Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Furies, Plural

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:
Orestes, being punished for killing his mother

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.


Sophie Littlefield said...

WOW! I love these gals! How is it that I didn't know about them already? I mean there's got to be a whole stack of books in there :) I always learn so much from you, and I adore how, whenever you tell the "real" story behind some myth or legend, it's about a million times more interesting than the washed-out version one gets in school or church.

L.G.C. Smith said...

It's interesting that the Furies are women instead of men, especially coming out of Greek myth, which can be ambivalent about female power. Like when Heracles strangles the snakes while still in his cradle, said snakes being representative of Hera and her dominion. But this gives us a clear idea of how long fury has been linked with justice, as opposed to anger, which may or may not have a righteous connotation.

So the Furies -- superheroes from another age. Fury leads to justice in action. Loads of material, indeed. :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

Right? Being a writer, of course, the first thing I thought of was "Urban Fantasy/Adevnture/Romance, anyone?" Ripe for Hollywood, for sure ;-)
And Lynn, you're right, what I really loved was that connection between fury and justice, a truly righteous anger.

Gigi Pandian said...

Juliet, isn't research so much more fun when we get to put this fascinating stuff to use in fiction rather than dissertations?

Lisa Hughey said...

Love this!! I did some research on the Furies earlier this year and I loved reading about them. Here's to kick-ass women everywhere. :)

Martha Flynn said...

Dude! This is awesome!!! Can we please take this post down so I can work on my new book idea without anyone else potentially getting the same book idea....

Rachael Herron said...

I had the same thought as Martha. Take the post down! We're stealing it! :)