Anemoi: Definition & Greek Mythology

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Greek mythology was full of beings who personified powerful natural forces. In this lesson, we are going to meet the Anemoi and see what role the Greeks believed they had in the world around them.

The Anemoi

Just imagine how important wind was to ancient people. Yes, it kept their kites aloft, which is great, but for cultures sustained by maritime trade it also kept their sails full. Wind literally powered societies that relied on sailing, and the Greeks were among those people. Ancient Greeks relied heavily on sailing to trade their goods and defend their cities, so being able to count on the wind was important.

Add in the fact that the winds were seen as the forces that brought weather and storms (including the rains that sustained agricultural life), and you've got a pretty motivation to see the winds as a divine force. In ancient Greece, the winds were personified as four deities, collectively called the Anemoi. These gods kept ships sailing, provided rain for crops and oversaw the transition of seasons. For the Greeks, the Anemoi were literally the wind beneath their sails.

Ancient Greek relief of one of the Anemoi
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Traits of the Anemoi

So, what do we know about these deities? For one, they had some pretty notable parentage. The father of the Anemoi was generally said to be the Titan Astraeus (associated with stars, planets, and the discipline of astronomy). Titans in Greek mythology were often personifications of natural forces on cosmic scales, so their children also tended to be very powerful and very connected to nature. The mother of the Anemoi was Eos, goddess of the dawn who pushed away the mists of night with the rays of the Sun.

The Anemoi themselves took after their mother, generally depicted with wings and cloaked in loose and blowing mantles. However, they were also occasionally shown as mystical horses that grazed along the shores of the cosmic river that encircled the Earth. As gods of wind, the Anemoi found suitable counterparts in the Harpies, personification of the divine gusts of wind. The offspring of the Anemoi and Harpies were divine horses who, unsurprisingly, were as swift as the wind itself.

Names of the Anemoi

Now that we understand the Anemoi as a group, let's get to know them personally. There were four principle Anemoi, one for each of the four directions of the wind, as well as a season of the year. First was Boreas, god of the north wind. Identifiable by his purple wings, this god was associated with the winter months and in particular the cold winds of winter. At one point, he married a mortal princess-turned wind nymph named Oreithyia after carrying her off as the wind (winds were often blamed for disappearances in ancient Greece). Their daughter, Chione, became the goddess of snow.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia
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Following Boreas was Zephyros (Zephyrus), god of the west wind and the warm breezes of springtime. Zephyros brought nicer weather and prepared the earth for farming. His main wife was the nymph Chloris, goddess of flowers. Again, the seasonal pairing is evident here: spring winds bring spring flowers. Their child was a god of springtime and fruit named Karpos. It's worth noting that Zephyros is also famed for loving a youth named Hyacinthus, for whose affection he competed with Apollo. According to legend, Zephyros saw Hyacinthus and Apollo playing with a discus, and became so jealous that he blew the discus off course. It hit Hyacinthus in the head, and as he was dying Apollo turned him into the larkspur flower.

After Zephyros had brought the springtime west wind, it was time to meet his next brother, Notos (Notus). Notos was god of the south wind, which brought the torrential rainstorms of summer. As thus, Notos is often seen flying and pouring water from a vase. He may also be seen with a basket of food, since it is his rains which allowed the crops to grow and thrive.

Notus can often be identified by the vase of water he pours out
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Finally, we end the year with Euros (Eurus). Euros represented the east wind and autumn. Like other things associated with autumn, Euros is often depicted with the tools of the harvest and baskets of wheat or similar crops. Euros was the least defined of the Anemoi in Greek mythology, and in fact was not always consistently associated with any season or personality traits at all. Mostly he shows up when the winds clash against each other, creating storms.

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