Greek Mythology Gods – NIGHT (NYX) was a highly respected but rather vague ﬁgure in Greek myth. According to a tale in the Iliad, even Zeus held her in awe, for when Hypnos (Sleep) once sought refuge with her to escape the fury of Zeus, he let him go, angry though he was, ‘for he shrank from doing anything that would displease swift-passing Night’. If Hesiod could call her deadly (oloe¯ ) with her noxious progeny in mind, she could also be regarded as kindly because she brings release from the cares of the day, much like her son Hypnos. She could be pictured as an umbrageous goddess who ﬂutters through the air on dark wings or perhaps rides through it in a chariot. In myth, she is above all a cosmogonical deity, making no appearance in mythical tales except in the above-mentioned story from the Iliad (and also an unusual version of the myth of Zeus’ courtship of Thetis in which Night rather than Themis,, is said to have warned him not to marry Thetis). She was credited with prophetic powers as the latter tale would indicate, and had some connection with oracles; Pausanias mentions that there was an oracle of Night at Megara.
Before we begin further, please read our article about the First Begining
After bearing two children, Aither and Day, to her brother Erebos, Night produced many more children on her own without recourse to a male partner. The majority of them have no connection with myth, cult or the visible world, and could be described in modern terms as abstractions; but Hesiod and his contemporaries would have viewed them from a different perspective, regarding them as forces – here dark and negative forces – that exercise a real power in the world (as in a sense they do). They could be regarded accordingly as divinities of a kind, even if most of them are barely personiﬁed.
Since the worst of all negative forces is death, which annuls our very existence, it is no surprise that Hesiod’s list of these children of Night should begin with hateful Moros (Fate, especially with regard to the time of our death), black Ker (Doom) and Thanatos (Death personiﬁed). Further down the list we ﬁnd two groups of goddesses, the Moirai (Fates) and Keres (Dooms or death-spirits), who correspond to Moros and Ker respectively and yet are appreciably different. Hypnos (Sleep), who is named next after Thanatos and was traditionally regarded as the brother of death, is a privative force of a different but related kind who robs us of all awareness and animation at night, at least in so far as we are not troubled by Oneiroi (Dreams), the illusory night-visions that disturb our sleep. Geras (Old Age), who leads us toward death, occasionally appears with Herakles on vasepaintings as a bent and emaciated old man; Herakles, who ﬁnally overcame age and death to achieve immortality, keeps him at bay by threatening him with his club.
Various negative features of human existence are represented in Oizus (Pain), Apate (Deceit), Nemesis (Retribution), and Eris (Strife). Eris will produce a series of children of her own who personify all that arises from strife. Nemesis, the personiﬁcation of retribution and righteous indignation, was a more substantial deity than many of her fellows, for she was honoured in cult at Rhamnous in Attica and at Smyrna and other Ionian cities, and appears in an ancient myth as a victim of the ardour of Zeus and the mother of Helen of Troy. Philotes, whose name means friendship or love, is listed along with Apate (deceit) and evidently represents pleasure of love or sex in the present context; she is included among the children of Night because she is associated with the dark and all too often with guile and deceit. The Hesperides (Daughters of Evening) are included here, even though they are lovely nymphs who cause no harm to anyone, because they live in the far west near the sunset and darkness. And ﬁnally there is Momos (Blame or Censure), the personiﬁcation of fault-ﬁnding, who appears in fables and the like as a sort of licensed jester who carps at the works and deeds of the gods.
The Myth of Momos
MOMOS makes only a single appearance in serious myth, in connection with the origins of the Trojan War; when Earth once complained that she was overburdened by all the mortals who were swarming over her surface, Zeus proposed to destroy much of the human race by means of ﬂoods and thunderbolts, but Momos found fault with this plan and suggested that it would be better to contrive the origin of a mighty war. His other main story is a fable in which Zeus, Prometheus and Athena invited him to judge their handiwork, a bull, a man, and a house respectively. He criticized the bull, saying that its eyes should have been placed on its horns to enable it to see what it was attacking, and criticized the man, saying that his mind should have been placed on the outside of his body to make his bad qualities visible to all, and criticized the house also, saying that it should have been mounted on wheels to enable people to move if they should acquire bad neighbours; but this was all too much for Zeus, who was so infuriated by his carping that he banished him from Olympos forever. Momos’ criticism of the bull is already mentioned by Aristotle, though in a somewhat different form. According to another tale, Momos was dismayed to ﬁnd that Aphrodite was so very beautiful that he could ﬁnd nothing at all to criticize in her, and salved his honour as best he could by making fun of her sandals.
A few of these children of Night are mythical ﬁgures of some signiﬁcance who merit further consideration, especially the Moirai but also the Hesperides and Hypnos and Thanatos.
Moirai or Fates
The MOIRAI, who may be more familiar under their Latin name of the Fata or FATES, are a group of goddesses who assign individual destinies to mortals at birth, particularly with regard to the timing of their death. They are initially classed as children of Night in the Theogony in accordance with their nature as appointers of death, but are reclassiﬁed later in the poem as daughters of Zeus and Themis (Law or Right Order) because they contribute to the proper ordering of the world under the authority of Zeus. It would seem that they originated not as abstract powers of destiny but as birth-spirits, much like the ones who in the modern folklore of the area visit new-born children and determine what their portion in life shall be. The familiar myth in which the Moirai appear after the birth of Meleagros to foretell what his lot shall be, and also to specify a condition for his death, was surely rooted in very ancient folklore. In their capacity as goddesses who appoint the fate of mortals, they were objects of cult in many parts of the Greek world, as inscriptions and monuments abundantly testify. They do not appear at all frequently in myth however. Although one or all of them may be portrayed as attending the births of gods or mortals, they have little occasion to make any speciﬁc intervention in mythical tales unless they want to reveal some feature of a person’s fate, as in the case of Meleagros, or else are required to take action when a person’s fate needs to be altered in some way. One of the Moirai, Klotho, is thus presented by Pindar as superintending the revival of Pelops when he is brought to life again after being killed by his father; and in a tale from Aeschylus, Apollo is said to have made the sisters drunk in order to persuade them to allow a substitute to die in place of Admetos.
Apollodorus reports that they helped Zeus to quell two major revolts by tricking Typhon into eating some fruits that would gravely weaken him and by clubbing two of the Giants to death with bronze cudgels.
The Moirai are regularly represented as spinners from the earliest times. Although Homer makes only a single reference to the Moirai in the plural (in remarking that they have given an enduring heart to man), he speaks of the thread that is spun by Noira for Hektor at the time of his birth; and the klo¯ thes (spinners) who are mentioned in the Odyssey as spinning people’s fates at the time of their birth may surely be identiﬁed with the Moirai. Hesiod and later authors report that there are three Moirai named Klotho (the Spinner), Lachesis (the Apportioner) and Atropos (the Inﬂexible); in their rare appearances in art, they are shown as handsome women, in literature they may be imagined as very old. The thread that they spin is (or carries on it) the destiny of each individual in turn, and when it is broken, a life comes to an end.
Later poetical imagination elaborated this imagery in various ways, making the Fates spin a gold thread, for example, when spinning the fate of a particularly fortunate individual, or take up an abandoned task when someone is recalled to life. Their Hesiodic names might already suggest a division of labour, with Klotho spinning the thread, Lachesis determining its allotted length, and Atropos cutting it off pitilessly at the time of a person’s death. Or else Klotho may hold the distaff while Lachesis spins off the thread and Atropos cuts it short. Or the inexorable Atropos may have the past as her province (for it is now unchangeable), while Lachesis is concerned with the future, and Klotho presides over the present, spinning each person’s particular destiny. Plato brings the Moirai into his great eschatological myth in the Republic, dividing their functions in a manner that is too complicated to be summarized here. One or all of them may be represented in art as reading or writing the book of fate, hence presumably the quaint statement in Hyginus that they invented some letters of the Greek alphabet. As might be expected, they are often associated on the one hand with Eileithuia, the goddess of childbirth, and on the other with Ananke (Necessity), Tyche (Fortune) and other personiﬁcations who have some connection with fate or destiny.
The word moira means ‘portion’ or ‘allotment’, and could be used accordingly as a term for a portion of land, or a person’s portion at a meal, or the share that is allotted to a person when spoils are being divided. By a natural extension, the word could be applied to describe the lot or fate that is apportioned to a person in life; and the awesome power that apportions our fates could thence be personiﬁed as Moira, Fate or Necessity, or as a trio of Moirai or ‘Apportioners’. In Latin, the plural Fata seems to be little more than an adaptation of the singular fatum, ‘that which is spoken’, ‘the decree of the gods’, to the plural number of the Greek goddesses, although it does occur once or twice without a mythological reference, meaning ‘the decrees’, much as we might say indifferently ‘the commandments’ or ‘the commandments of God’. Later the neuter plural Fata gave rise to a feminine singular, quite foreign to classical Latin, which still exists in the Italian and French words for ‘fairy’ (fata, fée ). A surer instinct led the Romans to identify their own spirits of birth, the Parcae (Paricae, from parere, to bring forth) with the Moirai, although the identiﬁcation may have been encouraged by a false etymology in which Parca was derived from pars, a word equivalent to the Greek meros or moira.
The Hesperides a Nyhmps Group
The HESPERIDES were a group of nymphs who lived in the garden of the gods at the westernmost edges of the earth, where they guarded a wondrous tree (or trees) that bore golden apples. They were aided in their task by a formidable snake, a child of Phorkys and Keto sometimes named as Ladon, who coiled himself around the tree or trees. Or in a less favoured account, the snake was stationed there to prevent the Hesperides themselves from pilfering the golden apples. In connection with this latter account, Pherecydes states that Gaia had presented the trees as a wedding-gift to Hera, who had been so impressed by their beauty that she had ordered that they should be planted in the garden of the gods.
The Hesperides, who were famous for their beautiful voices, seem to have entertained themselves by singing and dancing in the usual manner of nymphs. Their duties were none too strenuous in any case, for the garden of the gods lay so far away that it attracted no thieves at all until Herakles was sent to steal some of the golden apples as one of his labours. In connection with that legend, as we will see, the Hesperides were sometimes relocated to the far north. There were usually thought to have been three of them, even if their number can vary from two to seven; and they are commonly named as Hespere (or Heperie, or Hesperathousa) and Erytheia (or Erytheis) and Aigle, in reference to the evening, the red of the evening sky and the brightness of the day respectively.
Hypnos and Thanatos
HYPNOS (Sleep) and his brother THANATOS (Death) were always closely associated in the Greek mind, whether as personiﬁed agents or simply as concepts. They reappear in a subsequent passage in the Theogony, which states that they had neighbouring homes in a dark and gloomy place at the ends of the earth near the home of their mother Night. Even if their actions have obvious similarities, the two brothers are of opposite character, for Hypnos ‘roams peacefully over the earth and is kindly to mortals’ while Thanatos ‘has a heart of iron, a heart within his breast of pitiless bronze, and keeps a ﬁrm grip on any mortal once he catches hold of him; and he is hateful even to the immortal gods’. In the Iliad, which describes the pair as twins without saying anything about their parentage, they raise the corpse of Sarpedon from the battleﬁeld at Troy at the order of his father Zeus to carry it home to Lycia. This episode inspired some memorable vase-paintings, which typically show the brothers as winged and dressed in full armour. Elsewhere in the Iliad, Hera visits Hypnos on Lemnos to ask him to lull her husband to sleep after she has made love with him, to distract him while some orders of his are being disobeyed; but the godling is initially reluctant, saying that Zeus had been furiously angry when he had performed this service for her on a previous occasion, and would have hurled him out of heaven into the sea if he had not taken refuge with Night. Hera wins him round, however, by promising to give him Pasithea, one of the Charites (Graces), as a bride. Hypnos acquired no further myths in the subsequent tradition apart from one that linked him to Endymion, an Eleian hero who was famed for his eternal sleep ; according to this tale, Hypnos fell in love with Endymion and caused him to sleep with his eyes open so as to be able to enjoy the sight of their beauty. Some late authors, notably Ovid and Statius, diverted themselves by painting poetic pictures of his realm; Ovid presents him as sleeping on an ebony couch in a dark cave in the land of the Cimmerians, with his thousand sons, the Dreams, lying around him; the stream of Lethe (Oblivion) glides softly over pebbles into the cave inducing slumber, while poppies and countless soporiﬁc herbs bloom outside.
As for Thanatos, there could be little role for him in serious myth because Hermes was thought to conduct the dead to the Underworld and Hades presided over them after their arrival. In the two memorable myths in which he does arrive to haul mortals away to the lower world only to meet with humiliation, he is very much a ﬁgure from folklore. When he arrived at Corinth to fetch Sisyphos, the cunning hero deferred his death by tying him up; and in Euripides’ version of the story of Alkestis, Herakles lay in wait for Thanatos when he was due to fetch her from her tomb, and wrestled her away from him to return her to her husband.
The Concluding of Family of Night
We must conclude our survey of the family of Night by returning to ERIS (Strife), who was the only child of Night to produce a series of children of her own. She has only a single proper myth, though one of some importance, which tells how she stirred up the quarrel between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite that was settled through the judgement of Paris, and so helped to set in course the train of events that led to the outbreak of the Trojan War. As in the case of the interrelated story of Momos mentioned above, and also the story of Zeus’ pursuit of Nemesis (which resulted in the conception of Helen), this myth can be traced back to the Cypria, the ﬁrst epic in the Trojan cycle; it would seem that the author of this poem liked to assign a more solid role to personiﬁcations of this kind than was usual in high literature. Homer refers to Eris in the Iliad along with other minor deities and personiﬁcations who stir up frenzy on the battleﬁeld; at the beginning of the eleventh book, Zeus sends him down to inspire the Greeks with ardour for battle, which he achieves by standing in the middle of their camp and uttering a terrible piercing cry.
The children of Eris
They represent the many harmful and destructive things that arise from discord and strife, namely Toil (Ponos), Oblivion (Lethe), Famine, Sorrows, Fights, Battles, Murders, Manslayings, Quarrels, Lies, Disputes, Lawlessness, Delusion (Ate) and Oath (Horkos). This is allegory of the most obvious kind for the most part; the last two alone require further comment.
ATE represents the delusion or clouding of the mind that leads people to commit acts of ill-considered folly. There is a striking portrayal of her mode of action in the nineteenth book of the Iliad, in which Agamemnon tries to excuse himself for having robbed Achilles of his prize of war Briseis by claiming that he had been deluded by Ate who blinds all men, an accursed being ‘who has delicate feet, for it is not on the ground that she walks, no, she tramples over the heads of men, bringing harm to mankind and ensnaring one or another’. Agamemnon goes on to say that even Zeus himself had once been deluded by Ate, when Hera had tricked him into swearing an oath that would enable her to ensure that the inheritance that he had intended for his son Herakles would go to another.
Zeus was so angry to discover how he had been deluded that he had seized Ate by her hair and had hurled her down to the earth, where she now works her mischief on mortals. According to Apollodorus, she fell to earth on the hill of Ate in the Troad, on the spot where Ilos would later found the city of Troy .
HORKOS (Oath) is introduced into the list in connection with perjuries; he personiﬁes the curse that will be activated if a person swears a false oath. Hesiod expresses the matter in allegorical terms in the Works and Days, by stating that the Erinyes (Furies) assisted at the birth of Horkos when Eris brought him to birth to bring trouble to those who perjure themselves.