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 gives us proof that the cult of the winds was an important one and that its deities existed there. Hesiod mentions only three of the Wind gods by their names: Boreas, the north wind; Zephyrus, the west wind; Eurus, the east (or southeast) wind, also called by the surname Argestus, the bearer of brightness. The south wind, Notus, was also worshiped by the Greeks.
In ancient times the divine family of the winds increased to eight members. Besides the four mentioned earlier, another four members were venerated, but they never became well-known. These are: Apeliotus, the south-east wind; Lips or Livos, the south-west wind; Sciron, the north-east wind (connected with the Attic month June and July — skiroforion); and Caecus, the north-west wind (from the Greek word kakía, "badness").
According to myth, the Gods of the Winds were the children of Astraeus, the god of the night-sky and father of the stars, and Eos, the goddess of morning. Homer writes that the ruler over the winds was king Aeolus. The winds were completely subdued as his instruments, and he kept them locked up only to let them out when he or the gods so desired.
The cult of the winds was confirmed by ancient authors in many places of Greece. Always a special, individually named wind was worshiped, which determined the weather at a certain period of the year or at a certain place. The Athenians venerated Boreas, who according to myth abducted Orithyia, the daughter of the Athenian king Erichthonius. 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 in 492 BCE.
The Spartans however, 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 rooster was sacrificed and where they were walking with this animal in procession around the vineyards. This special act served to banish Lips, the south-west wind, which brought rain. The inhabitants of the island Keos pursued the sacrifices for the cooling etesian winds (etisios means "returning each year"). The people of the Greek cities in the southern part of Italy sacrificed an ass against the evil of the north wind.
The Gods of the Winds are always depicted as men with wings attached to their shoulders, 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 entered into Syrian mythology as Adad-Ramman. This winged nature god was represented on the Near-Eastern cylindrical seals from the fifteenth century BCE, discovered in the Mycenaean necropolis of Perati. Depictions of the wind god were found on Greek black-figured vases from the sixth century BCE. It was noticed that between some miniature ivory figures, depicting mythological events, this image can be recognized, but such representations were sporadic. After the Greek-Persian wars the scenes showing the God of the Wind (and particularly Boreas) became more popular. Due to a renewed interest by the Athenians in Boreas, the myth about north wind and Orithyia became a popular subject on Greek red-figure vases until the Late Classical period.
Boreas — the coldest and most powerful wind — was depicted in dramatic poses, dressed in a short cloth, which flowed around his body, to give the impression that he was flying, similar with his curling hair and beard. Later on his curly hair and beard were depicted more and more spiky. The vase-painters pictured small wings around his legs, but Pausanias says that the god had snake-tails and abnormal feet. Also his sons — Zetes and Calais (the comrades of Jason in the Argo) received winged when they became adults and they too were presented with these small wings around their legs.
Zephyrus, the west wind, was a 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 carrying flowers and fruit in his mantle, which encircled his body. The Romans called him Favonius.
The south wind Notus was known as a dynamic, stormy and dangerous wind especially to sailors. 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 — a hydria — from which the rain gushed out.
Eurus, the east wind, brought the bad storms, but he was more kind to people than his brothers Boreas and Notus. He also wore a short mantle enclosing his body. He was depicted as a curly-headed man with an unkempt beard and with a hint of sadness in his face. Sometimes he was called Apeliotus; the Romans called him Vulturnus. But Apeliotus was in reality the name for the south-east wind, which brought a refreshing rain. Therefore they pictured him as a curly-haired man with a friendly expression, dressed in a light cloth with some flowers tucked beneath his clothes. His brother Lips (Livos), who was a lukewarm south-west wind, also brought rain.
The northwest wind was called by the Athenians Sciron. According to Pausanias it was a smart wind, which blew over the Skeirons' cliffs and Molourian rocks to the sea. The name Sciron was taken from mythological events, connected with the king's son of Megara, who was described as an honest man. According to others, Sciron was a robber. Theseus, when he seized Eleusis, killed him and afterward established in his honor the Isthmian Games, which were under the protection of Poseidon.
Caecus, 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, with long hair and a beard. Hail drops from his round vessel, which he always carries.
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 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 decorate the frieze.
- Slovník antické kultury. Praha, 1974.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 378-382.
- Homer. Odyssey x, 1, 76.
- Mavromataki, M. (1997). Greek Mythology and Religion. Athens, p. 116.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 4.4; v, 19.1; ix, 34.3.
- Strabo, ix, 1, 4.