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The Anemoi in Greek Mythology

Updated on June 8, 2015
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The Wind Gods of Ancient Greece

Virtually every aspect of life in Ancient Greece had a deity associated with it, and even the cosmic elements of the Babylonians, the sea, earth, sky and wind had deities associated with them.

The sea had many different gods and goddesses, including the likes of Poseidon and Oceanus; the earth was Gaia, the sky was Ouranus, and the wind had the Anemoi, the wind gods.

The Anemoi of Greek Mythology

The Anemoi are not exactly amongst the most famous of the Greek gods and goddesses, but they are mentioned quite commonly, either as individuals or as a group, in many ancient text.

Generally speaking, when people talk of the Anemoi they are referring to the four major Anemoi, representing the four cardinal directions of the compass; these gods being Boreas, Euros, Notus and Zephyrus.

There were though also minor Anemoi, representing further divisions of the compass, and also the Anemoi Thuellai, the storm winds.

Aelous

Aelous King of the Winds - Ed Stevenhagen (Overleg) - PD-life-70
Aelous King of the Winds - Ed Stevenhagen (Overleg) - PD-life-70 | Source

The Main Wind Gods

The major and minor Anemoi were thought of as being the sons of Astraeus, the Titan god of the stars and planets, and Eos the goddess of the dawn.

The main Anemoi were Boreas (north wind), Eurus (east wind), Notus (south wind), and Zephyrus (west wind). These four gods were generally considered to be beneficial winds, and were closely associated with the seas, for Boreas was the cold wind of winter, Zephyrus, the god of spring breezes, and Notus the god of the summer rains.

Each of the Anemoi were thought to live in their own palace at their corner of the world. The most notable of these palaces was probably Boreas, for he was said to reside in Hyperborea, a land far to the north of Thrace. Hyperborea was thought of as a Shangri-La type place.

The Anemoi were thought of as winged men, but were also thought of as horses, horses and winds being closely associated in Ancient Greece. Depictions of the Anemoi can be found on the Tower of Winds made by Andronicus in Athens.

The Tower of Winds

The Tower of Winds in Athens - Joanbanjo - CC-BY-SA-3.0
The Tower of Winds in Athens - Joanbanjo - CC-BY-SA-3.0 | Source

The Minor Anemoi

Later on in antiquity, further attempts were made to accurately describe the directions of the winds, and so minor Anemoi were then named.

These minor gods included the likes of Meses (north-north-east wind), Caicias (north-east wind), Apeliotes (south-east wind), Phoenicias (south-south-east wind), , Lips (south-west wind), Sciron (north-west wind), Thrascias (north-north-west wind)

Aeolus and the Storm Winds

The storm winds, the Anemoi Thuellai, were distinct from the Anemoi, and they were thought of as being the offspring of the monstrous Typhon.

Unlike the Anemoi though, the storm winds were kept chained up in the stables of King Aeolus on the floating island of Aeolia. Aeolus was the god of storms, but had many features associated with both Ouranus and Astraeus.

These storm winds were often regarded as the male equivalents of the Harpies.

Zephyrus and Flora

Zephyrus and Flora - William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905) - PD-art-100
Zephyrus and Flora - William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905) - PD-art-100 | Source

Stories of the Anemoi

Aelous famously appears in the Odyssey, for it is the king who gives Odyssey a bag tied with silver string. The bag contained the winds, and was meant to aid the Greek hero in his journey home.

Other gods though could also command the Anemoi to do their bidding. Zeus would make use of the Anemoi when he sent the Deluge to wipe out man, Hera would make use of the winds to help the Argonauts escape from the Colchian fleet, and Poseidon was known to make use of the wind gods to brew up storms.

The Anemoi were of course blamed for the storms at sea, for the sea itself, when no wind blew was calm, and safer than land.

Eros would also call upon the assistance of Zephyrus when the god fell in love with Psyche, with Zephyrus transporting Psyche to a magnificent palace.

During the Trojan War, the Anemoi were in great demand, for they were responsible for ensuring that funeral pyres burned, and the wind gods were often found transporting the bodies of the heroes of both sides back to their homelands.

The Anemoi though were gods in their own right and Boreas was said to have abducted the Athenian princess Orithyia, with whom the god became father to the Boreads. Boreas was also thought of as the god who saved Athens when the fleet of Xerxes approached, the god causing the ships to crash upon the rocks.

Zephyrus was wed to Iris, but also had many lovers. The wind god would appear in the myth of Hyacinth, for when the god was spurned by the youth, Zephyrus blew a discus towards him, striking him on the head and killing him.

The Anemoi could be quick to anger, especially Boreas, but it was also told that the god of the south wind destroyed a Libyan army and fleet, when King Psyllos sent his forces against the god.

Boreas and Oreithyia

Boreas and Oreithyia - Charles William Mitchell (1854–1903) - PD-art-100
Boreas and Oreithyia - Charles William Mitchell (1854–1903) - PD-art-100 | Source

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  • Colin Quartermain profile image
    Author

    Colin Quartermain 2 years ago

    Many thanks for the compliment - just been reading about Ancient Greece for nigh on 30 years

  • manatita44 profile image

    manatita44 2 years ago from london

    You must have been a Greek hero, Bro. You know so much! Informative and written and interesting Hubs. I know some of the heroes and indeed some of the stories too. Still, I'm no where near your fountain of knowledge, bro. Excellent and well-written Hub.

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