About
Greek Goddess

Nyx

Nyx, daughter of Chaos and personification of the night, was among the first Greek gods of the cosmos. She bore numerous children, both with her brother-consort Erebus as well as on her own, representing various personifications and abstractions.

By Avi Kapach7 min read • Last updated on Nov. 20th, 2021
  • No. Nyx was one of the first entities to come into existence and a daughter of Chaos, while the Titans were the twelve children of Gaia and their descendants.

  • According to the common tradition, Nyx had only one parent, Chaos, who bore her without a consort.

  • Nyx married her brother Erebus, the personification of darkness.

Nyx, the personification of night, was generally regarded as one of the mysterious primordial gods. Along with her brother-consort Erebus, she inhabited the dark recesses of the Underworld. An immensely powerful being, she was respected and feared even by Zeus.

In the common tradition, Nyx was a child of Chaos, the first entity of creation. She had numerous children, both with Erebus as well as on her own (that is, without the help of a consort). These children included Aether (“Upper Air”), Hemera (“Day”), and various other personifications and abstractions.

#Etymology

The name “Nyx” (Greek Νύξ, translit. Nyx) is simply the Greek word meaning “night.” The word itself is derived from the Proto-Indo-European *nekwt-/nokwt- (“night”) or *negwh- (“become dark”). Almost all Indo-European languages employ a similar word for night (e.g., the Latin nox, the Gothic nahts, the Sanskrit nák, and the Lithuanian naktìs).1

#Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Nyx

    Νύξ (translit. Nyx)

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [niks]

    /nɪks/

#Alternate Names

The Roman equivalent of Nyx was called Nox (from the Latin word for “night”).

#Titles and Epithets

Nyx had a handful of epithets, including erebennē (“dark”). Homer described her as she who “bends to her sway both gods and men.”2

#Attributes and Iconography

As the personification of night, Nyx was associated with darkness (similar to her husband Erebus, himself the personification of darkness). She was usually said to live in the darkness of the Underworld, a region sometimes considered interchangeable with Erebus.3 She was also sometimes associated with witchcraft.4

In literature as well as art, Nyx was often represented as either winged5 or riding a chariot,6 stretching a cloak of night and stars across the sky. Sometimes she was shown with a kind of dark, misty halo above her head.7

Sappho painter-Lekythos-500BCE

Terracotta lekythos (oil jar) showing Nyx riding her horses across the heavens, attributed to the Sappho Painter (ca. 500 BCE).

Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain

#Family

Nyx was commonly said to have been a child of Chaos, who begot her and her brother Erebus (“Darkness”) without a consort.8 Some traditions, however, made Nyx the daughter of Chaos and Caligo (“Mist”),9 while the Orphics made her the daughter of the obscure primordial god Phanes.10

In Hesiod’s Theogony, Nyx and Erebus were the only children of Chaos; other sources, however, numbered among their siblings Aether (“Upper Air”), Hemera (“Day”),11 Eros,12 and the Moirae.13

According to Hesiod, Nyx married her brother Erebus, with whom she had Aether and Hemera.14 Alone—that is, without Erebus’ help—Nyx had many more children who represented various personifications and abstractions, including Nemesis (“Retribution”), Eris (“Discord”), Thanatos (“Death”), and the Moirae (“Fates”).15

The poet Bacchylides, on the other hand, said in one poem that Nyx had Hemera with Chronos (“Time”) rather than Erebus;16 in another poem, he made Nyx the mother of Hecate, a goddess of witchcraft.17

Other accounts made Nyx the mother of the Erinyes (“Furies”),18  the Astra (“Stars”),19 or Eos.20 One source made her the mother of Lyssa (“Madness”) after being inseminated by the blood of Uranus.21 Others made her the mother of Eros.22 The Orphics appear to have made her the mother of Uranus (“Sky”).23

#Family Tree

  • Parents
    father
  • Siblings
    brother
    • Erebus
  • Consorts
    husband
    • Erebus
  • Children
    sons
    daughters
    • Aether
    • Moros
    • Thanatos
    • Hypnos
    • Oneiroi
    • Momos
    • Geras
    • Ker
    • Hemera
    • Oizys
    • Hesperides
    • Moirae
    • Keres
    • Nemesis
    • Apate
    • Eris
    • Philote

#Mythology

According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Nyx and her brother Erebus were born to Chaos soon after the beginning of the cosmos:

In truth at first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundation of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros (Love), fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them. From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night.24

Nyx, the personification of night, then married her brother Erebus, the personification of darkness, and bore two children by him:

but of Night were born Aether and Day [Hemera], whom she conceived and bore from union in love with Erebus.25

According to Hesiod, Nyx then had a number of children on her own, without the help of Erebus (including the grim personifications Nemesis, Thanatos, and the Moirae).26

Night and her children Aither and Hemera-Fuseli-1810-15

Night and her Children Aither and Hemera by Henry Fuseli (1810–1815).

Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain

Nyx was respected and feared even by the most powerful of the Greek gods. In one myth, Hera had Hypnos, the god of sleep, put Zeus to sleep so that she could cause misfortune to Heracles (Zeus’ illegitimate son and her enemy). When Zeus woke up and discovered what had happened, he was on the verge of meting out a terrible punishment to Hypnos, but he held back for fear of Hypnos’ mother, Nyx. Thus, even the ruler of the Greek gods preferred to avoid upsetting Nyx.27

#Orphic Mythology

Nyx was extremely important in the mythology of the Orphics, an ancient Greek religious community that subscribed to distinctive beliefs and practices (called “Orphism,” “Orphic religion,” or the “Orphic Mysteries”). Orphism was supposedly laid out by the mythical musician Orpheus and features important differences from traditional Greek religion.

Nyx appears to have been central to the Orphic theogonies (their mythological accounts of the origins of the gods and the cosmos)—much more so than in the more traditional theogony known from the poems of Hesiod. According to the Orphics, Nyx was usually the daughter of Phanes (or Eros), himself one of the first entities to come into existence as well as the original ruler of the cosmos. 

Nyx subsequently succeeded Phanes as ruler of the cosmos before passing the scepter to her son Uranus. From her oracular cave, Nyx continued to serve Uranus and his successors (Cronus and ultimately Zeus) as a respected adviser.28

It is possible that in some versions of the Orphic theogony, it was Nyx rather than Phanes who was the original ruler of the cosmos. For example, in the strange theogony that appears in Aristophanes’ comedy Birds—thought by many scholars to have been inspired by Orphic theogonies—Nyx is actually represented as the mother of Eros (Phanes’ alter ego).29

#Worship

In traditional Greek religion, the cult of Nyx was limited (the primordial goddess was probably more important in Orphism). But Nyx does appear to have been worshiped in connection with certain oracles.30

Nox, Nyx’s Roman counterpart, was honored by the Romans in connection with certain rituals for the dead.31

#Further Reading

#Primary Sources

Greek

  • Homer: In Book 14 of the Iliad (eighth century BCE), Hypnos tells of how his mother Nyx protected him from the anger of Zeus.

  • Hesiod: Nyx’s origins and mythology are outlined in Hesiod’s Theogony (seventh century BCE).

  • Aristophanes: A parodic (or semi-parodic) cosmogony in the comedy Birds (414 BCE) makes Nyx one of the first beings of the cosmos rather than a daughter of Chaos and names her as the mother of Eros.

  • Plato: Timaeus (fourth century BCE) imagines a new philosophical cosmogony centered around a mysterious “Demiurge” rather than figures such as Erebus, Nyx, and Chaos.

  • Orphic Hymns: As an important Orphic goddess, Nyx is prominent in many of the Orphic Hymns (composed between the third century BCE and the second century CE), one of which is dedicated to her (Hymn 2).

Roman

  • Cicero: In the dialogue On the Nature of the Gods (first century BCE), Cicero lists the children of Erebus and Nyx.

  • Hyginus: The Fabulae, a Latin mythological handbook (first or second century CE), mentions Nyx and her children with Erebus.

#Secondary Sources

  • Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

  • Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

  • Guthrie, W. K. G., and Antony Spawforth. “Nyx.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 1027–28. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

  • Papastavrou, Helen. “Nyx.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 6, 939–41. Zurich: Artemis, 1992.

  • Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

  • Smith, William. “Nyx.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed October 12, 2021. https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DN%3Aentry+group%3D13%3Aentry%3Dnyx-bio-1.

  • Theoi Project. “Nyx.” Published online 2000–2017. https://www.theoi.com/Protogenos/Nyx.html.

  • Walde, Christine. “Nyx.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e827340.

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