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Subscriber: null; date: 12 August 2022

Furies

Source:
The Oxford Companion to Chaucer
Author(s):
Douglas Gray

Furies, Furiis, 

the Furies or Erinyes (in Chaucer Herynes or Herenus) the demonic avengers of crime in classical literature. They were represented as winged women with snaky locks. Their names were Allecto (Alete), Megaera (Megera), and Tisiphone (Thesiphone). Chaucer read about them in Virgil and Ovid (where they are the daughters of Night and denizens of the underworld). He seems also to have been influenced by Dante's portrayal of them (Inferno 9.37–51) as both inflicting torment and suffering torment in hell. There they are the ‘handmaidens of the queen of everlasting lamentation’ (Proserpina), rending their breasts with their nails, beating themselves with the palms of their hands, crying so loudly that Dante in terror presses close to Virgil. In Boece (III m.12:34) they torment the souls until the music of Orpheus makes them weep for pity. They are present at the ill-fated marriage feast of Tereus and Procne (LGW 2252). ‘Pite’ is rather mysteriously called ‘thow Herenus quene’ (Pity 92), where ‘Herenus’ seems to be a form of Erinyes. Pity is perhaps their ‘queen’ because she can control vengeance and vindictiveness; or perhaps Chaucer is recalling Dante's ‘queen of everlasting lamentation’. The phrase ‘this furial pyne of helle’ (V.448) seems to mean ‘pain such as the Furies suffer’. In Troilus and Criseyde Pandarus invokes them in an oath—‘O Furies thre of helle, on yow I crye!’ (II.436). They seem to preside over the action of that poem. At the beginning Chaucer calls on Tisiphone (‘thow goddesse of torment, | Thow cruwel Furie, sorwynge evere in peyne’, I.6–9) to help him write his ‘woful verses’ deliberately summoning up this grim, infernal creature. And at the beginning of the final downturn of the lovers' fortunes, the Furies are again invoked—‘O ye Herynes, Nyghtes doughtren thre, | That endeles compleignen evere in pyne'—and solemnly named—Megera, Alete, and ek Thesiphone’ (IV.22–4).