In heaven they were called Dirae, or ministers of divine vengeance, in punishing the guilty after death; on earth Furies, from that madness which attends the consciousness of guilt; Erynnis, from the indignation and perturbations they raise in the mind; Eumenides, from their placability to such as supplicate them, as in the instance of Orestes, and Argos, upon his following the advice of Pallas, and in hell, Stygian dogs. The furies were so dreaded that few dared so much as to name them. They were supposed to be constantly hovering about those who had been guilty of any enormous crime. Thus Orestes, having murdered his mother Clytemnestra, was haunted by the Furies. Oedipus, indeed, when blind and raving, went into their grove, to the astonishment of all the Athenians, who durst not so much as behold it. The Furies were reputed so inexorable, that if any person polluted with murder, incest, or any flagrant impiety, entered the temple which Orestes had dedicated to them in Cyrenae, a town of Arcadia, he immediately became mad, and was hurried from place to place, with the most restless and dreadful tortures.
Mythologists have assigned to each of these tormentors their proper department. Tisiphone is said to punish the sins arising from hatred and anger; Megaera those occasioned by envy; and Alecto the crimes of ambition and lust. The statues of the Furies had nothing in them originally different from the other divinities. It was the poet aeschylus who, in one of his tragedies, represented them in that hideous manner which proved fatal to many of the spectators. The description of these deities by the poet passed from the theatre to the temple: from that time they Were exhibited as objects of the utmost horror, with Terror, Rage, Paleness, and Death, for their attendants; and thus seated about Pluto's throne, whose ministers they were, they awaited his orders with an impatience congenial to their natures.
Description of the Furies
The Furies are described with snakes instead of hair, and eyes inflamed with madness, brandishing in one hand whips and iron chains, and in the other torches, with a smothering flame. Their robes are black, and their feet of brass, to show that their pursuit, though slow, is steady and certain. As they attended at the thrones of the Stygian and celestial Jupiter, they had wings to accelerate their progress through the air, when bearing the commands of the gods: they struck terror into mortals, either by war, famine, pestilence, or the numberless calamities incident to human life.
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