The Furies, winged and with serpents for hair
(Author's Note: Blogger had one of those exciting, late night, "let's jettison the entire essay" moments last night, so the following was dredged up from a very sleepy memory. Apologies in advance if it seems a bit lacking...the original was much better. Feeling furious about it...)
Long before Dirty Harry, Billy Jack, Harry Brown or any of the other (mostly male) vigilantes went around shooting people on screen, there were the original pissed-off avengers...the Furies.
The Furies were three sisters, Greek goddesses of righteous vengeance: Tisiphone (avenger of murder), Megaera (envious wrath), and Alecto (unceasing anger).
Permit me to call them The Awesome Sisters.
The Furies were especially prone to avenging the rape and murder of women, children, and gay men. Violence within families was of special interest, so the father who molests his child will feel their wrath, as will the man who rapes his wife, or the mother who murders her children. They will be pursued, and haunted, and persecuted...forever.
The sisters also had a soft spot for the most vulnerable in society, like beggars and strangers. And they reserved special horrors for those cruel to animals.
The Furies were said to be relentless and without mercy. Once they have been summoned they will persecute their victim until he either commits suicide or succumbs to madness. Terminator-like, the Furies never give up, never go home. Their prey will lose everything, all their possessions, their loved ones, their health. Hunted criminals are even wary of sleep, for fear of nightmares. And nations or communities that harbor these criminals are themselves at risk from the wrath of the vengeful trio.
From these truly awesome, vengeful beings we derive the words fury, furious, and infuriated.
In typical Greek fashion, the Furies were said to be horrific to look at, with snakes for hair and blood dripping from their eyes. But later, more romantic-minded painters portrayed them with grimaces, but with rockin' bods:
After they showed a little mercy to Orestes, the Furies were changed into the Eumenides, or "the kindly ones", by Athena. Apparently they had tempered their rage just a tad, so that rather than pursue a criminal forever they might relent once he showed true remorse and repentance.
Barbara Stanwyk, looking awesome and furious, in The Furies, 1950
It is said the Furies will never die, so long as sin exists in this world. I expect they're in for the long haul. But in my book, they're the most entertaining vigilantes around...except for Stella Hardesty, that is.