Boreas: The God of the North Wind in Greek Mythology
In ancient Greece, the figure Boreas was seen as the personification of the North Wind. He is one of the Anemoi, the four wind gods, each associated with a cardinal direction. Throughout various myths, the god’s presence typically signifies a drastic change in weather or heralds a major event, especially one linked with cold or stormy conditions.
Boreas is often depicted as a bearded old man, strong and winged, with a chilling and sometimes violent demeanor befitting the cold, powerful north winds he represents.
Boreas is one of the children of the Titan Astraeus, the god of the dusk, and Eos, the goddess of the dawn. He has three wind siblings: Zephyrus (West Wind), Notus (South Wind), and Eurus (East Wind).
Of all the Anemoi, Boreas is often depicted as the most turbulent and tempestuous, bringing cold winter air. His very nature is harsh, reflecting the brutal chill of the north.
Boreas and Oreithyia
One of the most famous myths associated with Boreas is his love for Oreithyia, an Athenian princess. After she denied him, Boreas abducted her and took her to Thrace, where they had two daughters and two sons. The children were Chione, Cleopatra, Zethes, and Calais.
Boreas and Oreithyia’s children were often associated with cold elements or snowy places, further strengthening the link between Boreas and wintry themes.
Together called the Boreads, Zethes and Calais were aboard the Argo during the Argonauts’ journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
Did you know…?
The abduction of Oreithyia is mentioned in Oreithyia, a play by famous Greek tragedian Aeschylus.
Role in the Argonauts’ Expedition
In the tale of the Argonauts, Boreas played a crucial role in helping the heroes on their return journey by calming the dangerous “Clashing Rocks,” which threatened to crush their ship.
Boreas’s assistance in this perilous part of the journey emphasizes the god’s might and his occasional role as a protector, aiding the heroes in their quest. It’s one of the many divine interventions that characterize the epic tale of the Argonauts.
Boreas was believed to live in a cave in Thrace, a region known for its cold climate, reinforcing his association with frigid winds and conditions.
Boreas had several animals associated with him, primarily the horse, given the cold breath they exhale from their nostrils. It’s said that Boreas had sired swift horses, which he gave as a gift.
Association with the Athenians
Owing to Boreas’s association with the Athenian princess Oreithyia (or Orithyia), the Athenians viewed themselves as descendants of these mythological figures.
It is said that during the Greco-Persian Wars, specifically during the invasion of Xerxes in 480 BC, the Athenians sought divine help to fend off the powerful Persian fleet.
They prayed to Boreas, recalling their ancestral connection, to assist them. According to historical sources like Herodotus, Boreas responded by sending powerful winds that damaged the Persian fleet.
Whether or not Boreas truly sent these winds, the Athenians believed in his intervention, attributing their survival and subsequent victory, in part, to the god’s assistance.
Due to the perceived divine intervention during the Persian Wars, the Athenians established a cult in honor of Boreas. This was a formal way to show their gratitude and solidify their relationship with the god. The cult likely involved rituals, offerings, and possibly dedicated priests or priestesses to oversee the associated religious practices.
Questions and Answers
What are some of Boreas’ symbols?
In Greek mythology, Boreas, as the god of the North Wind, had specific animals and symbols associated with his persona and attributes.
Boreas was often associated with horses. The rapidity and strength of the north wind are symbolized by the swift, powerful steeds. Horses, when they exhale in cold weather, produce a visible breath, which might have been likened to the chilly gusts of the North Wind. Boreas was said to have fathered twelve horses after taking the form of a stallion, and these horses could race across a field of grain without bending the stalks.
Also, Boreas, like the other Anemoi (wind gods), is often depicted with wings, emphasizing his nature as a wind deity. The wings also symbolize his swift and pervasive reach.
In some depictions, especially on ancient pottery, Boreas is shown with serpents for legs or feet. This transformation might relate to his swift and unpredictable nature, just as serpents strike without warning.
Boreas is often depicted with a billowing cloak or drapery, a visual representation of the gusts of wind he commands.
How did Boreas help Jason and the Argonauts?
The Argonauts were a group of heroes, led by Jason, who embarked on a voyage to the distant land of Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece, a symbol of authority and kingship. Their ship, the Argo, faced many obstacles during their journey.
These were a pair of large, rocky islands that floated in the Black Sea, near the Bosporus. They moved together and apart, crushing anything that attempted to pass between them. They were a known danger to sailors and represented a seemingly insurmountable challenge for the Argonauts.
According to some versions of the myth, the Argonauts were advised by Phineus, a prophet, that in order to safely navigate through the Clashing Rocks, they should first release a dove. If the dove made it through with only its tail feathers clipped, then the Argo should row with all its might to pass through the rocks before they could clash together again.
When the Argonauts did release the dove, it managed to pass with minor damage to its tail feathers. Taking this as the prophesied sign, the Argonauts rowed fiercely towards the rocks. However, even with their great strength, the success of their passage was not guaranteed.
At the critical moment, Boreas, the North Wind, intervened. He blew strongly, providing the extra push the Argo needed to speed through the narrowing gap. The ship made it just in time, and the Clashing Rocks, once they smashed together while the ship was passing, became fixed in place and never moved again, making the sea safe for future sailors.
Roman equivalent of Boreas
The Roman equivalent of Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind, was Aquilo or Aquilon. While Boreas was significant in Greek mythology, his Roman counterpart doesn’t have as prominent a role in Roman stories and myths.
READ MORE: Lesser-Known Deities in the Roman Pantheon