From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In Greek mythology the Erinýes (Ἐρινύες, pl. of Ἐρινύς, Erinýs; lit. "the angry ones") or Eumenídes (Εὐμενίδες, pl. of Εὐμενίς; lit. "the gracious ones") or Furies in Roman mythology were female chthonic deities of vengeance or supernatural personifications of the anger of the dead. They represent regeneration and the potency of creation, which both consumes and empowers. A formulaic oath in the Iliad (iii.278ff; xix.260ff) invokes them as "those who beneath the earth punish whosoever has sworn a false oath". Burkert suggests they are "an embodiment of the act of self-cursing contained in the oath". (Burkert 1985, p. 198)
When the mighty Titan Cronus castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitalia into the sea, the Erinyes emerged from the drops of blood, while Aphrodite was born from the crests of seafoam. According to a variant account, they issued from an even more primordial level—from Nyx, "Night". Their number is usually left indeterminate. Virgil, probably working from an Alexandrian source, recognized three: Alecto ("unceasing", who appeared in Virgil's Aeneid), Megaera ("grudging"), and Tisiphone ("avenging murder"). Dante followed Virgil in depicting the same three-charactered triptych of Erinyes; in Canto IX of the Inferno they confront the poets at the gates of the city of Dis. The heads of the Erinyes, whom the two poets met in Canto IV, were wreathed with serpents (compare Gorgon) and their eyes dripped with blood, rendering their appearance rather horrific. Sometimes they had the wings of a bat or bird and the body of a dog.
- Iliad xiv.274–9; xix.259f.
- Virgil, Aeneid vii, 324, 341, 415, 476.
- Burkert, Walter, 1977 (tr. 1985). Greek Religion (Harvard University Press).