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The Furies – an early attempt to outline a core dynamic?

The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by t...

The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Furies were ancient Greek avengers usually personified as three ugly, old women carrying torches and covered in snakes. Typically seen as three sisters – Alecto (The Unresting), Tisiphone (The Avenger) and Magaera (The Jealous) – the Furies are the offspring of Gaia and Uranus or, depending on which myth you subscribe to, Nxy (night).¹

In Greece the Furies were also called the Erinyes. The Erinyes mostly punished people within families for their ill deeds on Earth.

The Romans adapted the bulk of Greek myth to suit their own purposes and mindset. The Roman poet Vergil depicts the Furies in the underworld, where they torment the wicked. Although vicious, the Furies mete out just punishments to those who have sworn false oaths.

Night of the Furies

Night of the Furies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I see myths like this as primitive or prototypical attempts to understand some basic dynamics of what later would be called the “collective unconscious.”² The old saying what goes around comes around comes to mind. In other words, we can fool others, we can fool ourselves, but sooner or later we have to pay for our bad choices.

¹ According to variant accounts, they emerged from an even more primordial level—from Nyx (“Night”), or from a union between air and mother earth. »

² Not to imply that this term is adequate. The Jungian James Hillman rightly points out that the idea of the unconscious is just another concept, another myth. And better understandings of how the mind works in relation to All That Is most likely will come in the future. See James Hillman, The Myth of Analysis.


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Saturn, Christmas and child sacrifice

Sebastià Giralt Font de Saturn, Jardins de Versailles via Flickr

In Roman myth Saturnus was an agricultural god of blight and sowing. The Romans likened him to the Greek god Cronus.

His annual festival was Saturnalia, originally held on December 17th. This popular festival was later held from December 17-23.

The early Christians transformed Saturnalia when arbitrarily setting the date for the birth of Christ—that is, Christmas. Some scholars and theologians say that December 25th was chosen because local and surrounding inhabitants were accustomed to gathering and celebrating at this time, making it a logical and convenient time to inaugurate Christmas.

But this wasn’t entirely based on a sweet and jubilant history. The mythic Saturn was known to devour his children because he was paranoid they would overthrow him.¹ And ancient sources tell us that actual child sacrifice to Saturn was pretty common. The ancients believed that by appeasing the Gods, things would go well for them. So giving up one’s own child (which presumably was highly valued), would bring about the best possible result. The better the sacrifice, the better the result. This kind of primitive, superstitious thinking runs throughout the ancient world, and in the Bible‘s Old Testament as well.²

Fourth-century Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum

Fourth-century Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sacrifice of children to Saturn is mentioned in the excellent video, “Isaac,”³ and Wikipedia elaborates:

According to Stager and Wolff, in 1984, there was a consensus among scholars that Carthaginian children were sacrificed by their parents, who would make a vow to kill the next child if the gods would grant them a favor: for instance that their shipment of goods were to arrive safely in a foreign port.[24] They placed their children alive in the arms of a bronze statue of:

the lady Tanit … . The hands of the statue extended over a brazier into which the child fell once the flames had caused the limbs to contract and its mouth to open … . The child was alive and conscious when burned … Philo specified that the sacrificed child was best-loved.[25]

Later commentators have compared the accounts of child sacrifice in the Old Testament with similar ones from Greek and Latin sources speaking of the offering of children by fire as sacrifices in the Punic city of Carthage, which was a Phoenician colony. Cleitarchus in his “Scholia” of Plato’s Republic mentions the practice:

There stands in their midst a bronze statue of Kronos, its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulf the child. When the flames fall upon the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seems almost to be laughing until the contracted body slips quietly into the brazier. Thus it is that the ‘grin’ is known as ‘sardonic laughter,’ since they die laughing.[26]

This reference also seems to clarify that the statue itself was not made to move by the flames, but rather the burnt and shriveled body of the victim was contorted by them.

Diodorus Siculus too references this practice:

Himilcar, on seeing how the throng was beset with superstitious fear, first of all put a stop to the destruction of the monuments, and then he supplicated the gods after the custom of his people by sacrificing a young boy to Cronus and a multitude of cattle to Poseidon by drowning them in the sea[…] in former times they had been accustomed to sacrifice to this god the noblest of their sons, but more recently, secretly buying and nurturing children, they had sent these to the sacrifice

Plutarch in De superstitione also mentions the practice in Carthage:

they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young bird

These all mention burning of children as an offering to Cronus or Saturn.4

‘Saturn Devouring one of his Children’, 1821-1823. Found in the collection of the Prado, Madrid, Spain.

¹ When some Christians say that the Bible is the “Word” of God, they seem to be oblivious to the personal, cultural and political forces that helped to shape it, as well as the widely accepted theory that multiple authors contributed to many books previously thought to be penned by just one author. For example, not too many mature scholars believe that Moses wrote the Torah, being the first 5 books of the Old Testament. There any many scholarly works on the Old Testament. I’m not an expert but one that I’ve found very helpful is Reading the Old Testament by Lawrence Boadt.


³ Amy-Jill Levine, Lecture 5, “Isaac” in


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Relief known as "the three Tyches"—T...

Relief known as “the three Tyches”—Tyche is the Greek goddess of Fortune; since the Hellenistic period, each city has its own Tyche, represented with a crown of ramparts. This relief, found at the Via Appia, is known since the 18th century and belonged to the Borghese collections. It may come from the Triopius, the funeral complex built by Herodes Atticus for his wife Annia Regilla. Marble, ca. 160 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tyche (Greek: luck) is the Greek goddess of chance or fortune. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Fortuna. Personifications of Tyche are unclear in the preSocratic period, but the abstract idea of Tyche is found throughout ancient literature.

Her imprint appears on ancient Hellenistic coins about three centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Tyche is often described as one of the Fates or as a daughter of Zeus. Temples for Tyche were, for the most part, built around cities. They offered protection or good luck. Alternately, Tyche was often blamed for natural disasters like floods, frost and drought. Even political misfortunes could be attributed to Tyche.¹

One source says she’s an Oceanid, one of a group of 3,000 nymphs who are daughters of Oceanus, the oldest of the Titans. In art she’s sometimes depicted as blind but her influence goes further than that.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum - Goddess Tyche...

Istanbul Archaeological Museum – Goddess Tyche holding in her arms Plutus (god of wealth) as a child (detail). Hellenistic art, Roman period, 2nd century AD. The coloring of the hair is remarkably well preserved. — Picture by : Giovanni Dall’Orto, May 28 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In medieval times

she was depicted as carrying a cornucopia, an emblematic ship’s rudder, and the wheel of fortune, or she may stand on the wheel, presiding over the entire circle of fate. In the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, Tyche became closely associated with the Buddhist ogress Hariti.²

As evident in the related articles, below, the name Tyche also appears in various marketing and media projects.

Related Posts » Taboo


² Ibid.

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Vestal Virgins

Vestal Virgin by Morin 1791 Terracotta by mharrsch via Flickr

The Vestal Virgins were a priesthood of virgin women in ancient Rome, probably of patrician class.

The Vestals apparently were instituted by the Roman King Numa and were thought to be the symbolic or perhaps spiritual daughters of the earliest Roman Kings. Wikipedia nicely sums up their crucial role to the well-being of ancient Rome.

In ancient Roman religion, the Vestals or Vestal Virgins (Vestales, singular Vestalis), were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The College of the Vestals and its well-being was regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome. They cultivated the sacred fire that was not allowed to go out. The Vestals were freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children, and took a vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were off-limits to the male colleges of priests.¹

Statues in the House of the Vestal Virgins, Fo...

Statues in the House of the Vestal Virgins, Forum, Rome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Vestals served for a minimum of 30 years, with a maximum of lifetime service. They answered to the head priest (pontifex maximus) and lived in a building near the Forum called the Atrium Vestae.

Ancient Rome had no separation of church and state, so the Vestals were maintained at public expense. They were pretty and pure looking, in keeping with ancient Roman aesthetic and moral ideals. Chosen by lots among eligible girls aged 6-10 years, the Vestals guarded the sacred flame at the temple of Vesta, near the Forum.

Constantin Hölscher Im Tempel der Vesta

Constantin Hölscher Im Tempel der Vesta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their ongoing purity was essential. If found unchaste, a priestess could be buried alive as punishment. In 83 CE, for instance, Domitian executed three Vestal Virgins on charges of immorality. In 90 CE the chief Vestal, Cornelia, was buried alive.

It’s hard to know if these charges had any truth to them, or whether they were simply trumped up by the PTB, for whatever warped reasons.

The concept of the Vestal Virgin has inspired artists through the ages.


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Painting by Jean-Joseph Taillasson: Virgil rea...

Painting by Jean-Joseph Taillasson: Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Aeneid is an epic poem written in Latin by the Roman poet Virgil. Thought to be largely historical in its heyday, it tells of the mythic journey and adventures of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who in ancient legend founded Rome.

Aeneas had already been known through Homer, who depicted him as a righteous, trustworthy soul, loyal to Rome.

Virgil in his Aeneid furthers Homer’s emphasis on Aeneas’ piety by representing him, in keeping with fashionable Roman ideals, as a symbol of filial, societal and spiritual devotion—i.e. devotion to parents, to the glory of Rome and its many deities.

The poem had a great influence on Dante, and was core university reading in the Middle Ages. Today, it still fascinates students of myth and classical studies. And for depth psychology, Aeneas makes a journey to the underworld, which speaks to the importance of the so-called collective unconscious.
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A depiction of Boetius teaching his students (...

A depiction of Boetius teaching his students (1385). Boetius, a 6th century Christian philosopher, helped keep alive the classic tradition in post-Roman Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-524) was an educated Roman Statesman, philosopher and man of letters.

He became court minister under the Gothic ruler, Theodoric. In 510 he was elevated to consul but later got caught up in politics when trying to block an informer’s letter to protect the Senate’s reputation. Sadly for Boethius, the letter got through and the Senate charged him with treason, condemning him to death.

While in prison awaiting certain death he wrote De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy). In the Middle Ages the Consolation was translated into several languages, second in popularity only to the Bible.

In a nutshell, it goes like this: While contemplating his grave situation, ‘Philosophy’ comes to Boethius in the form of a beautiful woman, her garment slightly dusty. She drives away the Muses of Poetry who’d previously been dictating to Boethius.

Philosophy and Boethius engage in debate, much like a Platonic dialogue. She instructs him on how human beings should rightly relate to God. Fear of material loss and desire for material gain are both rejected in favor of hope for eternal salvation through an all-knowing, good God. Ephemeral worldly concerns are to be replaced by the desire to lead a virtuous life with God.

Lady Philosophy and Boethius from the Consolat...

Lady Philosophy and Boethius from the Consolation, (Ghent, 1485) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much like St. Augustine’s theology, personal free will is emphasized but, at the same time, God is said to know how one will choose—both in the present and in the future.

Judging from the content and style of The Consolation of Philosophy, many believe that Boethius must have been an early Christian, although Jesus is not mentioned. Because the Consolation is a book on philosophy, some commentators say that Boethius prefers to use concepts germane to philosophy. At the same time, however, a good deal of the text employs lengthy quotations from Greek and Roman mythology to support and illustrate his philosophical ideas. Why then, would the apparently Christian Boethius exclude Christian stories?

Regardless of his religious path, the notion of abandoning worldly fear and desire in favor of aspiring to eternal bliss is also found in Hinduism and arguably in Buddhism.

Boethius never escaped imprisonment and was put to death after completing his book, which makes reading it all the more poignant.

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Marcus Tullius Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero, by Bertel Thorvaldsen a...

Marcus Tullius Cicero, by Bertel Thorvaldsen as copy from roman original, in Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was an outstanding Roman orator, statesman and scholar born in Latium.

He was elected consul in 63 BCE. He managed to abort a revolutionary plot but executed some Roman conspirators without trial, which countered Roman law.

To avoid charges he flew into exile to Thessalonica (58 BCE). A year later he was recalled by the citizens of Rome but lost support from both Caesar’s and Pompey’s followers after trying to appease both.

Retiring in Rome in (46-44 BCE), he wrote on rhetoric and philosophy. Following the murder of Julius Caesar in the Ides of March, he gave speeches against Antony (43 BCE). Antony’s military assassinated him in response.

His most accessible and, perhaps, popular work for modern readers is De natura deorum (On The Nature of the Gods), in which he discusses the opinions of different philosophers concerning various pagan divinities. But many more down-to-earth works survive, such as his defending falsely accused citizens whose accusers are bribed into giving false witness.