Orithyia and Orestes

Orithyia (Oreithyia) is the daughter of King Erechtheus and Queen Praxithea of Athens. Boreas, the god of the north wind, lusted after her, but Orithyia rebuffed his advances. Since violence came naturally to Boreas, he decided to rape her.

One day, while Orithyia was playing by the river Ilisos, Boreas absconded with her and took her to Sarpedon’s Rock, near Thrace’s Erginos River. After her arrival, Boreas wrapped her in a cloud and raped her. This forced union produced four children, daughters Chione and Kleopatra, and sons Kalais and Zetes.

The girls became wind nymphs, and the boys were known as the Boreads, wind brothers. Her sons later grew wings like Boreas, and joined the Argonauts to look for the Golden Fleece.

The Abduction of Orithyia, in the style of Francesco Solimena, 1730

Aeschylos wrote a satyr play (akin to burlesque) about Orithyia’s rape, which is now lost. Plato also mentioned her, claiming a potential realistic explanation for her story. A gust of northern wind on the rocks of Ilisos may have killed her, and the people believed she was taken away by Boreas. In another account, Plato suggests she were taken from the Areopagus, a prominent rock outcropping by the Acropolis, where murderers were tried.

Orithyia later became the goddess of cold mountain winds. The Athenians prayed and made sacrifices to Orithyia and Boreas during the Greco–Persian Wars.

Oreithyia (Orithyia) is derived from the elements oreios (of the mountains) and thyias (possessed, inspired woman).

The Remorse of Orestes, a.k.a. Orestes Pursued by the Furies, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1862

Orestes is one of the four children of King Agamemnon and Queen Klytemnestra of Mycenae. According to Homer, he was in Athens when his famous father returned from the Trojan War, and thus absent when his mother murdered his father. Seven years later, Orestes came home to avenge his father’s death, and killed both his mother and her lover Aegisthus.

According to the awesome poet Pindar, Orestes was shuttled out of Mycenae by either his sister Elektra or his nurse Laodamia (Arsinoe) when Klytemnestra wanted to kill him. He found refuge in the village of Phanote (now Raveni), on the right bank of the river Thyamis and on Mount Parnassos. King Strophios of Phokis took care of him, and Orestes became bosom buddies with Prince Pylades. Orestes and Pylades are also cousins.

The Return of Orestes, by Anton von Maron, 1786

When Orestes was twenty, his sister Elektra urged him to come home to avenge their father’s murder. Apollo also urged him to do the deed. Orestes came home with Pylades. After committing matricide, Orestes went mad, and the Furies began pursuing him. It was the Furies’ job to punish anyone who’d violated familial ties.

Orestes sought shelter in the temple of Delphi, but to no avail. Finally, Athena admitted him to the Acropolis in Athens and arranged a trial before twelve judges, herself included. The Furies wouldn’t relent, but Orestes maintained he did the right thing, and that Apollo ordered it.

Athena was the last judge to vote, and chose acquittal. The votes were tied, thus resulting in acquittal. To show his gratitude, Orestes dedicated an altar to Athena. According to Euripides, Orestes’s punishment continued even after his acquittal, as Apollo ordered him to go to Tauris, take Artemis’s fallen statue, and bring it to Athens. This quest was meant to provide escape from the Furies.

Pylades and Orestes Brought as Victims before Iphigenia, by Benjamin West, 1766

In Tauris, both Orestes and Pylades were imprisoned, since the Tauris custom was to sacrifice all Greek strangers to Artemis. The priestess entrusted with the sacrifice was none other than Iphigenia, Orestes’s sister. She offered to release him if he brought a letter home. Orestes refused, but begged Pylades to do it for him. In the end, all three of them escaped together with the statue.

Back in Mycenae, Orestes took the throne and killed Aegisthus’s son Aletes. Argos and Lakonia were added to the kingdom. He died of a snakebite in Arkadia.

Orestes means “mountaineer,” and is derived from orestias, “from the mountains,” and oros, “mountain.”


3 thoughts on “Orithyia and Orestes

  1. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2017 « Onomastics Outside the Box

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