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Lyssa of Greece - Strange Deities
2962    Dibyendu Banerjee    13/05/2020

Lyssa was not one of the Olympian gods, which means that she existed in ancient times before the Olympians took control of the world. She was a figure of Athenian tragedy and the Athenians spelt her name Lytta. She was the goddess or personified spirit or daimona of blind or frenzied rage and was often associated with the Maniae, the spirits of mania and insanity. She was so much deeply rooted in the very heart of rage and fury that she had the power to implant rabiesin the animals. Her Roman equivalents were Ira, Furor and Rabies, although they occasionally multiplied her into a host of Irae and Furores. Lyssa had the strange power to implant blind rage in others and often used it at the behest of the gods. However, she had her self control and used the power only when there was no other choice.

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There are two versions about the birth of Lyssa. In Herakles (Hercules), an Athenian tragedy written by Euripides in the fifth century BC, Lyssa was the daughter of the primordial deity Nyx, the ancient Greek goddess of the night and the Titan Uranus. According to it, she sprung from the blood of Uranus, when his son, Cronus, castrated him. However, Gaius Julius Hyginus, an ancient writer from the first century AD, depicted Lyssa as the daughter of Gaea, the Greek goddesses of the Earth and Aether, the personification of the upper sky.

lyssa of greece
The Minyades

Several Athenian tragedies feature Lyssa. In Aeschylus, Lyssa acted as the agent of Dionysos, when she was sent to drive the Minyades mad, as the punishment to insult him. The Minyades were three sisters in Greek mythology, daughters of King Minyas, who scorned the worship of the god Dionysos, the Roman equivalent of Bacchus by refusing to participate in his orgies.

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At his behest, Lyssa inflicted them with madness causing them to dismember one of their sons, Pentheus, the king of Thebes. After that, Dionysos transformed the three into bats and owls.

lyssa of greece

Lyssa is also present in another mythical story, involving a hunter named Actaeon. One day, while Actaeon was in the woods for hunting with his dogs, he accidentally noticed the goddess Artemis bathing naked in a lake. As the goddess spotted the hunter unethically spying her naked beauty, she became enraged and turned him into a stag. After that, she insisted Lyssa to inflict rabies on his dogs, which cruelly tore him apart. The climax scene of the story is painted on an ancient Grecian vase, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It depicts Lyssa dressed in a short skirt and crowned with a dog's-head cap, standing beside poor Actaeon, as he is torn apart by his maddened hounds. His metamorphosis is visible in the stag's ears and horns sprouting from his brow.

lyssa of greece
Zeus, Lyssa, Actaeon and Artemis

However, perhaps the best known story about Lyssa is depicted in Heracles, the famous Greek tragedy by Euripides. In the story, Heracles earned the wrath of Hera, the queen of the gods, as he failed to please her. With the intention to punish him properly, the enraged Hera sent Iris, her handmaiden, to Lyssa, with the instruction to strike Heracles with insanity.

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However, Lyssa was reluctant about using her prerogatives indiscriminately, especially to turn friends against each other. In fact, the goddess of rage did not like the idea to smite the hero. She said that this action is evil and moreover, she is not interested in visiting the homes of men. Therefore, before taking any action, she would rather counsel Hera. However, as she failed to convince Iris, she had no choice but to fulfill the command ofHera. She used her magic to send Heracles into a maddening fit of rage, during which he brutally murdered his wife and children.

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Sheela Na Gigs of Ireland Astarte of Egypt
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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