Tower of the winds

The Tower of the Winds is an octagonal Pentelic marble clocktower on the Roman agora in Athens.

According to the testimony of Vitruvius and Varro, it was built by Andronicus of Cyrrhus around 50 BC, but according to other sources might have been constructed in the 2nd century BC before the rest of the forum.

The structure features a combination of eight sundials, a water clock driven by water coming down from the Acropolis and a wind vane. The 12-metre-tall structure has a diameter of about 8 metres and was topped in antiquity by a weathervane-like Triton that indicated the wind direction. The considerable height of the tower was motivated by the intention to place the sundials and the wind-vane at a visible height on the Agora, making it effectively an early example of a clock-tower.

Below the frieze, the eight wind deities (“Anemoi”) are depicted: Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Eurus (E), Apeliotes (SE), Notus (S), Livas (SW), Zephyrus (W), and Skiron (NW).

The deities equivalent to the Greek Anemoi in Roman mythology were the Venti (in Latin, “winds”). These gods had different names, but were otherwise very similar to their Greek counterparts, borrowing their attributes and being frequently conflated with them.

In Greek mythology, the Anemoi (in Greek, Ἄνεμοι, “winds”) were each ascribed a cardinal direction, from which their respective winds came, and were each associated with various seasons and weather conditions.

They were sometimes represented as mere gusts of wind, at other times were personified as winged men, and at still other times were depicted as horses kept in the stables of the storm god Aeolus, who provided Odysseus with the Anemoi in the Odyssey. Astraeus, the astrological deity sometimes associated with Aeolus, and Eos, the goddess of the dawn, were the parents of the Anemoi, according to the Greek poet Hesiod.

The four chief Anemoi:

Boreas (Greek: Βορέας, Boréas) – was the god of the cold north wind and the bringer of winter. His name meant “North Wind” or “Devouring One”. Boreas is depicted as being very strong, with a violent temper to match. He was frequently shown as a winged old man with shaggy hair and beard, holding a conch shell and wearing a billowing cloak. Pausanias wrote that Boreas had snakes instead of feet, though in art he was usually depicted with winged human feet. Boreas was closely associated with horses. He was said to have fathered twelve colts after taking the form of a stallion, to the mares of Erichthonius, king of Troy. These were said to be able to run across a field of grain without trampling the plants. The Greeks believed that his home was in Thrace, and Herodotus and Pliny both describe a northern land known as Hyperborea (“Beyond the North Wind”), where people lived in complete happiness and had extraordinarily long lifespans. Boreas was also said to have kidnapped Oreithyia, an Athenian princess, from the river Ilissus. Boreas had taken a fancy to Oreithyia, and had initially pleaded for her favours, hoping to persuade her. When this failed, he reverted to his usual temper and abducted her as she danced on the banks of the Ilissus. Boreas wrapped Oreithyia up in a cloud, raped her, and with her, Boreas fathered two sons—the Boreads, Zethes and Calais—and two daughters— Khione, goddess of snow, and Cleopatra. The Roman equivalent of Boreas was Aquilo, or Aquilon. An alternate, rarer name used for the northern wind was Septentrio, a word derived from septem triones (“seven oxen”) referring to the seven prominent stars in the northern constellation Ursa Major. Septentrio is also the source of the word septentrional, a synonym for boreal, meaning “northern”;

Notus (Greek Νότος, Nótos) – was the south wind and bringer of the storms of late summer and autumn. Notus was associated with the desiccating hot wind of the rise of Sirius after midsummer, and was feared as a destroyer of crops. Notus’ equivalent in Roman mythology was Auster, the embodiment of the sirocco wind, who brought heavy cloud cover and fog or humidity;

Zephyrus (in Greek Ζέφυρος, Zéphuros, related to zophos, “gloom, mist”, Zephyrus in Latin, and Zefferus in Old English) – was the west wind and bringer of mild breezes. The gentlest of the winds, Zephyrus is known as the fructifying wind, the messenger of spring. It was thought that Zephyrus lived in a cave in Thrace. He was said to be the husband of his sister Iris, the goddess of the rainbow. He abducted another of his sisters, the goddess Chloris (root of “chlorophile”, equivalent to Roman goddess Flora, from the Latin “flos”, flower), and gave her the domain of flowers. With Chloris, he fathered Ampyx, Mopsus and Carpus (“fruit”). He is said to have vied for Chloris’s love with his brother Boreas, eventually winning her devotion. Additionally, with yet another sister and lover, the harpy Podarge (also known as Celaeno), Zephyrus was said to be the father of Balius and Xanthus, Achilles’ horses. One of the surviving myths in which Zephyrus features most prominently is that of Hyacinth. Hyacinth was a very handsome and athletic Spartan prince. Zephyrus fell in love with him and courted him, and so did Apollo. The two competed for the boy’s love, but he chose Apollo, driving Zephyrus mad with jealousy. Later, catching Apollo and Hyacinth throwing a discus, Zephyrus blew a gust of wind at them, striking the boy in the head with the falling discus. When Hyacinth died, Apollo created the hyacinth flower from his blood. In the story of Cupid and Psyche, Zephyrus served Cupid by transporting Psyche to his cave and then, by his absence, causing the death of Psyche’s two sisters. Zephyrus’ Roman equivalent was Favonius, who held dominion over plants and flowers. The name Favonius, which meant “favorable”, was also a common Roman name. Zephyrus is linked to many love stories, suggesting a possible relation with the Greek word “Zefksis” for “union, conjuction”. According to Boccaccio’s “Genealogia”, “life” or “vita” is the meaning of the Greek “Zephs” from which the West wind’s name derives;


Eurus (Greek: Εύρος, Eúros) – the east wind, was not associated with any of the three Greek seasons, and is the only one of these four Anemoi not mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony or in the Orphic Hymns. He was considered an unlucky wind and was thought to bring warmth and rain. His symbol was an inverted vase, spilling water. His Roman counterpart was Vulturnus (not to be confused with Volturnus, a tribal river-god who later became a Roman deity of the River Tiber).

Additionally, four intermediate winds, the Anemoi Thuellai (Άνεμοι θύελλαι; Greek: “Tempest-Winds”), were sometimes referenced, representing the northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest winds. Originally, as attested in Hesiod and Homer, these four minor Anemoi were wicked and violent daemons (spirits) created by the monster Typhon, and male counterparts to the harpies, who were also called thuellai. These were the winds held in Aeolus’s stables; the other four, “heavenly” Anemoi, were not kept locked up. However, later writers confused and conflated the two groups of Anemoi, and the distinction was largely forgotten.

The Anemoi Thuellai:

Kaikias – was the Greek deity of the northeast wind. He is shown as a bearded man with a shield full of hail-stones, and his name is cognate to the Latin word caecus “blind”, that is, he was seen as a “dark” wind. The Roman spelling of Kaikias was Caecius.

Apeliotes – sometimes known to the Romans as Apeliotus, was the Greek deity of the southeast wind. As this wind was thought to cause a refreshing rain particularly beneficial to farmers, he is often depicted wearing gumboots and carrying fruit, draped in a light cloth concealing some flowers or grain. He is cleanshaven, with curly hair and a friendly expression. Because Apeliotes was a minor god, he was often synthesized with Eurus, the east wind. Subsolanus, Apeliotes’ Roman counterpart, was also sometimes considered the east wind, in Vulturnus’ place.

Skiron, or Skeiron – was the Greek god of the northwest wind. His name is related to Skirophorion, the last of the three months of spring in the Attic festival calendar. He is depicted as a bearded man tilting a cauldron, representing the onset of winter. His Roman counterpart is Caurus, or Corus. Corus was also one of the oldest Roman wind-deities, and numbered among the di indigetes (“indigenous gods”), a group of abstract and largely minor numinous entities.

Lips – was the Greek deity of the southwest wind, often depicted holding the stern of a ship. His Roman equivalent was Afer ventus (“African wind”), or Africus, due to Africa being to the southwest of Italy. This name is thought to be derived from the name of a North African tribe, the Afri.



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