the Areopagos."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 3. 380 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"It is not right to engage in reckless slaughter . . . When they [the ghosts of the murdered] are come to the throne of Awful Jove [Haides] and have set forth all the sorrowful story of their dreadful end, the gate of death is opened for them and they may return a second time [to the earth as vengeful ghosts]; one of the Sisters [Erinyes] is given them as a companion, and they range together . . . each involved in penalties the guilty souls of his own foes; they rack them with various terrors after their deserving . . .
Celaeneus [Apollon], sitting sable-shrouded and sword in hand, cleanses the innocent from their error, and remitting their fault unwinds a spell to appease the angry Shades. He it was who taught me [the seer Mopsos] what lustrations should be made to the slain, he of his good pleasure opened the earth to Erebus below [to send back the ghost and Erinyes back from whence they came]. When therefore the orient sets the crimson seas aflame, do thou summon thy comrades to sacrifice, and bring two steers to the mighty gods; for me were it wrong meanwhile to approach your gathering, until I spend the night in cleansing prayers [in preparation for the ceremony of purification]."

Statius, Thebaid 4. 52 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Elisson [a river of Sikyonia] winding through his curving banks. An awful privilege has that river: it cleanses, so ‘tis said, with its austere waters the Stygian Eumenides [Erinyes]; here are they wont to dip their faces . . . the River itself flees from them as they bathe, and its pools grow livid with countless poisons."

Several of the vase paintings on this page depict the appeasement of the Erinyes, who are soothed to sleep when Apollon performs the rite of purification on Orestes.

RITES OF PURIFICATION UNDERWORLD

The Erinys were sometimes described as performing purification upon the souls of the dead upon their arrival in the Underworld. Presumably it was reserved for those forgiven of their crimes by the Judges of the Dead, and who thus avoided torment at the hands of the Erinyes in the Dungeons of the Damned.

Statius, Thebaid 8. 10 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Upon the Stygian shores [in the Underworld] . . . not yet had the Eumenis [Erinys] met and purified him with branch of yew, not had Proserpine [Persephone ] marked him on the dusky door-post as admitted to the company of the dead."

I) ATONEMENT OF HERAKLES

After Herakles murdered his wife and children in a rage, he was purified at the altar of Apollon at Delphoi and to atone for his misdeed forced to serve his cousin King Eurystheus, or Queen Omphale of Lydia.

II) ATONEMENT OF ALKMAION

Alkmaion was forced to obtain his purification from the River-God Akheloios, and found a city for the god.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 7. 5 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Alkmaion was visited by the Erinys (Fury) of his mother's murder, and going mad he first repaired to Oikles in Arkadia, and thence to Phegeus at Psophis. And having been purified by him he married Arsinoe, daughter of Phegeus . . . But afterwards the ground became barren on his account [the purification was unsuccesful], and the god [the oracle of Apollon] bade him in an oracle to depart to Akheloios and to stand another trial on the river bank. At first he repaired to Oineus at Kalydon and was entertained by him; then he went to the Thesprotians, but was driven away from the country; and finally he went to the springs of Akheloios, and was [fully] purified by him."

For the MYTH of the Erinys curse upon Alkmaion see:
Family Curses: Eriphyle & Alkmaion (this page)

III) ATONEMENT OF ORESTES

Orestes was purified by Apollon at Delphoi, and to atone for the murder of his mother Klytaimnestra was sent to recover his sister Iphigeneia from the land of Taurians.

Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers 1032 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Orestes: Now look on me, armed with the branch and wreath, a suppliant bound for the Navelstone of Earth, Apollon’s sacred heights [Delphoi] . . . I must escape this blood it is my own [through purification]. Must turn towards his hearth, noone but his, the Prophet God decreed . . .
Orestes screams in terror [at the vision of the Erinyes]: . . . God Apollon! Here they come, thick and fast, their eyes dripping hate -
Leader: One thing will purge you. Apollon’s touch will set you free from all your torments."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E6. 24 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When Orestes asked how he might get rid of his affliction [of the Erinyes], the god [oracle of Apollon] told him to bring home the wooden statue that was to be found among the Taurians [the recovery of the statue, and Klytaimnestra's lost daughter Iphigeneia appeased the ghost's wrath]."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 120 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The Furiae of his [Orestes'] mother pursued him. When the Furiae were pursuing Orestes, he went to Delphi to inquire when his sufferings would end. The reply was that he should go to the land of Taurica to King Thoas, father of Hypsipyle, and bring to Argos from the temple there the statue of Diana; then there would be an end to his sufferings."

Suidas s.v. Eumenides (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Aiskhylos in Eumenides, speaking of the trial of Orestes, says that Athena soothed the Erinnyes (Furies) [at Athens] so as to end their hostility to Orestes, and named them Eumenides (Kindly Ones)."

For the MYTH of the Erinys curse upon Orestes see:
Family Curses: Klytaimnestra & Orestes (this page)

IV) ATONEMENT OF PENTHESILEIA

King Priamos of Troy agreed to purify Penthesileia, probably in return for her support in his war with the Greeks.

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 28 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"So came she [Penthesileia] to the far-famed land of Troy. Yea, and her warrior spirit pricked her on, of murder's dread pollution thus to cleanse her soul, and with such sacrifice to appease the Awful Ones, the Erinnyes, who in wrath for her slain sister straightway haunted her unseen: for ever round the sinner's steps they hovers."


MISCELLANEOUS

Agamemnon blames Zeus, Moira (Fate) and the Erinys for deluding him into taking the girl Briseis from Akhilleus.

Homer, Iliad 19. 85 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Now among them spoke forth the lord of men Agamemnon . . . `This is the word the Akhaians have spoken often against me and found fault with me in it, yet I am not responsible but Zeus is, and Moira (Destiny), and Erinys the mist-walking (eerophoitis) who in assembly caught my heart in the savage delusion on that day I myself stripped from him the prize of Akhilleus [the girl Briseis].'"

Hera in the following passage bestows a human voice on the immortal horse of Akhilleus. After the steed prophesizes the death of the hero, the Erinys restores the natural order by taking the voice away. She is perhaps also rebuking his presumption.

Homer, Iliad 19. 410 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"From beneath the yoke the gleam-footed horse answered him [his master Akhilleus], Xanthos . . . Hera had put a voice in him [and he proceedds to prophesize the death of Akhilleus] . . . When he had spoken so the Erinyes stopped the voice in him."


Sources:

  • Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C9th-8th BC
  • Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C9th-8th BC
  • Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th BC
  • Hesiod, Works & Days - Greek Epic C8th-7th BC
  • Homerica, The Thebaid - Greek Epic BC
  • Pindar, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th BC
  • Greek Lyric III Ibycus, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th BC
  • Greek Lyric IV Anonymous, Fragments - Greek Lyric BC
  • Aeschylus, Agamemnon - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Aeschylus, Libation Bearers - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd BC
  • Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd BC
  • The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns BC
  • Theocritus Idylls - Greek Idyllic C3rd BC
  • Callimachus, Fragments - Greek C3rd BC
  • Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek C3rd BC
  • Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th AD
  • Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd AD
  • Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - C3rd AD
  • Aelian, Historical Miscellany - Greek Rhetoric C2nd-3rd A.D.
  • Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana - Greek Biography C2nd AD
  • Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd AD
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st AD
  • Virgil, Aeneid - Latin Epic C1st BC
  • Propertius, Elegies - Latin Elegy C1st BC
  • Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Philosophy C1st BC
  • Seneca, Hercules Furens - Latin Tragedy C1st AD
  • Seneca, Medea - Latin Tragedy C1st AD
  • Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st AD
  • Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st AD
  • Statius, Silvae - Latin Epic C1st AD
  • Apuleius, The Golden Ass - Latin Epic C2nd AD
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th AD
  • Suidas - Byzantine Lexicon C10th AD

Other references not currently quoted here: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides (only quoted partially, full quotes from these sources to be added soon)