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The Children of Night
"From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night" - Hesiod
Erebus and Nyx were two of the first primordial beings that came from Chaos, nothingness. Though neither of them appeared in many stories of the ancient Greeks, the goddess Nyx was so feared that even Zeus was afraid to cross her. Together they became parents to some of the most sought after and most dreaded of all gods.
Aether and Hemera
The first two children of Nyx and her brother/consort Erebus were Aether, air, and Hemera, day. All life is dependent on Aether, and therefore the first son of Nyx was considered extremely important. Even during the time of the Greek philosophers, Aether was considered the most important element of all creation. His sister Hemera was also his consort, and the two of them were the parents of Thalassa, the goddess of the sea. Some believed Thalassa to be the actual mother of Aphrodite, as it was from her foam that the goddess of beauty appeared when Uranus's genitals fell into the sea. Hemera, from the time of her birth, was only allowed a passing relationship with her dear mother Nyx, as one was always crossing the threshold of the Underworld heading in while the other was passing on the way out each day and night.
The Bad Boys of Night
The next child of Nyx was one most mortals simple dreaded, as he was himself the god of impending doom. Some say that the goddess conceived Moros without the help of her husband, Erebus, while others list him as the father. Like his parents, he does not play heavily in the stories themselves, but many a hero and mortal have felt his presence just before meeting their fate.
Another son was Momus, and like his brother Moros, he was not well liked. He even went so far as to get himself banned from Mount Olympus because the gods grew tired of listening to him, for even they did not like to be criticized or made fun of. As the god of satire, censure and evil-spirited blame, he could be quite unpleasant to deal with. He criticized Zeus for being far too violent and a womanizer. While I am sure his wife Hera would have agreed, the king of the gods did not want to hear it. Of course, his biggest mistake might have been telling Aphrodite she talked too much and her shoes squeaked. That alone would be enough to get kicked out of the heavens.
Geras was also the son of Nyx and Erebus. As the god of old age, no one wanted to see him coming. He was always depicted as a shriveled up old man who needed a cane to walk. He was one of the spirits released by Pandora when she disobeyed Zeus and opened her wedding gift.
The Bad Girls of Night
Though everyone was subject to death, these next daughters of Nyx were some of the most dreaded. The Keres, who were many in number, were described as small winged creatures with long teeth and sharp talons. They were so blood thirsty they would fight among themselves for fallen bodies on the battlefield. As soon as a warrior would drop to the ground, one of these girls would swoop in and grab him with her claws. Despite even a faint glint of hope for life, the daughter of Nyx would take her catch to the Underworld and drink the fresh blood until there was none left. She would then return to the battlefield to fight her sisters for her next catch. As the Keres were considered death fates, Zeus relied on them to determine which mighty warrior, Achilles or Hector, would die during their battle outside the walls of Troy. Unfortunately for Hector, his Ker was a little chunkier than that of Achilles.
Achlys was the goddess of the death mist. Once this daughter of Nyx put her spell on you, you wanted to be dead. According to Hesiod, she was pale and emaciated, or far too thin. She had long nails, bloody cheeks, a runny nose and her shoulders and hair were covered with dust. She would usually be found weeping with her teeth chattering. She was so desperate looking that Heracles placed her image on his shield to frighten his opponents.
Nyx would have several sets of twins, and Momus had a twin sister named Oizys. While he was the god of blame, she was the goddess of misery. While only the mention of her birth appears in the myths, we have all certainly felt her.
Apate was the goddess of deceit. In addition to being one of the spirits released by Pandora, Apate also assisted Hera in her revenge upon Dionysus's mother Semele. Hera convinced the girl that her lover was not mighty Zeus in an attempt to get her husband, Zeus, to kill the girl with his own godly form.
Hybris, another daughter of Nyx and Erebus, is the personification of violence and reckless pride. She was considered a very bad companion for mortal men to associate with. In one of his fables, Aesop stated that she was married to Polemos (War) because each was the only one left when the gods and goddesses were marrying. Aesop warned that Polemos loved his wife so much he followed her everywhere she went, and if you allowed Hybris into your town, war would soon follow.
Gentle Children of Nyx
Not all of the children of Nyx and Erebus were on the malicious side. Philotes was the goddess of friendship and affection, while her sister Epiphron was the goddess of prudence and carefulness.
Eleos was the goddess of mercy and compassion. She was said to have an altar in Athens where anyone could pray to her and receive her favor without the need for sacrifice.
Sophrosyne was the goddess of self-control and moderation. Although she was an enemy of the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite turned to her for help reigning in her son Eros when she learned of his affair with Psyche.
The children of Nyx and Erebus made up many of the good and bad aspects of the gods and mortals alike, but four of the children of Night and Darkness were well known to the ancient Greeks and had vital parts to play in major stories.
Eris - Goddess of Strife
Eris was the goddess of strife and as such, prone to cause major problems the for ancient Greeks. She sided with Typhon when the monstrous storm attacked Zeus and the Olympians. She is also well known for her own children; Ponos who is god of labor, Lethe who is a goddess and the River of Forgetfulness, Limos who is the goddess of famine, Algos who is the goddess of sorrows, Hysminai who are gods of combat, Makhai who are the gods of battle, Phonoi who are the gods of murder, Androctasiai who are the goddesses of manslaughter, Neikea who are the goddesses of quarrels, Pseudologoi who are the gods of lies, Amphilogiai who are the goddesses of disputes, Dysnomia who is the goddess of lawlessness, Ate who is the goddess of ruin and Horkos who is the god of oath. Many of these gods and goddesses would be set loose by Pandora.
Eris's most famous action, however, was the result of a snub when she was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis, the parents of Achilles. Because no one wanted strife to attend the wedding, she was left off the guest list, but this did not stop her from dropping by the reception. Eris was so mad at being left out that she brought a golden apple that she had inscribed with the words, "For the most beautiful." She tossed it among the goddesses and took off, knowing the trouble it would soon cause. All of the goddesses thought the apple was for them, as they all believed themselves to be the most beautiful. Eventually, three goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite would not let the matter drop. They insisted that Zeus settle the dispute and pick the winner. Zeus was not about to choose between his wife, daughter and the goddess of beauty. He selected Paris, the young prince of Troy, for the task. The goddesses all bribed him. Hera promised to make him ruler of all mortals. Athena promised him success in all battles. Aphrodite promised him the hand of the most beautiful mortal woman in the world. When he selected Aphrodite, his choice of bride was Helen of Sparta. When he claimed his prize, the result would be the Trojan War.
All throughout the ensuing Trojan War, Eris could be found hovering over the battlefields. In fact, she could be found getting involved in every battle and pulling her brothers, sisters and children with her.
Nemesis - Goddess of Retribution
Nemesis was a goddess who believed the good must be balanced by the bad. According to Hesiod, Nemesis was the daughter of Nyx and Erebus and was neither good nor bad but just. If Tyche, the goddess of fortune, lavished a little too much luck onto any one person, Nemesis would find them and balance things out. She was also around to make sure that those who did evil would pay for it especially if that evil was hubris, thinking one's self better than the gods. Many of her stories involved this role.
It was Nemesis who punished the gorgeous Narcissus who thought he was a better hunter than Artemis, goddess of the hunt. He also enjoyed the fact that all the nymphs were in love with him because he was so good looking. When he treated the mountain nymph Echo so poorly, Nemesis stepped in and took revenge against the boy.
In case you are unfamiliar, Echo was a very talkative nymph that Zeus used to keep Hera's attention off of him while he was fooling around with other goddesses. When Hera found out, she cursed Echo so that she could only repeat the last words she heard. One day, after the curse, Echo spotted the beautiful Narcissus in the woods and started following him. Narcissus realized he was being followed and called out, "Who's there?" Of course, Echo could only reply, "Who's there," as it was all she had heard. Eventually, Echo came forward and showed herself to the boy, but when she tried to hug him, he pushed her away and told her to leave him alone. Poor Echo fled back to her mountain where she would meld into the rock and forever reside just repeating the last words anyone called out to her. Nemesis then lead Narcissus to a nearby stream where the boy saw his own reflection in the waters and fell in love with what he saw. From that moment on, he would not leave his own reflection for anything. He would no longer eat or drink and eventually died of starvation. Since he thought it fun for others to love his appearance to the point of obsession without any love in return, Nemesis allowed him to feel the same pain, as his reflection could not love him back.
For hubristic sins, Nemesis always had a way of making the punishment fit the crime. With Aura's claim of being a greater virgin than Artemis, Nemesis sent Dionysus to take away Aura's virginity by force. When the nymph Nikaia killed a young shepherd boy, Hymnos, just for falling in love with her when she wanted to remain a virgin like Artemis, Nemesis again sent Dionysus in to punish the girl by having his way with her.
Hypnos and Thanatos - Gods of Sleep and Death
The two most famous sons of Nyx and Erebus, are two of my personal favorites. Hypnos, the god of sleep, and his twin brother Thanatos, the god of death.
Hypnos could easily be classified as a momma's boy. Every night as the goddess set out for her trek across the Earth, Hypnos would grab his poppies and tag along putting the mortals to sleep. He also lived close to his parents in the Underworld where it was always dark and he could sleep throughout the day. Hesiod called Hypnos kind to mortals by giving them the rest they needed, but he could be compelled to mischief, especially at the request of Hera.
Once, when Hera wanted to interfere in the Trojan War against the orders of her husband, she pleaded with Hypnos to put Zeus to sleep, so he could not see what she was doing. Hypnos did not want to turn down a request by the queen of the gods, but he did not want to anger Zeus either. Hera then promised him anything his heart desired if he would do this for her. He told her he would do it to any other god, but not the king then reminded her of what happened the last time she asked for the same favor.
The last time Hera had wanted to torment Heracles but did not want her husband to find out she was doing it, so she talked Hypnos into coming to her as soon as she had lain with her husband. Between Hypnos's spell and Hera's passion, Zeus would sleep long enough for his wife to torment his son. He reminded her that when Zeus woke that time, he knew Hypnos was involved, as no other god could put the mighty Zeus to sleep. Though Hypnos had gone, Zeus went through the royal palace smacking around the other gods trying to get them to tell where he, Hypnos, had gone. He pointed out that had he not made it to his mother, Nyx, who Zeus was afraid of, the king of the gods would have tossed him into the sea. He did not want to take the chance of that happening again.
Now Hera promised Hypnos the one thing she knew he wanted the most, a girl. She told him that she knew he had always loved Pasithea, daughter of Dionysus and one of the younger Charities. She promised the girl's hand if Hypnos would do this one little thing for her. Hypnos was truly in love with Pasithea and finally broke down and agreed, but only if the goddess swore an oath on the River Styx with one hand on the Earth and one hand in the sea so all of the gods would bear witness. She agreed.
Again, Hera slept with her husband while Hypnos waited perched in a tree. When the king and queen were finished, the god of sleep silently came down and put Zeus to sleep. Hypnos then flew to Poseidon and gave him a message from Queen Hera to help the Greek side in the battle while Zeus was asleep. While the god of the sea went to work, Hypnos went straight away to the beautiful Pasithea and claimed her as his wife.
Hypnos and Pasithea became the parents of the Oneiroi, the dreams. Though the dreams are numerous, there are three sons that have appeared in Greek myths. Morpheus, the leader of the Oneiroi, is the god who appears in dreams as other gods or mortals. Phobetor is the god of dreams that takes the form of beasts, birds and reptiles. Finally, Phantasos is the god of dreams that takes the form of rocks, water, trees and other inanimate objects.
Thanatos is a god who is feared by all but is a gentle spirit. Yes, he is the god of death, but if Thanatos comes for you, yours will be a peaceful passing, unlike his sisters the Keres who are the goddesses of violent death. For fear of annoying death, many ancient Greeks described Thanatos as a handsome youth who is usually asleep, like his brother Hypnos. You can usually spot Thanatos because he will be holding a burning torch upside down. Though his brother usually had wings at his temples (some poets placed them on his back), Thanatos's wings were always on his back, just like Eros, the god of love.
No matter what you think of death, Thanatos was a noble god who could not be bribed. When it was your time to die, he would make certain that it happened, but he did not take those whose time had not come.
In the story of Admetus, Thanatos was determined to do his duty no matter who stood in his way. As it happens, Admetus was a friend of Apollo who served as his slave for one year after killing the Cyclopes because they created the lightning bolt his father used to kill his son Asclepius. He had assisted Admetus in obtaining the hand of the woman he loved, Alcestis, but during the wedding ceremony, Admetus forgot to include Artemis when he made sacrifices to the gods. Out of spite, Artemis put venomous snakes in the bridal bed. Apollo again stepped in and saved his friend by getting his sister Artemis to forgive Admetus and made a deal with the Fates. In this deal, Admetus would not face death if either of his parents or his wife would volunteer to take his place. It was his wife, Alcestis, who agreed to go in her husband's place.
When the time came for Thanatos to collect her, however, Apollo was waiting in their home. Thanatos was upset with the god because of his interference, but Apollo insisted he was not there to interfere. This did not stop him, however, from asking Thanatos to spare the bride. Thanatos refused. Apollo pointed out that he was not really denying Death anything, as both Admetus and Alcestis would eventually be his, but Thanatos told him that it was a greater reward for someone to die young. Apollo told him that her funeral would be more splendid if she died old. Thanatos reminded the son of Zeus that he could not be bought. The two gods argued for some time, but eventually Thanatos took Alcestis as agreed.
Thanatos could not be talked out of claiming someone scheduled to die, but he could be beaten out of collecting his prize, as Heracles showed up at the grave site of Alcestis and pounced on Thanatos. He beat the god until he had no choice but to release the dead woman, which Heracles returned to her husband.
In one of Aesop's fables, an old man is carrying a bunch of wood on his shoulders and after some time of walking, starts to pass out. He puts the wood on the ground and rest then cries out for death. When Thanatos arrives, he asks why the old man has called for him. The old man smiles and says he needed someone's help getting the wood back onto his shoulders and figured Death would come.
Despite the fact that you could not talk your way out of death, one ancient king did manage to trick his way out of it. When Zeus grew tired of King Sisyphus and his cunning ways, he ordered Thanatos to find the king, bind him in chains and take him to Tartarus, the lowest part of the Underworld. When Thanatos arrived, Sisyphus asked why Death himself was sent instead of Hermes who usually escorted the dead to the Underworld. Next, Sisyphus asked the god of death for a demonstration of how the chain he was using worked. Thanatos could see no trouble in telling the king, but Sisyphus managed to get the drop on Death and chained him instead. Once Thanatos was chained, no one could die leaving Sisyphus alive to continue with his cunning deeds.
This could have lasted forever, but Ares was getting irritated that his wars had lost their thrill because no one was dying. He tracked down Thanatos and freed him then caught Sisyphus and turned him over to Death. You may think poorly of Thanatos that he could be fooled so easily, but Sisyphus would go on to fool Queen Persephone as well.
It is true that many bad things come from night and darkness. For many mortals seeking to do wrong, they wait for the cover that these two provide. It may be for this reason that so many ancient Greeks believe that most of the evil in the world came from these two primordial beings, but there are blessings to be found from them as well. Friendship, thoughtfulness, mercy and moderation, when practiced, are the most important concepts anyone can practice.