Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/149

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
137
Back-Footed Beings.

And the Greeks appear to have had their back-footed spirits in the Erinyes (Ἐρινύες, "the seekers out"), the avengers of homicide, creatures not unlike the Harpies and Sirens. The relationship of the Erinyes with the Harpies is seen in a passage in the Eumenides (the euonymous name of the Erinyes) of Aeschylus:—

"Fronting the man I saw a wondrous band
Of women sleeping on the seats. But no!
No women these, but Gorgons—yet methinks
I may not liken them to Gorgon shapes.
Once on a time I saw those pictured things
That snatch at Phineus' feast, but these, but these
Are wingless—black, foul utterly. They snore,
Breathing out noisome breath. From out their eyes
They ooze a loathly rheum.[1]

The "pictured things that snatch at Phineus' feast" are, of course, the Harpies. The Erinyes, then, are like women; like Gorgons, but without the Gorgon mask; most like Harpies, only wingless and in some inexplicable way more terrible. The horrible appearance of the Erinyes is not borne out by Greek art and poetry; they are in fact, as a rule, less repulsive than the Harpies;[2] though both the Harpies and the Gorgons were represented in contemporary art with ordinary human legs. The terror inspired by the appearance of the Erinyes is comprehensible if in the folk-belief of the time they were regarded as beings with their legs bent in imitation of those of birds. And in fact, in the Seven against Thebes Aeschylus describes an Erinys as καμψίπους, lit. "with bent feet or legs," an epithet which seems to be intended to suggest that her knees were bent back.[3]

  1. Aesch. Eum. 46 ff.—the translation is Miss Harrison's. Op. cit. p. 223.
  2. They are almost invariably represented as huntresses, with short skirts and high boots. Miss Harrison, op. cit. p. 232.
  3. M. Gaidoz translates καμψίπους "with feet bent back." But πούϛ, though literally meaning "foot," is frequently used by Greek poets from Homer onwards to mean "leg." The gloss of the scholiast Hesychius καμπεσίγουνος, "with knee bent, or bent back," certainly points to the latter rendering.