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Gods of the Winds

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
The Gods of the Winds appeared between the natural deities already in the Mycenaean Greece. A Priestess of the Winds was named on the Tablet from Mycenaean Knossos written in Linear Script B. Such function in the Knossos palace is giving us proof that the cult of the winds was an important one and that its deities existed there. Hesiod mentioned only three of the Wind-gods by their names: Boreas - the north wind, Zephyrus - the west wind, while for Eurus - the east (or southeast) wind, he used the surname Argestus, the bearer of brightness. But also the south wind called by the Greeks Notus was worshipped. During the ancient time a divine family of the winds was growing until eight members. Besides Boreas, Zephyrus, Eurus and Notus another four members were venerated, but they never became well known. Apeliotus - was the southeast wind, Lips or Livos - the southwest wind, Skeiron, the northeast wind (connected with the Attic month June and July - skiroforion) and finally Kaikias, the northwest wind (from the Greek word kakía - "badness").

The myth is saying that the Gods of the Winds were the children of Astraeus, the God of the Night-sky and father of the stars and the Goddess of Morning Eos. According to Homer a ruler over the winds was the king Aeolus. The winds were completely subdued as his instruments, he kept them locked and he let them to go out, when he or the gods wanted.

The cult of the winds was confirmed by the ancient authors on many places of Greece. Always a special, individually named wind was worshipped, which determined the weather at a certain period of the year or at a certain place. The Athenians adored Boreas, who according to the myth abducted Oreithyia, the daughter of the Athenian king Erechtheus. They built a temple to Boreas near the river Ilyssos, because they believed that it was the North Wind who helped them to destroy the Persian fleet. On the other side the Spartans were waiting for the east wind Eurus and its refreshing rain and they called him the Savior of Sparta. In Methana a ritual existed, in which a cock was sacrificed and where they were walking with this animal in procession around the vineyards. This special act had to banish Livos, the southwest wind, which was bringing rain. The inhabitants of the island Keos pursued the sacrifices for the cooling Etesian winds (etisios means "coming back every year"). Also the people of the Greek cities in the southern part of Italy used the sacrifice - of an ass - this time against the evil of the north wind.

The Gods of the Winds are depicted always as the personifications of men with their wings, but usually with different expressions and attributes. This type, a man with wings, was influenced by the Near-Eastern iconography and their belief in Ramman, the god of the wind, thunder and storms, who came to the Syrian mythology as Adad-Ramman. This winged Nature-god was represented on the Near-Eastern cylindrical seals from 15th century BCE, discovered in the Mycenaean necropolis of Perati. Also pictures of the Wind-god were found on some Greek Black-figured vases from 6th century BCE and we noticed that between some miniature ivory figures, depicting some mythological events, this image can be recognized, but such representations were very sporadic. After the Greek-Persian Wars the scenes showing the God of the Wind (and specially Boreas) became more popular. Due to a new interest of the Athenians in Boreas, the myth about North Wind and Oreithyia was in fashion on the Greek Red-figure vases until the Late Classical period.

Boreas - the most coldest and powerful wind - was depicted in the dramatic poses, dressed in a short cloth, which was moving round his body, the same as his curling hair and beard which were like flying. But later on this curly hair and beard were depicted more and more spiky. The vase-painters pictured small wings around his legs, but Pausanias was saying that the god had snake-tails and not normal feet. Also his sons - Zetes and Kalais (the comrades of Jason in the Argo) became winged as they became adults and they were presented again with these small wings around their legs.

Zephyrus, the west wind, was a very fine and a pleasant one. People called him the protector of the plants, because he brought humidity for them. He was represented as a young man with a lovely face and long grooved hair while keeping flowers and fruit in his light wrapper, which was encircling his body. Later on he was named Favonius by the Romans.

The south wind Notus was known as a very dynamic, stormy and dangerous wind especially when seamen were sailing. The Greeks were afraid of him, mainly when he blew together with the north wind. Notus was represented as a young, beardless man with long hair, covered by a short mantle with one open arm. He kept in his hands a vessel for water - hydria - from which all the rain was gushing out.

Eurus, the east wind, was bringing the bad storms, but he was more kind to the people, than his brothers Boreas and Notus. He also was wearing a short mantle encircling his body. He was depicted as a curly-headed man with an unkempt beard and with some sadness in his face. Sometimes he was called Apeliotus and the Romans called him Vulturnus.

But Apeliotus was in reality the name for the southeast wind, which was giving to people a refreshing rain. Therefore they pictured him as a curly-hair man with a friendly expression, dressed in a light cloth and keeping inside his draping cloths some flowers. And his brother Lips (Livos), who was a lukewarm southwest wind, was also bringing rain.

The northwest wind was called by the Athenians Skeiron. According to Pausanias it was a smart wind, which was blowing over the Skeirons' cliffs and Molourian rocks to the sea. The name Skeiron was taken from the mythological events, connected with the king's son of Megara, who was described as an honest man, but according to the other myths Skeiron was a robber. Theseus, when he seized Eleusis, killed him and after established in his honor the Isthmian Games under the protection of Poseidon.

Kaikias, the northeast wind, had a bad name in Greece as the bearer of snow, coldness and blizzards. This was the reason, why he took this name and why he had this image. He was represented as a man with serious features in his face, with a long hair and a beard. Hail is dropping out from his round vessel, which he is always carrying.

To see all the images of the Wind-Gods together, we have to turn our attention to the so called Tower of the Winds in Athens, near of the Roman Agora. The tower, which was built as a horologion (time-clock) in the half part of the first century BCE by the Syrian architect Andronicus Cyrrhestes, was made on the ground-plan of the eight angles. The reliefs of the eight personifications of the winds are decorating the fries, in which from every pertinent side a specific god-wind with his name is represented.


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