According to Hesiod, they sprang from the blood of 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 Hades and Persephone to 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 their wrath.
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 Areopagus.
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 Themis.
The 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 of birth..
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.