The Three Furies in Dante’s Inferno

Dante Alighieri (simply called ‘Dante’) was an Italian poet who lived during the Middle Ages. During the 14th century, he wrote an epic poem called Divine Comedy, which touched upon the recognition and rejection of sin. He represented some of the medieval concepts of Hell. Inferno was the first part of the epic poem. In this article, you will encounter the Three Furies, characters that appear in Inferno.

In Canto 9 of the Inferno, Dante makes his way towards the walls of lower Hell. It is stated:

” For that mine eye toward the lofty tower
Had drawn me wholly, to its burning top;
Where, in an instant, I beheld uprisen
At once three hellish furies stain’d with blood.
In limb and motion feminine they seem’d;
Around them greenest hydras twisting roll’d
Their volumes; adders and cerastes crept
Instead of hair, and their fierce temples bound.”

The apparitions that scare Dante with their shrieking and clawing of the breasts are the same kind of creatures that appeared in Homer’s work. They were called the Erinyes centuries ago, but for Dante, they are the Three Furies, which represented a bundle of curses who were associated with vengeance. Homer’s Erinyes came out of the blood of Uranus when his son Cronus used a sickle to castrate him. The Furies are considered the Latin equivalents.

They are the “avenging goddesses” of the underworld who search for guilt individuals who have committed unspeakable crimes. They are crones with hair made out of snakes that have blood oozing from their eyes.

The History of the Furies in Literature

Aeschylus, who lived between 525 and 456 BC mentioned these goddesses in his “The Eumenides,” which was the final play of The Oresteia , a trilogy centered on tragedy that took first prize in the Athenian dramatic festival that took place in 458 BC. This piece would be considered Aeschylus’ greatest work. It would also become the only Greek dramatic trilogy to survive in its complete form.

In the play, Agamemnon’s son Orestes avenges the murder of his father by cutting his mother’s throat. Because of the matricide takes place, Orestes is haunted by the Erinyes, who chase him from Argos until he reaches the edge of insanity. Orestes makes it to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi and is eventually absolved of his crime. However, the Erinyes are relentless and refuse to leave Orestes alone. Finally, Apollo tells him to flee to Athens, where Athena will give him protection.

Virgil (70 to 19 BC) also mentions the Furies in his “Aeneid.” He depicts the monsters as being in charge of torment in the underworld. They are associated with terror and warfare that takes place on earth. They are called Alecto (“she who does not rest”), Megaera (“the envious one”), and Tisiphone (“the avenger of murder”). While they are often depicted as having a head full of snakes, they are sometimes represented as having dog heads or bat wings.