Whoosh! Issue Eleven - August 1997

IAXS Research Project #299
By Nicholas Nayko
Copyright © 1997 held by author
1855 words

THE FURIES (03-15)


If I have to play Xena in Callisto's body one more time...

Callisto, tormented in Tartarus


[01] When reading the German names for the episodes of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, I was surprised to see the episode CALLISTO (#22) titled Die Furie (The Avenger). After thinking about it, it seemed fitting to link the Callisto featured in the XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS series with the Furies, those mythological deities who relentlessly pursued and tormented those they believed needed punishment.

[02] I should like to compare the two characters and highlight the similarities and differences and show that, although at first inspection they seem almost identical, they are very different.


[03] The Furies is the name given by the Romans to the Greek deities first known as the Erinnyes (angry ones) and later called the Eumenides (kindly ones). The word Furies comes from Latin and many English translations of ancient literature use that word instead of the appropriate Greek term. The term Furies was used in the later Roman era and the concept of them was as a creature of fiction, rather than the Greek religious character. These Furies were given horrible physical characteristics and attributes and became monsters. You can also find references to these creatures as Dirae and Mantai (raging women).

[04] The Erinnyes, the Eumenides, and the Furies were fulfillments of curses, born of blood and roused from hell. Today the word Fury conjures up an image of a hideous monster tormenting someone mercilessly.

[05] The Erinnyes were born along with the Titans and the Meliea (nymphs of the ash or oak trees that were used as shafts for war weapons) from Gaea (earth) when she was fertilized by the drops of blood from castrated Uranus, when his son killed him. According to Hesiod they were daughters of Gaea. Aeschylus wrote they were daughters of Nyx (night); while Sophocles wrote they were from Darkness and of Gaea. Since they came from the earth, they were associated with fertility and were looked upon favorably.

[06] The Erinnyes at first did not have names and there were many of them. Euripides was the first to write of only three. Later writers named them Alecto (unceasing in anger), Tisiphone (avenger of murder), and Megaera (jealous). They resided in the Underworld and were attendants to Persephone. They came above ground to do their work: tormenting the guilty and driving victims insane, but also tortured victims in the Underworld, such as Sisyphus, Orestes and Tantalus.

[07] The Greeks did not represent them as ugly like the later Romans. They were beautiful, serious maidens clad like Artemis. They had their heads wreathed with snakes, but this was not like Medusa and the Gorgon sisters who had many snakes in their hair. The Erinnyes had snakes entwining their head. They carried either a snake, torch or a sickle-shaped sword called a harpe. They had wings of brass scales.

[08] When these deities became the Furies, they got many hideous features added to them like a girdle of vipers, black skin, poison coming from their eyes, and a stench from their breath and bodies. Again, these were not the deities of the ancient Greeks.

[09] One performance of Aeschylus' play, IBYCUS, had fifty performers in the chorus representing the Erinnyes dressed in long robes and huddled in a circle. Their wailing on this occasion so terrified the audience that many fainted and were thrown into convulsions. The magistrate forbade a similar representation of them.

[10] The Erinnyes avenged bloodshed of kin, such as the matricide by Orestes and Alemon. Althaea called on them to punish her son Meleager for killing his brother. Tantalos was tormented for killing his son. Major works featuring the Erinnyes are Virgil's AENEID and Aeschylus' EUMENIDES.

[11] The Erinnyes changed into the Eumenides in the Aeschylus play of that name. In that work, Orestes, after being hounded by the Erinnyes, presents his case for pardoning at Athens' Areopagus. Athena comes to his defense and persuades the Erinnyes to change their role as bringers of retribution, in favor of new rules as the graceful Eumenides. They would now be available to grant help to those who seek their help. Some say the new term was just a euphemism and that these deities continued being just as strict with their victims. But the perception of them changed into a necessary function: individuals could seek their help for justice, not just the gods.

[12] There were then established sacred areas and groves where people could seek refuge and supplication. One of these was near Athens called Colonus. These sanctuaries are found in Sophocles' OEDIPUS AT COLONUS and ANTIGONE. The sacrifices to them had to be wild and at night and the animals sacrificed had to be black. They then were also involved in curses -- they became a personified curse. The aggrieved party pounded on the ground to get their attention. They became associated with divine intervention. They were thought of as being cruel, but not unjust or even malign. They worked to avenge crimes where the guilty person escapes human law, usually members of a family. The kindly nature of the Eumenides is shown when Orpheus goes to the underworld to implore the deities to restore his wife Eurydice to life. The Eumenides wept as he begged.

[13] The transformation of the Erinnyes into the Eumenides, sometimes called the Semna Theai (Venerable Goddesses), is indicative of the Greek's belief in the power of reason. These deities changed from vengeful fiends to benevolent guardians of the established order. It also shows the Greek idea of taming something wild not by weakening it, but by finding a place for it in the order of things. These creatures became avenging angels.

I do **not** do windows!Yo! I'm a Fury!

Erinnyes -- left, Fury -- right
Which one would you take home to mother?

[14] The picture on the left is from an ancient Greek vase and represents the Erinnyes. She is not hideous but a stern, appalling figure. The picture on the right is of an 18th century sculpture of the final form of the creature known as a Fury. It is now a monster and not the creature the Greeks believed in.

[15] For the remainder of this project I will use the term Furies to refer to any of the three forms like most English translations do.


Oh Xena, I love the thing that you do.

Callisto strikes a pose
in CALLISTO (#22)

[16] Callisto is derived from the Greek word kalos meaning beauty. Callisto or Kallisto is the superlative form and means most beautiful thing. There is a Greek myth of a beautiful woman who caught Zeus's eye and Hera's jealousy and wound up with her son together in the night sky as the Big and Little Bear constellations. The Callisto featured in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, though not following that myth, is a beauty as portrayed by Hudson Leick. The Greek Erinnyes and Eumenides were beautiful as well.

[17] Callisto is similar to the Furies in that she relentlessly pursues and torments Xena, who she feels is guilty of killing her mother and sister and escaped the law and justice. Callisto told Xena "You were never tried for your crimes" (CALLISTO, #22) and makes her confess her crimes in public (A NECESSARY EVIL, #38). She hounds her from the Underworld (INTIMATE STRANGER, #31). Callisto adds psychological tactics to her fighting skills. She mimics Xena to get her angry at herself, i.e., seeing herself as a brutal warrior and destroyer of villages. Callisto plays on Xena's sympathy and uses it against her. Callisto wants to torture Xena mentally before she kills her: to destroy her soul. This is similar to the Furies driving people insane.

[18] Callisto's wild yelling is similar to the Furies, who were sometimes referred to as Mantai (raging woman). Just as the Furies had a dark appearance (sometimes black skin and gray robes) and required sacrifices to be at night and of black animals, Callisto's costume is black.

[19] Callisto did have the blessing of the gods in her vengeance, at least until Ares had his godhood stolen by Sisyphus (TEN LITTLE WARLORDS, #32). The gods felt Xena should not have been judge, jury and executioner at the quicksand. That sanctioning of Callisto is similar to divine retribution of the Furies. The gods' blessing is further shown in HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEY'S SURPRISE (#H49), where Hera gives Callisto a chance at immortality via the golden apples of the Tree of Life; and Callisto attaining godhood during A NECESSARY EVIL (#38).

[20] The summoning of Callisto from her entombment by Hercules and bringing her above ground is similar to the Furies dwelling in the underworld and being summoned to come above and give assistance.

Xena just doesn't understand me so I come to the woods...often

Ares and Callisto (in Xena's body) about to find out who's using whom

[21] But Callisto seems to differ from the Furies in many ways. Callisto torments a single victim and is not available to be called on for service by some aggrieved party. Callisto acts for a selfish motivation rather than to restore order or to serve the gods will. She taunts Ares in INTIMATE STRANGER (#31) as to how she used him for her goal.

[22] Callisto does not even seem to be tormenting Xena for revenge -- but for hate. She has stated she has no heart (CALLISTO, #22) and told Gabrielle "Hate is all some of us ever know" (INTIMATE STRANGER, #31).

[23] Callisto was hounded herself when her mother called forth those who had been killed by Callisto in INTIMATE STRANGER (#31). The wailing of these victims was like the Mantai (raging women).


[24] This project was begun thinking of the similarities between Callisto and the Furies, and found they really are not that similar, except in method. The motivations and purposes of them are greatly at odds with each other.

[25] Upon reflection, the transformation of the Erinnyes into the Eumenides were remarkably similar to the change of Xena from a stern vengeful warrior (she was avenging the attacks of Amphipolis) to a benevolent guardian, available for service to help those in need.

[26] Similarly to the transformation of the Erinnyes due to a goddess' intervention (Athena), Xena's transformation was a result of the actions of a half-god (Hercules). Xena, however, does not always have the gods blessings in her actions.


More hijinks at the Chiropractor's Convention

No one told newbie goddesses Velasca and Callisto about the lava pits.
It pays to study geography!

[27] When I heard the Furies and Callisto were to appear in future XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS episodes, I imagined Callisto, who now is a goddess, creates the Furies, due to her experience as a relentless pursuer and her frequent calls for denied justice. The episode featuring the Furies will not, however, feature Callisto. So what will the episode be like? What form will these Furies be? Although the producers and writers of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS use Xenatic license on the plots, they do tend to keep the basic characterizations. I believe they also can have a better story using the original Greek depictions rather than just another monster like the Roman Furies. They may use the transformation in their story. I think Callisto may also change during the next season. There seems to be enough vengeful gods already.

Episode Guide FAQ Air Dates Encyclopedia Xenaica Membership Submission Back Issues