The winds of the Greeks

In my previous post, I examined the Tower of the Winds, a famous monument bearing reliefs of winged male forms, representing the winds. In turn, each wind represents the season when it is most prevalent.

But when you look up, which wind are you looking at? How can you tell them apart without a compass?

They all look different and carry various symbols – the ancients knew how to recognise them by those symbols, but can we?

So let us examine what these symbols are and what they signify. When we know these, telling who is who will be a piece of cake. As a bonus, I’ll throw in their Greek names too, in italics.

Starting from the north and moving clockwise, the winds are:

1 Northern wind, Voreas

1. North: Voreas is usually a very strong winter wind, which carries cold air masses bringing the temperature down. He is shown wearing boots, long sleeves and lots of layers. He is blowing into a conch shell, a sort of a trumpet which makes a loud “boo” noise. This is supposed to remind us of the noise typically made by the strong northern wind.

2 Northeastern wind, Kaikias

2. North-east: Kaikias is another cold wing, which often brings violent storms. Here, he is shown holding a shield full of hail, which he will no doubt let fall on somebody’s crop. Not a favorite wind this one.

3 Eastern wind, Apeliotis

3. East: Apeliotis, is a nice, pleasant wind, associated with the warm days of autumn; he is shown carrying fruit in his cloak.

4 Southeastern wind, Euros

4. South-East: Euros (no relation to the Euro) is a very strong wind, which causes dangerous sea-storms all over the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, a fact indicated by his wind-swept clothes. Alternatively, it may raise the humidity and cause poor visibility, shown by the covered arm and the cloak that almost hides his head.

5 Southern wind, Notos

5. South: Notos is a wind that usually brings soft, steady rainfall. Loved by farmers, he is shown carefully emptying a jar of water onto the land.

6 Southwestern wind, Lips

6. South-west: this is a favorite of sailors to this day. Called Lips (no relation to the English word), it is warm and smooth. Here he is shown holding an “aphlaston,” i.e. the decorative end of a ship’s stern, to show that this wind speeds ships on their way.

7 Western wind, Zephyr

7. West: Zephyros, a mild and pleasant spring wind, is naturally shown carrying a shirtful of flowers.

8 Northwestern wind, Sciron

8. North-west: the last wind on the tower, Sciron, is a violent one, which brings storms and floods, causing widespread destruction. Here he is shown upending a vessel, which some claim it is a brazier, from which he scatters hot coals; others think he is simply emptying a lot of water, all at once.

It is interesting to note that the winter winds are all shown as mature, bearded men, wearing several layers of clothing and boots. On the other hand, the warmer winds are shown as lightly dressed youths, some of them barefoot too. Using advanced age to symbolize the cold breath of winter and youth to symbolize the warmth of spring and summer is a convention that is still relevant today.

When can one visit the monument? The archaeological site of the Roman Agora (Forum), where it is located, is open from 8:30 until 19:30 in season (April 1st – October 31st), whereas off season (November 1st – March 31st) it is open from 8:30 until 15:00. However, the monument and its sculptures can be seen even when the site is closed, as it is separated from the nearest street only by a railing and a few meters of greenery. In my opinion, the best time to see the sculptures is in the warm glow of the setting sun, but it is by no means the only time. Of course it is unrealistic to expect all sides of the monument to be lit equally well at any given time.  The only solution to the problem lies in visiting the Tower several times, at different times of the day, if you can. It is well worth it.

4 comments on “The winds of the Greeks

  1. Pingback: The winds of the Greeks | Aristotle, guide in Greece | fast horses

  2. Pingback: Photo of the week: the Tower of the Winds | Aristotle, guide in Greece

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