According to Hesiod, they sprang from the blood
Uranus, when wounded by Cronus, and were
hence supposed to be the embodiment of all the
terrible imprecations, which the defeated deity
called down upon the head of his rebellious son.
According to other accounts they were the
daughters of Night.
Their place of abode was the lower world, where
they were employed by
chastise and torment those shades who, during
their earthly career, had committed crimes, and
had not been reconciled to the gods before
descending to Hades.
But their sphere of action was not confined to
the realm of shades, for they appeared upon
earth as the avenging deities who relentlessly
pursued and punished murderers, perjurers, those
who had failed in duty to their parents, in
hospitality to strangers, or in the respect due
to old age. Nothing escaped the piercing glance
of these terrible divinities, from whom flight
was unavailing, for no corner of the earth was
so remote as to be beyond their reach, nor did
any mortal dare to offer to their victims an
asylum from their persecutions.
The Furies are frequently represented with
wings; their bodies are black, blood drips from
their eyes, and snakes twine in their hair. In
their hands they bear either a dagger, scourge,
torch, or serpent.
When they pursued Orestes they constantly held
up a mirror to his horrified gaze, in which he
beheld the face of his murdered mother.
These divinities were also called Eumenides,
which signifies the "well-meaning" or "soothed
goddesses;" This appellation was given to them
because they were so feared and dreaded that
people dared not call them by their proper
title, and hoped by this means to propitiate
In later times the Furies came to be regarded as
salutary agencies, who, by severely punishing
sin, upheld the cause of morality and social
order, and thus contributed to the welfare of
mankind. They now lose their awe-inspiring
aspect, and are represented, more especially in
Athens, as earnest maidens, dressed, like
Artemis, in short tunics suitable for the chase,
but still retaining, in their hands, the wand of
office in the form of a snake.
Their sacrifices consisted of black sheep and a
libation composed of a mixture of honey and
water, called Nephalia. A celebrated temple was
erected to the Eumenides at Athens, near the
The Mythical Story of the Harpies
The Harpies, who, like the Furies, were employed
by the gods as instruments for the punishment of
the guilty, were three female divinities,
daughters of Thaumas and Electra, called Aello,
Ocypete, and Celaeno.
They were represented with the head of a
fair-haired maiden and the body of a vulture,
and were perpetually devoured by the pangs of
insatiable hunger, which caused them to torment
their victims by robbing them of their food;
this they either devoured with great gluttony,
or defiled in such a manner as to render it
unfit to be eaten.
Their wonderfully rapid flight far surpassed
that of birds, or even of the winds themselves.
If any mortal suddenly and unaccountably
disappeared, the Harpies were believed to have
carried him off. Thus they were supposed to have
borne away the daughters of King Pandareos to
act as servants to the Erinyes.
The Harpies would appear to be personifications
of sudden tempests, which, with ruthless
violence, sweep over whole districts, carrying
off or injuring all before them.
The Mythical Story of the Fates
The ancients believed that the duration of human
existence and the destinies of mortals were
regulated by three sister-goddesses, the
Fates or Moirae, called Clotho, Lachesis, and
Atropos, who were the daughters of Zeus and
power which they wielded over the fate of man
was significantly indicated under the figure of
a thread, which they spun out for the life of
each human being from his birth to the grave.
This occupation they divided between them.
Clotho wound the flax round the distaff, ready
for her sister Lachesis, who span out the thread
of life, which Atropos, with her scissors,
relentlessly snapt asunder, when the career of
an individual was about to terminate.
Homer speaks of one Moira only, the daughter of
Night, who represents the moral force by which
the universe is governed, and to whom both
mortals and immortals were forced to submit,
Zeus himself being powerless to avert her
decrees; but in later times this conception of
one inexorable, all-conquering fate became
amplified by the poets into that above
described, and the Moirae are henceforth the
special presiding deities over the life and
death of mortals.
The Moirae are represented by the poets as
stern, inexorable female divinities, aged,
hideous, and also lame, which is evidently meant
to indicate the slow and halting march of
destiny, which they controlled. Painters and
sculptors, on the other hand, depicted them as
beautiful maidens of a grave but kindly aspect.
There is a charming representation of Lachesis,
which depicts her in all the grace of youth and
beauty. She is sitting spinning, and at her feet
lie two masks, one comic, the other tragic, as
though to convey the idea, that, to a divinity
of fate, the brightest and saddest scenes of
earthly existence are alike indifferent, and
that she quietly and steadily pursues her
occupation, regardless of human weal or woe.
When represented at the feet of Hades in the
lower world they are clad in dark robes; but
when they appear in Olympus they wear bright
garments, bespangled with stars, and are seated
on radiant thrones, with crowns on their heads.
It was considered the function of the Moirae to
indicate to the Furies the precise torture which
the wicked should undergo for their crimes. They
were regarded as prophetic divinities, and had
sanctuaries in many parts of Greece. The Moirae
are mentioned as assisting the Charites to
conduct Persephone to the upper world at her
periodical reunion with her mother Demeter. They
also appear in company with Eileithyia, goddess
The Myth & History of the Furies and the Harpies
The Myth of the Furies and the Harpies
The story of the Furies and the Harpies is featured in the book
entitled "A Hand-Book of Greek and Roman Mythology. The Myths
and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome" by
E.M. Berens, published in 1894 by Maynard,
Merrill, & Co., New York.