The Aurae in Greek Mythology: Zephyrus, Boreas, Notus & Eurus

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson explores some of the lesser-known deities of ancient Greek mythology, the Aurae, who control the winds of each cardinal direction and a corresponding season. You'll learn about their parents, powers, and a few of their most interesting stories.

The Aurae

In ancient Greek mythology, just about everything in the world had an associated god and sometimes several gods, goddesses, and demi-gods as well. This makes for a complex and well-populated world of divine legends. Unfortunately, it also leads to some serious confusion when the classic literature changes a name, leaves out someone, or conflates two characters into one.

Such is the case with the Aurae, the four directional winds who are also associated with the seasons. All four are believed to be brothers, the son of the Titan goddess Eos. Their father, however, sounds like a daytime talk show. In one story, their father was Astraeus, another Titan like their mother. On the other hand, Aeolus, the King of the Winds is credited as their father. Sadly, there are no paternity tests for mythical beings. Complicating it further, the ancient writer Hesiod leaves Eurus out completely, which hints that at one time he wasn't even considered part of the family. So let's get to know these Aurae a little better; they are:

  • Zephyrus: The west wind, also associated with springtime
  • Boreas: The north wind, also associated with winter
  • Notus: The south wind, also associated with summertime
  • Eurus: The east wind, also associated with autumn

Physically, the Aurae are often confused with the spirits of the dead because they can appear, disappear, and glide with the wind. They even appear transparent at times. However, they also appear in artwork and legends as taking the form of horses.

As the myths tell us, the Aurae were once incredibly powerful, blowing strongly and wreaking havoc on the world. Both gods and people were afraid they would tear the Earth apart. As a solution, the gods trapped them in a cave where they howled in anger, only letting them out occasionally at the will of Aeolus, King of the Winds. He decides who is set free, where they go, and how hard they can blow.

Odysseus in the Cave of the Winds by Giovanni Stradano
Wind

Zephyrus

Of the four winds, Zephyrus and Boreas appear the most in ancient literature, giving us a greater insight into their power, disposition, and history. Zephyrus, the west wind is also the god of spring, bringing the gentle and warm winds of the season. He married Khloris, the deity of greenery and foliage, and fathered Karpos, the god of fruit. In art, he appears as a young man, handsome with wings. He is often depicted as the personification of spring, carrying baskets of newly formed and unripe fruit.

Zephyrus and Khloris in Primavera by Sandro Botticelli
Zephyrus

Zephyrus also fathered Xanthus and Balius, the two immortal horses of Achilles with Podarge, a harpy. Legend states that the harpy was disguised as a horse while grazing in a meadow. As the Aurae often took horse form, he visited Podarge and they mated as horses. Their two children were those born in the form of horses.

The literature often depicts Zephyrus as a gentle spirit, blowing the newly born Aphrodite to the Cyprus shore and aiding Cupid to protect his beloved Psyche. However, he also had a petty, cruel side. In one myth, he fell in love with a beautiful young man named Hyacinthus who was also the object of Apollo's affection. Finding Apollo and Hyacinthus together playing a game throwing a discus, Zephyrus's jealousy overcame him and he sent the wind to redirect the discus, killing Hyacinthus.

Boreas

Boreas is the only other wind deity mentioned extensively in the ancient Greek literature. Associated with the north wind and the winter season in which it blew, he is often depicted in the act of blowing a strong, icy wind. In some depictions, his hair and beard are covered with frost and icicles while his wings are a purple or blue tint similar to deep shadows on a snowy day.

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