The name “Aether” (Greek Αἰθήρ, translit. Aithḗr) is a Greek word for the upper air or clear heaven. It is probably ultimately derived from the Indo-European *h₂eidʰ-, “kindle, ignite.”
Aether Αἰθήρ (Aithḗr)
[EE-ther] /ˈi θər/
Aether was the Greek deity who personified the “upper air,” the bright and clear part of the heaven. From the very earliest antiquity, the Aether was regarded as the home of the gods, and in cosmology represented the highest and purest reach of the cosmos.
In antiquity, Aether was sometimes identified with other early sky gods. Some sources, for instance, seem to have confused or combined the figures of Aether and Uranus (“Sky”), who in the standard tradition was the son and chief consort of Gaia (“Earth”). Others identified Aether with other gods or personified deities, such as the sun (usually personified by Helios).
There are no definite instances of Aether in ancient art. The only (potential) appearance of Aether in art is on the monumental frieze of the Pergamon Altar (180/160 BCE), where he may be shown fighting against the Giants alongside the other gods.
In the standard tradition, Aether was the child of Erebus and Nyx, two of the primordial gods born from Chaos, the first being of creation. Erebus was the personification of darkness, Nyx of night. But there were other versions of Aether’s parentage too, with the Roman mythographer Hyginus making him the child of Chaos and Caligo (“Mist”).
Aether’s sister was Hemera, the personification of daylight; in most traditions, she also became Aether’s consort. Together they had Brotus, a mysterious figure about whom little is known; in one early (though somewhat obscure) tradition, Aether and Hemera were the parents of Eros, the god of love; and according to later traditions, Aether and Hemera were also the parents of the earth, the heaven, and the sea.
Other accounts, identifying Aether with the more important sky god Uranus, had Aether couple with Uranus’ wife Gaia, the personified earth; Hyginus even had Aether and Gaia give birth to a host of elemental forces (Grief, Deceit, Anger, Lamentation, Falsehood, Oath, Vengeance, Intemperance, Altercation, Forgetfulness, Sloth, Fear, Pride, Incest, and Combat), as well as the Titans, Tartarus, Pontus, and the Erinyes.
Some sources expanded Aether’s family further. Aristophanes playfully made him the father of the clouds in one of his comedies (though this was not necessarily a part of Aether’s “official” genealogy). In one early tradition, Aether seems to have been the father of Uranus. Finally, one tradition made him and the nymph Oenoe (or Oeneis) the parents of the woodland god Pan.
The Orphics, a Greek religious group with beliefs that were often idiosyncratic, had a different version of Aether’s genealogy. According to some Orphic sources, it seems that Aether was the son of Chronos (“Time”), the brother of Chaos and Erebus.
Aether is a genealogical and elemental member in Greek cosmogony; he has no personal mythology. According to Hesiod, Aether and his sister Hemera were directly descended from Chaos, the very first being in the cosmos, emerging from the union of Chaos’ children Erebus (“Darkness”) and Nyx (“Night”).
But there were other versions of Aether’s mythological role. In some accounts of the “theogony” (that is, the “birth of the gods”), Aether existed at the very beginning of the cosmos, perhaps together with Hades. For the Orphics, he was the child of Chronos, “Time” personified (see above), and was thought to represent the world soul. Other sources interpreted Aether allegorically as an equivalent of Zeus, the ruling force within the cosmos.