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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 ash-trees).

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).

Other interventions

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.

Fearful trinity

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.


Parentage (two versions)


Uranus' Blood & Gaia


Nyx.- (by herself)


Apd.1.1.4; Cic.ND.3.46; Hes.The.185; Nonn.10.97; Ov.Met.4.452, 8.481; QS.5.31; Vir.Aen.6.250, 12.849.