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Τρίτη, 30 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Nemesis and the Furies/Erinyes

The Remorse of Orestes (1862) by William Frederic Bouguereau (1825–1905).The three furies "furiously" pursue Orestes who has just stabbed his mother.

The Furies were the goddesses of vengeance who were birthed out of anger. When Ouranos imprisoned Gaia's three sons the Hecatonchires(monsters with hundreds of hands and fifty heads), Gaia appealed to the Titans for help, and Chronos (Saturn) alone responded. He ambushed his father (Uranus) and badly wounded him, and from Ouranos' blood the Furies and the Giants were born.

The Furies were attendants to Pluto and Persephone, and also served Nemesis, the jailer of Tartarus. They were Tisiphone, the avenger of murder, Megaera the jealous, and Alecto of constant anger. Called the daughters of the Night (or of the Earth and Darkness), they punished those guilty of a crime on Earth who had come to Hades and not obtained atonement from the gods. Woman-like creatures with snakes for hair and with blood dripping from their eyes, they held a torch in one hand and a whip made of live scorpions in the other. These whips were known as the whips of Conscience, and with them they scourged the living and the dead.
The Furies were unrelenting in their pursuit of criminals, punishing all crimes to society and often striking the offenders with madness. They even prosecuted infringements on ethics and cases were the law didn't exit, such as protecting beggars, strangers, dogs and young birds. So dreadful were the Furies in appearance and deed that people would not speak their real name, the "Erinyes," but rather referred to them as the "Eumenides," just as timid English souls referred to the Fairies as "the Good Folk" for fear that naming their real name would make them angry. ("I saw some creatures painted in a picture once, who tore the food from Phineus, only these had no wings, that could be seen; they are black and utterly repulsive, and they snore with breath that drives one back. From their eyes drips the foul ooze, and their dress is such as is not right to wear in the presence of the gods' statues, nor even into any human house." from The Eumenides, by Aeschylus.)
The Furies even appeared on Earth pursuing criminals at the command of the higher gods or Nemesis. They were implacable and indefatigable in their furious ("of the Furies") pursuit of their quarry. Their mistress Nemesis, on the other hand, the stern goddess who balanced all the books, never allowed the guilty or the good to escape their just reward. If someone was happier or more fortunate than he or she deserved to be, woe betide that poor soul when Nemesis arrived. And similarly, she would eventually recompense those who were unhappy or less fortunate than they should be. Sometimes slow in arriving, Nemesis was sure to set things straight in the end. "Not even the sun will transgress his orbit but the Erinyes, the ministers of justice, overtake him." - Heraclitus, frag. 94

Nemesis, by Alfred Rethel, 1837.
In the painting above, Nemesis, holding an almost empty hourglass, pursues a murderer across a plain at night, the slaughtered body lying in the background. This painting was supposedly won in a Frankfurt lottery by someone of high rank guilty of an as yet undiscovered crime, and the contemplation of the prize drove the winner mad—a condition ironically shared by the painter.
Nemesis was the distributor of fortune (neither good nor bad), the goddess of inexorable divine retribution, and the punisher of hubris. Related to the Greek neimein, Nemesis means "to give what is due," or, she who distributes or deals out. As "fair distribution" she acted as a check on the extravagant favors otherwise bestowed by Tykhe (fortune, chance, providence, fate). Nemesis and Tykhe were often displayed on Greek vases as companions. Personifying the resentment men hold towards those with inordinate good fortune or who escape punishment for their crimes, she led the Erinyes (Furies) shown at the top of this page.
Nemesis is said to have taken the form of a goose to avoid Zeus’ advances; but Zeus became a swan and raped her. From this Nemesis bore two eggs each of which held twins. Mythologies diverge: either Nemesis was the mother and Leda (wife of Tyndareus King of Sparta) tended the eggs and later nursed the progeny; or Leda, raped by Zeus, slept with Tyndareus the same night and gave birth to the eggs and pairs of twins: the half-immortal Helen and Pollux by Zeus, the mortal Castor and Clytemnestra by Tyndareus. Castor and Pollux are known as the Dioskouroi (sons of Zeus) in Greek and the Gemini ("twins") in Latin. Castor means "beaver" in Greek and Latin; Pollux (Polydeukes) means "much sweet wine."

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