Aura (mythology)

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Goddess of the Breeze
Las Incantadas Louvre Ma1393 side A.jpg
A velificans, perhaps Aura, marble relief caryatid from the agora of Thessalonica (first half of the second century AD), Paris, Louvre MA 1393.[1]
Personal information
ChildrenIacchus, unnamed son

In Greek and Roman mythology, Aura (Greek: Αὔρα, translit. Aúra, lit. "breeze" pronounced [ǎu̯raː], or Αὔρη pronounced [ǎu̯rɛː]) is a minor deity, whose name means "breeze".[2] The plural form, Aurae (Greek: Αὔραι) is sometimes found. According to Nonnus, Aura was the daughter of the Titan Lelantos and the mother, by Dionysus, of Iacchus, a minor deity connected with the Eleusinian mysteries, while Quintus Smyrnaeus makes the Aurae daughters of Boreas, the North-wind.[3] Aurae was the title of a play by the Athenian comic poet Metagenes, who was contemporary with Aristophanes, Phrynichus, and Plato.[4]



Nonnus' tells the story of the rape of Aura, by Dionysus, in the final book of his epic poem the Dionysiaca (early 5th century).[5] In this account, Aura is the nymph daughter of the Titan Lelantos.[6] Nonnus seems to imply that Aura's mother was the wife of Lenatos, the Oceanid nymph Periboia,[7] although elsewhere, he calls Aura the "daughter of Cybele".[8]

Aura was a resident of Phrygia and companion of the goddess Artemis. She was "Aura the Windmaid", as fast as the wind, "the mountain maiden of Rhyndacos", a "manlike" virgin, "who knew nothing of Aphrodite", and huntress, who "ran down the wild bear" and "ravening lions", and "kept aloof from the notions of unwarlike maids".

Nonnus describes Aura as follows:

Then [Dionysus] left the halls of Pallene and Thracian Boreas, and went on to Rheia’s house, where the divine court of the prolific Cybele stood on Phrygian soil. There grew Aura the mountain maiden of Rhyndacos, and hunted over the foothills of rocky Dindymon. She was yet unacquainted with love, a comrade of the Archeress. She kept aloof from the notions of unwarlike maids, like a younger Artemis, this daughter of Lelantos; for the father of this stormfoot girl was ancient Lelantos the Titan, who wedded Periboia, a daughter of Oceanos; a manlike maid she was, who knew nothing of Aphrodite. She grew up taller than her yearsmates, a lovely rosy-armed thing, ever a friend of the hills. Often in hunting she ran down the wild bear, and sent her swift lance shooting against the lioness, but she slew no prickets and shot no hares. No, she carried her tawny quiver to shoot down hillranging tribes of ravening lions, with her shafts that were death to wild beasts. Her name was like her doings: Aura the Windmaid could run most swiftly, keeping pace with the highland winds.[9]

One day, Aura goes hunting with Artemis. For relief from the midday heat, the hunting party stops for a swim. Aura then teases Artemis, saying that her breasts were better than Artemis's, since hers were small and round like a man's, while Artemis's were large and voluptuous like a woman's, and so belied Artemis' supposed "unviolated maidenhood".[10] Deeply offended, the angry Artemis goes to Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution, who arranges for Aura to be punished by losing her virginity.[11] Dionysus is made mad with desire for Aura, by an arrow from the bow of Eros. But knowing that he will never be able to seduce the obdurately virginal Aura, Dionysus drugs Aura with wine, ties her up, and rapes her while she is unconscious and unmoving.[12] When Aura awakes, discovering she is no longer a virgin, but not knowing who is responsible, enraged, she "made empty the huts of the mountainranging herdsmen and drenched the hills with blood".[13] After a painful labor, Aura gives birth to twin boys.[14] She gives them to a lioness to eat, but it refuses to do so.[15] So Aura seizes one of the boys, flings it high into the air, and after it falls back to hit the ground, she eats it. However, Artemis spirits the other child safely away.[16] Aura then drowns herself in the river Sangarios, where Zeus turned her into a spring:[17]

her breasts became the spouts of falling water, the stream was her body, the flowers her hair, her bow the horn of the horned River in bull-shape, the bowstring changed into a rush and the whistling arrows into vocal reeds, the quiver passed through to the muddy bed of the river and, changed to a hollow channel, poured its sounding waters.[18]

According to Nonnus, Aura's surviving child by Dionysus, is Iacchus,[19] a minor deity connected with the Eleusinian mysteries, although other accounts have Iacchus, when not identified with Dionysus himself, the son of Demeter or Persephone.

The only other account of Aura's rape is recounted in the twelfth-century lexicon Etymologicum Magnum, according to which Aura was a Phrygian maiden who hunted with Artemis. Dionysus saw her and raped her, after which Artemis threatened to kick her out of her company. In fear, Aura fled to the town of Cyzicus, where she gave birth to twins (whose gender, names and identities are not revealed). Thus the mountain nearby got its name, 'Dindymon' ("twin"), after Aura's children.[20]


The Augustan poet Ovid, in the Ars Amatoria and again in the Metamorphoses, introduces Aura into the tragic story of Cephalus and Procris, perhaps playing on the verbal similarity of Aura and Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn (Greek Eos), who was Cephalus' lover.[21]

In the Metamorphoses, Ovid has Cephalus tell how it was his habit, that after finishing a hunt, he would seek out the cooling breeze:

"I wooed the breeze, blowing gently on me in my heat; the breeze I waited for. She was my labour’s rest. ‘Come, Aura,’ I remember I used to cry, ‘come soothe me; come into my breast, most welcome one, and, as indeed you do, relieve the heat with which I burn.’ Perhaps I would add, for so my fates drew me on, more endearments, and say: ‘Thou art my greatest joy; thou dost refresh and comfort me; thou makest me to love the woods and solitary places. It is ever my joy to feel thy breath upon my face.'[22]

But one day, as Cephalus tells: "Some one overhearing these words was deceived by their double meaning; and, thinking that the word ‘Aura’ so often on my lips was a nymph’s name, was convinced that I was in love with some nymph."[23] When Cephalus' words were reported to his wife Procris, she was stricken with grief and fear, over, according to Cephalus, a "mere nothing" and "an empty name".[24] The next day after a successful morning's hunt, Cephalus cried out again: "Come, Aura, come and soothe my toil" but when he said this Cephalus thought he heard a groan and called out: "Come, dearest".[25] Then hearing the rustle of leaves, he threw his javelin, at what he thought was some animal, but was instead Procris, who had come to spy on her husband.[26] With her dying breath Procris says: "By the union of our love, by the gods above and my own gods, by all that I have done for you, and by the love that still I bear you in my dying hour, the cause of my own death, I beg you, do not let this Aura take my place."[27] And Cephalus says: "And then I knew at last that it was a mistake in the name".[28]


A pair of velificantes – possibly Aurae – on the Ara Pacis (late 1st century BC). Between them is Tellus Mater.

Extant images of Aura from antiquity are rare.[29] There are only two which can be identified as Aura by inscription.[30] The oldest is a fifth-century BC skyphos from Taranto, now in the Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney (53.30), which shows a figure labeled "Aura", seated on a rock by the sea, with velificatio, a billowing garment that forms an arch overhead.[31] The other is found on a volute-krater funerary vase (c. 370–350 BC), now in the British Museum (F277). Depicted on its neck is a polos-crowned head with curls, and the inscription "Aura" above the polos crown.[32]

Pliny describes two statues of Aurae with velificantes sua veste, "spreading their cloaks like sails", at the Porticus Octaviae in Rome.[33] Influenced by Pliny's description, a pair of velificantes (figures framed by a velificatio) that appear on the Ara Pacis Augustae ("Altar of Augustan Peace") have often been identified as Aurae, although this identification has been criticized, and many other identications have been proposed.[34]

Aurae can resemble Nereids, from whom they are distinguishable mainly by the absence of marine imagery.[35] The female figures with wind-blown drapery, which adorned the Nereid Monument at Xanthos, though usually identified as Nereids, have sometimes been identified as Aurae.[36]

Aura is sometimes identified as the female figure carried by Zephyr in Sandro Botticelli's painting The Birth of Venus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Canciani, p. 53, LIMC 32282 Aurai 20, listed in the section titled "Documenti di dubbia interpretazione".
  2. ^ For a discussion of literary sources, see Canciani, p. 52.
  3. ^ Quintus Smyrnaeus, The Fall of Troy 1.684.
  4. ^ Canciani, p. 52; Smith, s.v. Metagenes; Suda s.v. Metagenes.
  5. ^ Davidson, pp. 678679 n. 17; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.238–942 (III pp. 440–491). The only other source for the story of Aura's rape by Dionysus, is Etymologicum Magnum, s.v. 'Δίνδυμον' ('Dindymon'), where the Phrygian mountain's name is connected with Aura's twin sons, see Hadjittofi, p. 127 n. 10.
  6. ^ Grimal, "Aura" p. 71; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.238–247 (III pp. 440–443), 48.421 (III pp. 454, 455); 48.444 (III pp. 456, 457).
  7. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.245–247 (III pp. 440–443).
  8. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.26–28 (I pp. 4, 5).
  9. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.238–257 (III pp. 440–443).
  10. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.302–370 (III pp. 444–451).
  11. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.370–448 (III pp. 450–457).
  12. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.470–634 (III pp. 458–471).
  13. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.652–688 (III pp. 470–473).
  14. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.786–855 (III pp. 481–485).
  15. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.910–916 (III pp. 488, 489).
  16. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.917–927 (III pp. 488, 489).
  17. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.928–936 (III pp. 490, 491).
  18. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.936–942 (III pp. 490, 491).
  19. ^ Bernabé and García-Gasco, p. 109; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.26–28 (I pp. 4, 5), 48.848–968 (III pp. 484–493).
  20. ^ Etymologicum Magnum, s.v. 'Δίνδυμον'
  21. ^ Ovid, Ars Amatoria 3.687–746 (pp. 166–171) and Metamorphoses 7.690–862 (pp. 390–403); Green, p. 254, cf. Servius, Ad Virgil, Aeneid 6.445. For the story of Cephalus and Procris, see Davidson, pp. 256–258. For Ovid's treatment of the story see Green, Chapter 14, "The Innocence of Procris: Ovid AA 3.687–746" pp. 250–263.
  22. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.811–820 (pp. 398, 399).
  23. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.821–823 (pp. 398–401).
  24. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.830 (pp. 400, 401).
  25. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.835–838 (pp. 400, 401.
  26. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.839–850 (pp. 400, 401).
  27. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.851–855 (pp. 402, 403).
  28. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.856–857 (pp. 402, 403).
  29. ^ For a detailed discussion of the Aura/Aurae iconography, see Canciani, pp. 52–54.
  30. ^ de Grummond, p. 669.
  31. ^ Trendall, pp. 55, 64 fig. 66; Spaeth, p. 77 n. 103; Canciani, pp. 52, 53, LIMC 32269 Aurai 1.
  32. ^ Trendall, pp. 92–93; Davidson, p. 679 n. 17; Canciani, p. 52, LIMC 6862 Aurai 2; British Museum, 1885,0314.1, image with description; Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Funerary Vases in Southern Italy and Sicily".
  33. ^ Pliny, Natural History 36.29 (pp. 22, 23); Spaeth, p. 77; Canciani, p. 52, LIMC Aurai 3.
  34. ^ Spaeth, pp. 67, (with nn. 11–15), 77; de Grummond, p. 669. For identifications as Aurae see for example Zanker, pp. 174–175; Simon, p. 27. According to de Grummond, this identification [as Aurae] "rests on a thin foundation", pointing out that the mere presence of a velificatio is not definitive as many other figures are shown with them. Spaeth, p. 78, asserts that the identification as Aurae "may therefore be rejected". Other identifications for the pair, mentioned by Spaeth, p. 67, are "an Aura and a Nereid; nymphs; a nymph and a Nereid; a Muse and a sea divinity; the celestial and marine aspects of Venus; and the Horae." de Grummond identifies the pair as Horae, while Spaeth, p. 78, identifies the pair as "a Nereid, or a sea nymph, and a Naiad, or freshwater nymph".
  35. ^ Spaeth, pp. 77–78.
  36. ^ Robinson, p. 355; Canciani, p. 54.


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  • Canciani, Fulvio, "Aurai" in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC) III.1 Artemis Verlag, Zürich and Munich, 1981. ISBN 3-7608-8751-1. pp. 52–54.
  • Davidson, James, The Greeks and Greek Love, Random House, Inc., 2009. ISBN 978-0-375-50516-4.
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  • Nonnus, Dionysiaca; translated by Rouse, W H D, III Books XXXVI–XLVIII. Loeb Classical Library No. 346, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1940. Internet Archive
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  • Quintus Smyrnaeus, Quintus Smyrnaeus: The Fall of Troy, Translator: A.S. Way; Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1913. Internet Archive
  • Robinson, Thurstan (1995), "The Nereid Monument at Xanthos or the Eliyãna at Arñna?", Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 14 (3): 355–359. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0092.1995.tb00069.x
  • Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil, Georgius Thilo, Ed. 1881. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Simon, Erika Ara Pacis Augustae, New York Graphic Society LTD, Greenwich, Conn. 1967.
  • Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873).
  • Spaeth, Babette Stanley, "The Goddess Ceres in the Ara Pacis Augustae and the Carthage Relief," American Journal of Archaeology 98 (1994), pp. 65–100.
  • Trendall, A. D. Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily, London, 1989.
  • Zanker, Paul, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, University of Michigan Press, 1988, 1990.

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