Monday, July 7, 2014

TFBT: Winged Furies and Snatched Girls: Part II

In Part I, I concentrated on the victim’s in Agamemnon by Aeschylus who were avenged by the Erinyes.  In Part II, here I concentrate on the Erinyes themselves, with an emphasis on who summoned them, who they were and for what crime.

The Erinyes, that is the ancient goddesses Tisiphone, Megaira and Alecto don’t actually appear as characters in the “Agamemnon”.  But, they are referenced and many other characters are called “Erinyes”. Correspondence to the Erinyes is not unusual.  Pausanias (Description of Greece 8. 42. 1) documents well why Demeter is called an Eriny. In The Eumenides by Aeschylus they say of themselves to Athena “Daughter of Zeus, you will hear it all in brief. We are the eternal children of Night. We are called Curses in our homes beneath the earth.” (414)  But for now let’s keep to what Aeschylus has to say in Agamemnon.  They are winged like clamorous birds, not blind to men with blood on their hands, haunters of houses and weavers of Agamemnon’s fatal bathrobe.

1.     Zeus sends the Eriny Helen 
We are told at line 365, that Zeus long kept his bow aimed Paris until he released the bolt.  The bolt was Helen “brought her marriage to a bitter end, sped on to the children of Priam under escort of Zeusruining her sojourn and her companions, a vengeful Erinyes to be lamented by mourning brides” (745)  “… she, bequeathing to her (Achaean) people the clang of shield and spear and army of fleets, and bringing to Ilion destruction in place of dowry. (405).  Paris, of course broke the holy Law of Hospitality. 

2.     Some god send Eriny-like Agamemnon and Menelaus
 “Apollo perhaps or Pan, or Zeus - hearing the shrill wailing scream of the clamorous birds, those sojourners in the air space of these gods. And against the transgressors the god sends an Eriny at last, though it was late in coming”. At line 60 Aeschylus explains using the mystic work “houtōs” that the above refers to when Agamemnon and Menelaus were sent by Zeus, against Paris.  At line 110 there is more reference to Agamemnon and Menelaus as eagles, which leads to Chalchas description of them devouring a pregnant rabbit.  At line 810 Agamemnon returns bragging about the justice I exacted from Priam's city. “

3.     Artemis summons the Winds
Chalchas explains that Artemis is angry (135) at the “winged hunting dogs of her father (Zeus), for they are sacrificing a miserable frightened thing, together with her offspring that were ready to be born, “  This is Artemis a Trojan goddess angry at what the Achaeans will do in the night ten years in the future. If I read this right it is the Boreas; North wind she sends against the fleet as her pre-emptive Eriny. (Interestingly, Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 239 refers Ares’ horses “which to roaring Boreas grim-eyed Erinyes bare”)

4.     Iphigenia can’t summon the Erinyes
At line 235 in order to attain Artemis favor and a change in the winds, Agamemnon  hoists his daughter onto the altar at Aulis as a sacrifice “with a gag upon her lovely mouth to hold back the shouted curse against her house “

5.    The Erinyes Avenge Atreus’ Bed
Cassandra offers a rather graphic visual on the Erinyes that still haunt the house of Atreus who “each in turn, they spurn with loathing a brother's bed, for they bitterly spurn the one who defiled it” (1185)

6.    Aegisthus Revenges his Brothers
Cassandra explains that “Children, they seem, slaughtered by their own kindred, their hands full of the meat of their own flesh; they are clear to my sight, holding their vitals and their inward parts – piteous burden! – which their father tasted. For this cause I tell you that a strengthless lion, wallowing in his bed, plots vengeance (1220) Elsewhere Aegisthus is compared to a strengthless lion (Clytemnestra being a lioness most the time.)  Later he admits that I am he who planned this murder.” of Agamemnon. (1603).  Sadly other sources explain that Aegisthus was actually born and breed for this role. (Hyginus Fabulae 87)  In response to an oracle from Delphi, Thytes raped his own daughter to produce their avenger; Aegisthus

7.     Kassandra praying to Agamemnon’s Avengers (Orestes)
I still want to have the chance, just for one moment, to make a speech - or a lament that I perform for my own self. I pray to the sun, as I face its light for the last time, that the enemies may pay a bloody penalty to compensate for my death as well” (1325)

8.    Clytemnestra claiming the role of priestess to the Erinyes
” I swear by justice, exacted for my child, by atē, and by the Erinyes, to whom I sacrificed that man,” (1431) Then at 1525Yet, as he has suffered – worthy prize of worthy deed – for what he did to my sweet flower, shoot sprung from him, the much-bewailed Iphigenia, let him make no great boasts in the halls of Hades, since with death dealt him by the sword he has paid for what he first began.”

9.    Clytemnestra Not Summoning the Erinyes for her impending doom.
“As for me, however, I am willing to make a sworn compact with the daemon of the Pleisthenidai (The Erinyes of the House of Atreus) that I will be content with what is done, hard to endure though it is. Henceforth he shall leave this house and bring tribulation upon some other family by murder of kin. A small part of the wealth is fully enough for me, if I may but rid these halls of the frenzy of mutual murder.” (1568)  This sounds to me like Clytemnestra is over and done with the cycle of revenge at least for here and now in the play. 

In table format;

Who summoned the Erinyes?
Who was the Eriny?
What was the crime?
365, 745,405
Paris' violation of the Laws of Hospitality *
60, 110, 810
Apollo perhaps or Pan or Zeus
Agamemnon and Menelaus
Paris' violation of the Laws of Hospitality *
Potential death of children
Iphigenia did NOT
Violation of a brother's marriage bed
Death of a Child
Death of an adult
1431, 1525
Death of Child
Clytemnestra did NOT
* Specifically violating the host’s marriage bed.

Summary on Erinyes

In my mind, the Erinyes are most famous as the avengers of matricides (see The Eumendies), patricides (Theogony) and maintaining order, as when Iris reminds Poseidon that in a fight with his older brother the Erinyes will support the elder.  (Homer, Iliad 15. 200)  But, instead in Agamemnon, we see them involved with punishing adultery, infanticide and the death of a slave.  Hmm, I will have to think about this result!

Apparently any wounded party could curse the offender, if they weren’t gagged.  Still, Patroclus as a spirit visited Achilles in The Iliad with instructions for the future.  Surely Iphigenia could have visited with the neighboring Erinyes in Hades and cursed her father from there.  We know she wasn’t gagged in the hereafter because her mother says at 1555, “ Iphigenia, his daughter, as is due, shall meet her father lovingly at the swift-flowing ford of sorrows and shall fling her arms around him and kiss him.” 


  1. The Erinyes definitely would punish killing of one's own child; as far as I know, this is why unwanted infants were always exposed alive. Creon and Erechtheus, like Agamemnon, did not prosper after sacrificing a child. However, maybe cursing one's child was OK. Theseus and Oedipus did it and did not seem to suffer any increase in their misery.

    I wonder why, if Iphigenia was unwilling to be sacrificed, her sacrifice was still considered valid by Artemis. In other sources, the victim should always give consent; even sacrificial animals were manipulated to nod in "consent".

  2. Maya,
    Lots of stories that Iphigeneia was snatched off the altar in a blink of an eye andu replaced with a deer. Artemis had no interest in a sacrifice. This is just
    a wsy to screw with the Achaian forceswithout defying the will of Zeus. And in the processing setting up Agamemnon for more trouble


  3. I disagree that Artemis had no interest in a sacrifice. We are talking about the most bloodthirsty and misanthropic divinity in Greek mythology. Look at myths about her - Aktaion, Callisto, the Calydonian boar... All are about using the lamest excuses to kill humans. This is true even about Hippolytus (at the end, she promises to avenge him by killing an innocent mortal man loved by Aphrodite). She is also "credited" for deaths of females from diseases.
    I don't think Agamemnon 248 means that the Chorus is not sure what happened to Iphigenia. They are quite sure, just don't want to talk about it.
    Not having seen what exactly happened after that (the actual killing) is another lame excuse. They did not see what happened before, either. They know it from hearsay, presumably from some herald who returned from Aulis or from Troy. After all, these old men did not sail to Aulis to see the army off, did they?
    Agamemnon was no Abraham (and I also think that Abraham could save Isaak only because there were no witnesses). Iphigenia was killed, and the Erynies got Agamemnon - just they were not in a hurry. I think this is the early, true version of the myth.
    Later, a fairy-tale reworking was done in order to make Artemis, Agamemnon and the entire Greek army more palatable. So Iphigenia was taken alive to Tauris. But even Euripides, who is likely to have done it, could not do away with the insatiable blood-thirst of Artemis. In his version, Iphigenia survives but many other innocents are sacrificed.
    My Artemis is convinced that humans have no right to exist. Commenting on the Mecone incident, she says, "The only sacrifice that would please me would be - a human from time to time, so that fewer of them remain."

  4. Just found this:
    "Walter Burkert reminded that „Artemis is and remains a mistress of bloody sacrifices“. The death of Iphigenia is a bloody sacrifice sought by the goddess of hunting from warriors left for killing and loot... Inheriting the prehistoric cult of the Goddess of Animals, Artemis still held the right in the archaic period to request a sacrifice for the success of any bloody endeavor."
    Another source (Raebum & Thomas, The Agamemnon of Aeschylus: A Commentary for Students) states that the Chorus "ends its account of Iphigenia's sacrifice reticently" so that not to pronounce ill-ominous words.

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  6. Maya,

    Okay you convinced me, I was beng too easy. One way or the other in connection with Iphigenia, Artemis is a blood thirsty monster. Now I recall in theplay Niobe Artemis slaying the girls . Leto's children are not nicepeople