The role of the Dira is an important one because it reinforces at the end of the poem the fact that Aeneas' killing of Turnus is part of the divine plan. Just as Jupiter's will is emphasised early in Book 1 (257 ff.) in response to Juno's malevolence, so here it is reinforced at the end of Book 12 in response to her final submission to him. Yet, despite the importance of the episode in the resolution of the action of the poem, the actual identity of the Dirae is never made clear. Instead, there is a rather oblique description of them that runs as follows:
The identity of the Dirae is a matter of some interest and importance partly because of the crucial role of one of them at the end of the poem, and partly because of the Fury Allecto's role in precipitating the war in Latium in the first place. How we perceive Turnus in the Aeneid depends to some degree on the exact nature of his relationship with the divinities that so influence his life and death. If these Dirae are basically the three Furies, with Jupiter as master, then we are probably inclined to draw some very different conclusions about the Aeneid than if they are entirely separate creatures. More specifically, of course, if the Dira who is sent against Turnus at the end of the poem is Allecto herself, then there is a powerful irony that Turnus is infected and defeated by the same demon figure. As it is, however, Vergil's text is (typically) ambiguous on the matter. The question of identity, therefore, as far as it exists, is often resolved in accordance with more general perceptions of the poem. For some, the Dira is unquestionably Allecto or Tisiphone; for others she is a very different kind of demon. Certainly there has been some work in recent times on the subject arguing for two quite separate groups of demons. Wolfgang Hübner, in his major work on the Dirae in Roman epic, tries to draw a distinction between the Furies as powers of the Underworld, and the Dirae of Book 12 associated with Jupiter. More recently, R. J. Edgeworth has argued that there are two specific sets of demons. His main conclusion (136) is that there are "two sets of sisters, both of infernal origin ... : three Dirae (Megaera and two unnamed others) and several Erinyes (number unspecified but including Allecto and Tisiphone)." The case for this view is put largely on the basis of internal evidence together with an assessment of the Furies' function as chthonic goddesses of vengeance in some of the Greek literary sources (notably Aeschylus). His argument is essentially that we have no source for the three names Allecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone before Vergil (133, note 1). Moreover, he argues (136) that in the Oresteia the Erinyes have no contact with Zeus (Eum. 179-197 and 365-366), let alone sit beside his throne.
- dicuntur geminae pestes cognomine Dirae, quas et Tartaream nox intempesta Megaeram uno eodemque tulit partu, paribusque revinxit serpentum spiris ventosasque addidit alas. hae Iovis ad solium saevique in limine regis apparent acuuntque metum mortalibus aegris, si quando letum horrificum morbosque deum rex molitur, meritas aut bello territat urbes. 12.845-852
In the following article I examine these conclusions by incorporating briefly some of the material evidence from South Italy and Etruria where the winged female demon figure is frequently depicted. These sources are examined neither by Hübner nor by Edgeworth although in my view they have some bearing on the whole question. In part 1, on the basis of what we see on Paestan vases, I put forward further evidence for the view that the Dirae of Aeneid 12 are Allecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. In part 2, I proceed to examine the functions that the female demon figure has in the Aeneid in the context of the iconography of South Italy and Etruria. In part 3, I look briefly at the forms that Vergil's demons take in the context of earlier depictions. Nowhere is it my intention to claim that Vergil's demonology derives from one specific geographical or cultural source. It is certainly impossible to show convincingly that Vergil is acquainted directly with any of the following iconographical evidence. But we can at least examine Vergil's demonology in a wider cross-cultural context. It may be important, for instance, given the more frequent occurrence of female demons in South Italy and Etruria than is found in Attic vase-painting, that Aeneas encounters the full force of the female demon figure only after he reaches Italy.
Vergil is our earliest Latin source for these three named Fury-figures. But the earliest Greek sources for these names are not literary but epigraphic. They are inscriptions on five Paestan vases dated three centuries before Vergil. All five are either signed by Asteas or linked in some way to him. The first of these is a neck-amphora signed by Asteas and now at San Antonio, Texas. It depicts Orestes at Delphi shrinking back in fear of two Furies who are inscribed *MEGAIRA* and *ALLHK[TV]*. The second vase, a Paestan hydria, also signed by Asteas, depicts the story of Bellerophon. It was perhaps inspired by Euripides' Stheneboia. The four figures on the main part of the vase are inscribed as Proitos, Bellerophon, Stheneboia, and Astyanassa (Stheneboia's maid). Above this scene we see the bust of Aphrodite (inscribed) between two Furies. The Fury on the left carries the inscription *ALLEK[T]V*; the name of the Fury on the right is lost (*TEISIFONH*?/*MEGAIRA*?). A third vase, a Paestan squat-lekythos attributed to Asteas, depicts the purification of Orestes at Delphi. The participants in the scene are all identified by inscriptions (Leto, Artemis, Manto, Orestes, Apollo). Orestes stands in front of a column with his sword in his hand as Apollo approaches him for the ritual of purification. Above this scene are the busts of two Furies. The one on the left is identified by the inscription *TEISIFONH* and the figure on the right by *MEGAIRA*. Two fragments of a fourth vase, probably by Asteas, show two Furies with identifying inscriptions *TE[ISIFONH]* (right) and *[MEGA]IRA* (left). Finally, a calyx-krater by a later artist of the Asteas-Python workshop has Orestes, Apollo, and Electra at Delphi. Above, framed in the windows, are two Furies inscribed *POINA* and *TEISIFONH*.
Thus, the Paestan vases provide us with five fourth-century identifications for different pairs of Furies: Megaera/Allecto (Vase 1), Allecto and another Fury [name lost] (Vase 2); Tisiphone/Megaera (Vase 3); Tisiphone/Megaera (Vase 4); and Tisiphone/Poina (Vase 5). Given the existence of these five inscribed vases we cannot really say that Vergil is our first source for Megaera, Allecto, and Tisiphone as the three Furies. Certainly we are unable to place them definitively as a group of three (leaving aside Poina) in the Paestan pottery (or in Vergil for that matter) partly because the vase painters have sought a balance by having only two Furies rather than three. Whether on the vases or in the Aeneid, demons, it seems, do not operate as a group of three. Nevertheless, the weight of evidence encourages us to place them together as a single group. The existence of a group of Furies specifically three in number (with possible variations in names?) goes back to Euripides. The fact that there are three named Furies in the Aeneid suggests that Vergil is following this tradition. The Paestan vases therefore seem to support the view that Megaera's two unnamed sisters (Aen. 12.845-852) are Allecto and Tisiphone. Similarly, on the basis of this evidence, one finds it difficult to separate the three of them into two groups. The fact that Megaera is seen twice with Tisiphone, and once (possibly twice) with Allecto means that we are really bound to think of them as a group of three. Thus, Edgeworth's division for the Aeneid (Megaera and two unnamed others = Dirae beside Jupiter's throne; Allecto, Tisiphone, and others = Furies acting in and from the Underworld) is certainly not supported by our earliest evidence. Whilst the description of the Dirae in the Aeneid is undoubtedly oblique, we cannot really explain it by an arbitrary separation of demons into two groups.
The broad range of functions that these demons perform in the Aeneid is an extension of anything seen in the Oresteia. Nevertheless, if we examine some of the numerous (generally uninscribed) representations of similar demons in South Italy and Etruria, we see the same basic functions. On South Italian vases their most common function is the avenging of Orestes' blood guilt. These scenes are largely in accordance with the Aeschylean version of Orestes' matricide. As with the Paestan vases on this subject seen above, Orestes is often shown at Delphi being confronted by two avenging Furies. On a different theme, however, the demons can have an Underworld function very similar to that seen in Aeneid 6. An uninscribed Apulian volute-krater dated about 350 B.C. shows the punishment of Theseus and Pirithous in the Underworld. A Fury with an uncommonly vicious appearance (see below, section 3) ties the hands of one warrior (Theseus?), whilst the other, already bound, lies to the left. The scene is very similar to that in Tartarus in Aeneid 6 where a long list of victims is described as suffering torture in the Underworld (6.580 ff.). The list ends with Pirithous (601) and then re-commences with Theseus (617 ff.). In between these two a torturing Fury is described (Megaera?) who springs forward with a torch and a thunderous voice (605 ff.). The depiction of the punishment of Theseus and Pirithous on the Apulian volute-krater is the only treatment of this subject from South Italy. Nevertheless, the theme may have become a favourite one. Our only evidence for the Etruscan death-demon Tuchulcha in the Tomb of Orcus at Tarquinia (fourth century B.C.) shows the terrifying winged demon with the face of a vulture and the ears of a donkey. Tuchulcha holds snakes in his hands and torments Theseus and Pirithous, who sit in a state of dejection.
But, as we have seen, Vergil's winged demon figures have a role which extends well beyond the Underworld. The Dira in Book 12 functions both as a symbol of death and as an active participant in death. We see these same two aspects in the demon figures of South Italy and Etruria. On some vases the Fury is regularly a symbol of impending doom. An Apulian volute-krater by the Darius painter, for instance, shows the prelude to the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos. Prior to the race Pelops, Oinomaos, and Hippodamia stand together for the administering of the oath to Pelops. Eros and Aphrodite stand to the left, whilst to the right Myrtilus brings a ram to the altar for sacrifice. On the far right a Fury leans on a spear and simply watches the scene. Her role here is to prefigure the tragic destiny of the protagonists. This is very often the case too with Vanth, the female demon figure associated with death in Etruscan iconography. Vanth often accompanies the grim Underworld god Charun in scenes of death or sacrifice. Understandably, therefore, just as Charun seems to find his way into the Aeneid, so probably does Vanth. Vanth's most common function is to symbolise death in a way similar both to the South Italian Fury-figures and to Vergil's Dira of Book 12.
The Dira of Book 12, however, is not just a symbol of death but an active participant in it (861-868; 903-914). She helps bring Turnus to his knees so that Aeneas can finish him off. Likewise, we can see this function also in the iconography of South Italy and Etruria. An Apulian volute-krater now in the British Museum shows the impending death of Hippolytus as told in Euripides' play. Hippolytus drives along in his chariot, and his horses rear up as the bull sent by Poseidon emerges from the sea. This is the moment when "wild panic fell upon the horses" (*Eu'qu\s de\ pw/lois deino\s e'mpi/ptei fo/bos*, Hippolytus 1218). The painter, however, has added to the scene a menacing Fury-figure who is about to hurl a flaming torch at him or perhaps is about to grab the horses to madden them. She acts from the front of the horses as the bull acts from below. The Fury is both a symbol of Hippolytus' impending death and an assistant in it. Her action in attacking Hippolytus in the face is very like that of Vergil's Dira who flies into Turnus' face in the shape of a small bird (12.861-868).
The same two basic functions may well be true of Etruscan Vanth. For instance a typical scene on about 200 cinerary urns is a single combat between two warriors (Eteocles and Polyneices? Arruns and Brutus?). One brightly coloured example in terracotta now in the Archaeological Museum in Florence (5719) has been discussed in some detail by Jocelyn Penny Small. It depicts the two warriors striking each other with their swords; the right warrior is struck in the neck, the left warrior in the lower stomach. Flanking the two warriors are two winged demons both holding large torches in their outside hands. Both demons extend their inside arms towards the centre of the urn above the head of the warrior near to them. The two demons provide an artistic balance in their posture, in a similar way to the sets of two demons seen on the South Italian vases and the two Dirae beside Jupiter's throne. But it is also likely that two demons appear so prominently here because both heroes are about to die. Moreover, it may well be the case that the gesture the demons perform indicates they have a role to play that goes beyond mere symbolism. In that case they, like Vergil's Dira, would be not just symbols of impending death but active participants in it. They may act in some way to bring about death or accelerate it. That is, like Valkyries, they probably select their victims, act upon them in some way, and lead them to the Underworld after death.
In the first section we saw that the Paestan vases lend support to the view that the Dirae of Book 12 are Allecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone in a different role from that which appears in Books 6 and 7. In this second section we have seen that, apart from anything else, the female demons in the South Italian and Etruscan iconography have roles not unlike those in the Aeneid. The usual caveat applies, that there is no necessary connection between all of these. Nevertheless, we can at least state with some confidence that, although Vergil's demons operate in un-Aeschylean ways, their roles appear largely to be in keeping with the wider Italian cultural context.