Also known as the Erinyes1, the Eumenídes2 and the Dirae3 the Furies were the personified spirits of vengance in Greek Mythology, arisen from the blood spilt when Cronus castrated his father Uranus. An alternative origin story has them being the children of Nyx - those who favour a coherent mythos will need to pick one4.
Greek myth traditionally names three furies - although it is implied that more may have existed. The named ones and their 'specialities' are as follows:
- Alecto: "Unceasing" :Punished immorality.
- Megaera: "Grudging" :Punished oathbreaking and infidelity.
- Tisiphone: "Avenging of Murder" :Punished murder, especially that of family members.
The Eumenides were not, as far as anyone knows, related to Nemesis but some or all of them, especially Alecto, could well have associated with her since they had interests in common.
They were generally depicted as hideous, winged monsters with gorgon like serpentine hair - and sometimes with the bodies or faces of dogs … these were not creatures to be lightly invoked or, indeed, messed about with at all. The most common invocation of the Furies - other than revenge - was in the swearing of particularly solemn oaths. Megaera, in particular, was meant to be useful for this purpose since she already took an interest in oathbreakers.
There are also some similarities to the harpies, although these may be a coincidence.
Subsequent depictions (drawing on the "three-ladies" meme) have linked them to the Norns or the Fates or the Celtic Maiden/Mother/Crone triple goddess, but these are not to be found in the original sources.
Various appearances in:
The Illiad - Homer
Eumenídes - Aeschylus
Aeneid - Virgil
Divine Comedy: Inferno - Dante Alighieri
The Kindly Ones - Neil Gaiman (Trade Paperback Graphic Novel, collecting Vertigo Comics' The Sandman #57-69 ISBN 1-56389-204-9)
Game and Story Use
- Useful as a really big stick to beat the PCs with - who better than high level PCs, who assume themselves immune from censure, to attract the attentions of semi-divine avengers?
- Indeed any world where morality is (or at least may be) enforced by sadistic, semi-divine monster women is likely to find itself a lot more honest than ours…
- Useful creatures to invoke (if only by naming) when swearing an oath. Depending on system, this may be a special spell or may just be an effect of swearing by them. Especially, we would assume, Megaera.