Who Has Seen the Wind?

In classical mythology, most natural phenomena were either personified themselves or seen as the tools of a deity, if not both. The winds were no exception, and in Greco-Roman mythology, there were four of them. I’m no meteorologist, but can’t the wind come from pretty much any direction, not just the four cardinal directions? Actually, there were some lesser divinities associated with other winds, but they never gained the same level of popularity. The notion of four winds lasted, and the Church Father Irenaeus famously said that there should be four Gospels because there are four winds. Even if this were accurate, however, it wouldn’t make any sense, because what in the names of Mary and Joseph do the winds and the Gospels have to do with each other? He might as well have said, “There should be eight Gospels, because an octopus has eight limbs.” Anyway, getting back to the winds, they were known as the Anemoi in Greek, and the Venti in Latin. This doesn’t mean the largest drink size at Starbucks has anything to do with wind, at least as far as I know. They were usually portrayed as men with wings. The four individuals were:

Boreas – The North Wind, and the most commonly featured of the four. He was an old man with great physical strength and a terrible temper, and was said to live in the mountains of Thrace. Those mountains aren’t really that far north, but we have to cut the ancient Greeks a little bit of slack here. His picture appears on a lot of old maps, and I get the impression that he was a major source for the figure of Old Man Winter. He was described by Pausanias as having snakes for feet, sort of like the Gigantes, and was said to sometimes take the form of a horse. In fact, he and the other winds were thought to turn into stallions and impregnate mares while passing through areas where horses were kept. His wife was Oreithyia, Princess of Athens, whom he kidnapped and raped before marrying her.

They had two sons, Calais and Zetes, who had wings and served as Argonauts; and two daughters, Cleopatra (not the Queen of Egypt, although she might have been named after this goddess) and Khione. The giants who ruled Hyperborea were also said to be sons of Boreas, but I don’t know if it was ever specified who their mother was. You can never be too sure when it comes to gods and personifications of nature. Boreas, Calais, Zetes, and Khione all appear in The Lost Hero, in which the family has relocated to Quebec City. In Rick Riordan’s characterizations, Calais is a dumb brute who loves hockey, and Khione a cold-hearted villainess. The North Wind seems to be the one most portrayed in other fantasy stories as well, including the Oz books. The Snowmen of Icetown keep the North Wind as a slave in The Hidden Valley of Oz, and the Wind Satchel Man loans the Wind to Rosine to help in defeating the Ruby Imp King in Frank Joslyn Baum’s Laughing Dragon.

Euros – The East Wind brought warmth and rain from his home near the palace of the sun-god Helios. He is portrayed as having curly hair and a rather sad expression.

Notos – The South Wind was said to make his home in Ethiopia, and to bring heat as well as fog and dampness. He was considered an enemy to shepherds and sailors, and a friend to thieves.

Zephyros – Next to Boreas, he’s the wind god we know the most about. He was considered a gentle wind who brought light breezes and spring weather. In art, he was portrayed as the youngest of the four winds, and he had several lovers. His wife is generally identified as Iris, goddess of the rainbow, but he had affairs with the flower goddess Chloris and the Harpy Podarge. Apparently he and Podarge had horses as children, which is a little difficult to wrap my head around. I know the winds were sometimes said to take equine form, but aren’t Harpies bird-women? Anyway, Zephyros was also in love with a young man named Hyacinthus, whom he killed when he found out the guy was hanging around with Apollo instead of him. This was said to be the origin of the hyacinth flower.

The parents of the Anemoi are identified as the respective deities of dusk and dawn, Astraeos and Eos.

The two of them were Titans, but there’s a little complication in that Astraeos was sometimes associated with Aeolus, the Keeper of the Winds. Aeolus is sometimes said to be a son of Poseidon, but other times of a mortal king. It would make sense that the Keeper of the Winds would be the parent of the wind-deities, but this association was apparently a later development. Aeolus’ most memorable appearance is in the Odyssey, in which Odysseus visits his home of Aeolea, a Mediterranean island where the winds were stored when not in use. He gave Odysseus a bag of unfavorable winds so that they would stay out of his way on his voyage home, but since that actually working out would have made the story a lot shorter, some idiots in his crew decided to open the bag and release the wind. If only they’d known this would result in most of them being turned into pigs, they might have left it alone. Aeolus appears in The Lost Hero, and has gone crazy from centuries of releasing the proper winds in order to meet the demands of the gods. He is subject to frequent mood swings, and resents that he is not a full-fledged god.

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15 Responses to Who Has Seen the Wind?

  1. Ozaline says:

    Very fun read, I’m thinking the gospel comment was that each of the gospels could be carried on one of the winds and spread to the world; still doesn’t make much sense but that’s my assumption.

    I love Greek mythology, and some of this was new to me, so that’s pretty cool.

    • Nathan says:

      Thanks! You might have a point about the Gospels. I think the real explanation is that the four Gospels had already been pretty well established, and Irenaeus couldn’t really think of a good reason for this.

  2. vilajunkie says:

    Psst! Nathan, since the painting of Zehpyrus and Hyacinthus might be inappropriate at certain jobs, or even people with delicate egos about homophobic beliefs, I would put a warning at the top, say, “NSFW [Not Safe For Work]: Male nudity and suggestive romantic situation”. Or whatever you prefer to saying “sexual intercourse”.

    Anyway, it’s interesting and probably cultural that as the youngest (?) and most like the ideal of male beauty (which was apparently slightly femme-looking barely legal adult by modern standards) according the Greeks, Zephyrus has the most feminine partners of all the winds (except for Podarge, depending on how…well-endowed you illustrate her).

    • Nathan says:

      If you really think it’s a problem, I guess I could just replace the picture with a link.

      Hey, if someone were going to have relations with a wind, they’d probably prefer the gentle one, right? Unless they were into BDSM, I suppose.

  3. Am a fan of greek mythology myself. where is that statue of euros in the pic you posted? it’s fantastic.

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