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The Anemoi: The Greek Gods of the Winds

The ancient Greeks believed that there were gods for most parts of nature, including the winds that blew around them. Keep reading to learn more about the Anemoi and why they were so important to the people of ancient Greece!

The Greeks personified much of the world around them as gods. Rivers, trees, and even periods of time each had their own minor deity attached to them.

This included the winds, which were ruled by a group of gods called the Anemoi. Unlike many groups of minor deities, however, the wind gods each had their own distinct personality to match the winds they controlled.

Who Were the Anemoi?

In Greek mythology, the Anemoi were the gods of the winds. They were children of Eos, the goddess of the dawn, and Astraeus, the god of the dusk.

They were sometimes depicted in human form. They could be shown as young or old men, but were often recognizable because their cheeks were puffed out as they blew wind from their mouths.

As human-like deities, they were said to live together in a palace in Thrace. They were often shown with broad wings that allowed them to fly from their home and across the world.

Often, however, the Anemoi were linked to horses. They were sometimes shown as such and were kept in the stables of Aeolus somewhere near Sicily.

Many of the children of the Anemoi were horses, as well. Achilles’ horses were children of a wind god in one legend.

Most sources name four Anemoi, each corresponding to the direction he blew from.

The most often-mentioned in Greek legends was Boreas, the North Wind. He was usually depicted as strong and somewhat wild as the bringing of cold winter air.

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Boreas had a number of well-known children. He was said to have fathered the fifty prized horses of King Erichthonius of Dardania, his daughter Chione was the goddess of snow, and two of his human sons were crew members of the Argo.

One of the reasons Boreas is so well-known is because the people of Athens saw him as a type of relative by marriage. After kidnapping and marrying Orithyia, a princess of that city, the Athenians believed he showed favor to their city by sending a storm to wreck an incoming Persian fleet.

Zephyrus, known in English as Zephyr, was the god of the West Wind. The harbinger of spring, he was seen as the gentlest of the Anemoi.

Zephyrus was said to be the husband of Iris, the rainbow goddess. He was also the lover of Chloris, who he made the goddess of flowers.

Zephyrus played a role in many romantic stories. In the legend of Eros and Psyche, for example, he carried the princess to the god’s palace to become his wife.

In some stories, however, the West Wind’s romantic nature took a more serious tone. While some said that Hyacinth was accidentally killed when Apollo threw a discus, others said that Zephyrus had intentionally blown the discus off course out of jealousy.

Notus, also known by the Latin name Auster, was the god of the South Wind. He was feared for his ability to cause drought and destroy crops.

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In southern Europe, late summer brings winds that blow in heat and dust from Africa. When it meets the Mediterranean, this South Wind can reach hurricane speeds and cause devastating rain and floods as well.

Eurus, the East Wind, was also known for bringing storms. While not as commonly seen as his brothers, winds from the east were unexpected and often came during sudden storms at sea.

Although Eurus was feared by sailors, not everyone saw him as an entirely negative character. The Spartans called him the savior of their city for blowing an attacking force’s ships away from their shores.

In addition to the four primary Anemoi, several lesser wind gods were named in various sources.

Most of these gods corresponded to particular types of wind that were more precise than the cardinal directions. Caecius, for example, was the god of the Northeast Wind whose shield was pitted with hailstones.

Some of the lesser Anemoi were specific to a certain location or region. Skiron, for example, was named for a specific group of rocks to the west of Athens from which, it was believed in that city, the first winds of early winter came.

My Modern Interpretation

While the gods of the winds played minor roles in many myths, they were felt often in the daily lives of the Greek people.

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While early stories drew a distinction between the Anemoi and the storm winds, which were created by Typhon, the difference became less pronounced over time. By the time the wind gods were adopted by the Romans, their anger could call up storms that could wreak havoc on the lives of common people.

Cold winds from the north or heavy rain from the south could destroy crops, leading to famine and poverty. In mountainous areas landslides and floods were a constant concern.

The Greeks also worried that too many winds would be loose at once. In the Odyssey, Odysseus was blown far away from Ithaca when all the winds were released at the same time, causing a chaotic storm.

The winds could also be favorable, however. Zephyrus was often well-regarded because he brought the gentle breezes and comfortable temperatures of spring.

The favor of the Anemoi was particularly important because Greece was largely a seafaring culture. Before the modern age, the only way to travel throughout the Mediterranean was on a favorable wind.

Sailors feared the absence of the Anemoi as much as their anger. If the winds abandoned them entirely, a ship could be left stranded in the sea as food and water supplies ran out.

Even the harshest winds, therefore, were not entirely negative characters. A cold wind or one that blew up a storm was still preferable to a ship at sea than having no wind at all.

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Still, sailors prayed that the winds would be kind and that the correct wind would come. While the Anemoi, and the winds they represented, largely corresponded to the seasons they were not entirely predictable and ships were often blown off course.

While many ancient cultures personified the seasons, the Greeks additionally represented the winds that came with those seasons. As a seafaring culture, their entire way of life depended largely on the Anemoi.

The landscape of the Eastern Mediterranean made it almost impossible to wage war without a fleet of ships to carry men and supplies. The balance of political power largely rested on whether or not these ships could navigate the sea.

This is one reason several of the Anemoi were regarded as protectors of different cities. When an enemy fleet was driven off course war could be delayed, and it could be averted for years if enough ships and men were lost entirely.

While Greek armies traveled by ship, most sea travel at the time was for trade. Olive oil, wine, and other goods were sent to colonies and foreign countries in exchange for both raw materials, like lumber and metals, and valuables like gold and gemstones.

When a ship was lost at sea, or even delayed, it could be devastating for more than just the sailors on board. Entire communities could suffer the economic consequences of a lost cargo.

The importance of the winds to a largely seafaring culture is likely why most of the well-known wind gods around the world are also from civilizations that relied heavily on ships. Norse mythology and Japanese folklore both have prominent wind gods who are similar in many ways to the Anemoi.

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In Summary

In Greek mythology, the Anemoi were the gods of the winds.

There were four primary Anemoi, each corresponding to one of the cardinal directions. They could be depicted as human-like figures or as horses.

Boreas, the North Wind, brought cold air in the winter. The West Wind, Zephyr, blew in gentle weather in the spring. Notus brought harsh summer weather as the South Wind. Eurus, the East Wind, blew up storms at sea.

In addition to these four, there were several more minor winds. They represented more specific directions and conditions, many of which were unique to a given location.

The winds largely corresponded to the seasons, but were seen as independent and significant in their own rite. Although they accompanied certain seasons, they could also be unpredictable.

The Greeks had ample reason to keep the favor of these winds. In addition to their importance as weather gods for agriculture, for a seafaring culture they had immense power.

The displeasure of a wind god could cause shipwrecks that could devastate an army or cause economic ruin. His favor, on the other hand, could bring swift travel and protection.

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Mike Greenberg, PhD

My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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