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Perseus Returning the Eye of the Graeae

The Graeae (Γραίες)("old women" or "gray ones"), were three sisters, one of several trinities of archaic goddesses in Greek mythology. The Graeae were daughters of Phorcys, one aspect of the "old man of the sea," and Ceto, and thus were among the Phorcydes, all of which were archaic beings either of the sea or chthonic deities. The Graeae took the form of three grey-haired old women, though poets might give them the euphemistic designation "beautiful." Their age was so great that a childhood for them was hardly conceivable.

Hesiod reports their names as Deino ( Δεινώ ) ("dread", the dreadful anticipation of horror), Enyo ( Ἐνυὼ ) ("horror" the "waster of cities" who had an identity separate from this sisterhood) and Pemphredo ( Πεφρηδὼ ) ("alarm") (Theogony, 270 - 74; also Apollodorus,ii.4.2; sometimes spelled Porphredo). Like another set of crones at the oldest levels of both Germanic and Norse mythology, they had but one eye and one tooth among them. These were shared and the sisters took turns in using them. By stealing their eye while they were passing it between them, the hero Perseus forced them to tell the whereabouts of their sisters, the Gorgons, ransoming the seeing eye for the information.

Alternative spellings: Graiai, Graiae, Graii.

The Graeae can be compared with the three spinners of Destiny (the Moirae), the northern European Norns, or the Baltic goddess Laima and her two sisters.


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