Two of the ERINYES. 3722: Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, 1751-1829: Erynnien 1787/88. Landesmuseum Oldenburg, Das Schloß.
The ERINYES are Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone 1.
These spirits are detectors and avengers of
crime and wickedness. They are also called
goddesses of vengeance, ready to stab fear into the
hearts of mortals. The ERINYES along with the MOERAE are the steersmen
of a great goddess: Ananke (Necessity). The
ERINYES pursue and punish those who are guilty of
bloodshed, defilement or impiety. They say:
"We claim to
be just and upright. No wrath from us will come
stealthily to the one who holds out clean hands,
and he will go through life unharmed; but whoever
sins and hides his blood-stained hands, as avengers
of bloodshed we appear against him to the end,
presenting ourselves as upright witnesses for the
dead." (The ERINYES. Aeschylus, Eumenides 310).
This is how the ERINYES came to be: Cronos the Titan
revolted against the first ruler of the universe,
his father Uranus, and
waiting for him in an ambush took a long sickle
with jagged teeth, cut off Uranus' genitals, and cast them away to fall behind him (see Castration of
Uranus). The bloody drops that gushed forth were received by the Earth (Gaia), and in time she
bore the ERINYES, the GIANTS and the MELIAD NYMPHS (Nymphs of the
Orestes 2's case
Orestes 2, for
having killed his own mother Clytaemnestra, was
pursued by the ERINYES, and afflicted with madness,
because as they declare:
"We drive matricides from their homes … Since a mother's blood leads us, we will pursue our case against this man and we will hunt him down …" (The ERINYES. Aeschylus, Eumenides 210, 230).
And so they said to Orestes 2:
"Allow us in
return to suck the red blood from your living
limbs. May we feed on you -a gruesome drink! We
will wither you alive and drag you down, so that
you pay atonement for your murdered mother's agony.
" (The ERINYES. Aeschylus, Eumenides 265).
When Orestes 2 went
mad, he bit off one finger of one of his hands. It
is told that when the ERINYES were about to put Orestes 2 out of his
mind, they appeared to him black, but that once he
had bitten off his finger they appeared to be
white, and seeing them under this new color, he
recovered his mind. So he made a sin-offering to
the black goddesses of wrath (ERINYES) to avert
them while to the white deities of blessing
(EUMENIDES) he made a thank-offering.
One of the ERINYES. 8704: En Erinye. Pergamon, Zeus-altarets nordfrise. Graesk, hellenistisk 170-155 f. Kr. Berlin Staatliche Museen (Royal Cast Collection, Copenhagen).
This is also the case of Alcmaeon 1, who also became mad after killing his mother Eriphyle because of the ERINYES pursuing him (see Robe & Necklace of Harmonia 1). The ERINYES are also reported to have tortured Theseus and
Pirithous when they descended to the Underworld. They had
come because Pirithous wished to marry Persephone. So when Hades learned about this
preposterous desire, he had them stretched out and
tortured for a long time by the ERINYES.
The ERINYES are Alecto, Megaera,and Tisiphone 1. Tisiphone 1 sits wrapped in a bloodstained robe, and guards the entrance to Tartarus, the place of punishment. Tisiphone 1 is the one who drove mad both Ino and Athamas 1, and when Athamas 1 was out of his mind, he hunted his elder son Learchus as a deer and killed him. Alecto is said to be a maker of grief, a spirit who revels in war and quarrels. She was believed to be able to set brothers of one mind at one another's throats, or to torment a home with hatred.
Looking like them to commit crimes
Some say that Aeschylus was the first to represent the ERINYES with snakes in their hair. But even if otherwise there is nothing specially terrible in their appearance, they were frightening enough to be used in special performances: it is told that when Polyxo 4 decided to kill Helen, she sent against
her, when she was bathing, servants dressed up as
ERINYES, who seized Helen and hanged her on a tree.