As well as being talented and innovative in science and philosophy, the ancient Greeks were also a very religious and devout people. They believed in many gods and deities. Many of these could be kind and fair, but the deities were also frequently evil, wrathful and merciless. Many of them were considered to be daemonic winged spirits, malevolent or benevolent, who, along with their lord, Hades, spread terror, panic, misery, unluckiness, disaster, violence and suspicion among their victims.
(Thetis and other deities dipping Achilles in the River Styx, by Donato Creti (1671–1749), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Ate was the personification and deity of damage, devastation, delusion, mischief and infatuation. According to Hesiod, she was the daughter of Eris (strife), while according to Homer her father was Zeus. She led people in the path of destruction and was responsible for corrupted minds and recklessness of people, as well as for the results of such acts. She led not only mortals, but also gods in divergence and irresponsibility, blurring their minds and inducing catastrophe. After every accident caused by Ate, the Litai (prayers) came in to deal with it.
(The Furies and other underworld creatures by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Erinyes were three goddesses of vengeance, fury and penalization, who punished mortals for their crimes against the natural order. They dealt with manslaughter, unfilial behavior, offenses and insults against the gods and perjury. A victim seeking justice and revenge usually called the curse of the Erinyes upon the criminal, out of which the most severe and powerful was the curse of the parent upon the child. This is because the Erinyes were born of such a crime. They sprung from the blood of Ouranos, when he was emasculated by his son Kronos. The blood impregnated Gaia (earth) and she gave birth to the vengeful goddesses. The Erinyes showed their anger in a variety of ways. The most important was the torturing craziness they imposed on people guilty of patricide or matricide. Murderers who were cursed by the Erinyes usually died of illnesses or diseases, but they could sometimes atone through ritual catharsis or by the completion of a duty assigned for atonement.
Moreover, the Erinyes were Hades’ subjects in the underworld and their main occupation was to supervise the torment of criminals dispatched to the dungeons of the cursed. They were similar to Poinae (punishment), Praxidike (exacter of Justice) and Mania (madness). In art, they were portrayed as shapeless, winged women with short hair, having poisonous snakes wrapping their arms and waists.
(Bellona With Romulus and Remus, painted by Alessandro Turchi (1578–1649), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
In ancient Greece, Enyo was a goddess and incarnation of war, destruction, terror and catastrophe. She was a daughter of Zeus and Hera and accompanied her brother, Ares, into bloody battles and destruction of towns. Since Enyo was quite similar to Eris, Homer did not distinguish between the two goddesses. In vase paintings, she was depicted in scenes of violence, covered in blood and holding a shield and a spear or sword, and often wearing a helmet.
(Goddess Eris. Tondo of an Attic black-figure kylix. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Eris was the personification of strife, antagonism, discord, corruption and conflict. According to Hesiod, she was a daughter of Zeus and Hera, while for Homer she was the daughter of Nyx (dark night) alone. She had a son, Strife, whom she brought to the battlefields and together with Ares they haunted humans and made them fight each other. She was opposed to Harmonia (Harmony) and was such a sneaky and shady goddess that she was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Themis, later the parents of Achilles.
However, Eris desired revenge, thus she threw a golden apple in the feast, which had the words “To the fairest one” written on it. Hera, Aphrodite and Athena quarreled over who the apple should be given to and laid claim to it, leaving no choice to Zeus, but to appoint Paris, prince of Troy, as the person to solve this dispute. Although the goddesses offered a variety of gifts and promises to him, Paris chose Aphrodite, who promised him the most gorgeous woman in the world, Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. As a result, this was the occasion that led to the events of the Trojan War.
(Goddess Nyx painted by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836–1904), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Nyx (night) was a primordial deity, who emerged as the dawn of creation and preceded the Olympian gods. She was the basis of all evilness and she was the daughter of Khaos (Chaos), out of whom all creation came from. She was the wife of Erebus (darkness) and gave birth to many dark and vicious children, including Thanatos (death), Hypnos (sleep), Geras (old age), Eris (strife), Charon, Nemesis (punishment) and the three fates. She was also the mother of Hemera (day), her opposite, and Aether (ether). Alongside with her children Hypnos and Thanatos, she lived in Tartarus. In ancient Greek art, Nyx was portrayed as a winged charioteer and most of the times she had dark mists wandering above her head.
(“Thanatos”, sculpted by Karl Bitter, c. early 20th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Thanatos was an odious and loathsome daemon of ancient Greece, representing nonviolent death, while his violent sisters, Keres, were the spirits of slaughter and disease. He was the son of Nyx and Erebos and his touch was soft and gentle, as was his twin brother’s, Hypnos. Thanatos was believed to be cruel and ruthless, thus he was hated by both gods and mortals.
Although his appearance was not widely portrayed, due to the fact that most of the times he was displaced by Hades, the god of the underworld, he was often depicted as a winged, bearded older man or more rarely as a beardless youth.
(Epimetheus opening Pandora’s Box, by Giulio Bonasone, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
According to Hesiod, the Keres were female daemonic spirits and daughters of Nyx. They were Thanatos’ sisters and represented violence, slaughter and cruel death, including casualties of battle, murder, and deaths from disease. Being malevolent and bloodthirsty, they hovered over the battlefields, searching for dying warriors. They came to the world infecting and plaguing mankind, as soon as Pandora’s box was opened. They were portrayed as winged women dressed in bloody clothing.
(Geras depicted on an Attic red-figure pelike, ca. 480–470 BC. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
According to Hesiod, Geras was a son of Nyx, having no father, but other sources claimed that Erebos was his father. Geras represented old age and was depicted as a tiny shriveled-up old man, making him the opposite of Hebe, the goddess of youth. Although he was a son of Nyx, Geras was considered virtuous, because it was thought that wisdom and fame came with old age.
(Modified face painted by George Percy Jacomb-Hood (1857–1929), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Erebos was one of the primordial deities and was believed to be the netherworld realm of Hades, where all people went after dying and the place where Pluto and Persephone lived, as well as Scylla (a female mythical creature). He was the personification of deep darkness and shadows and was the husband of Nyx and the son of Chaos, according to Hesiod. His siblings were Gaia (earth), Tartarus (underworld) and Eros (love). Every evening, Nyx used to send out Erebos to spread the darkness across the sky, bringing night and hiding his daughter Hemera (day).
(Judgment of Paris, c. 115–150 AD, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Bia was the goddess of force, strength, might and compulsion. She was the sister of Nike (victory), Zelus (zeal) and Kratos (state) and the daughter of the titans Styx and Pallas. Zeus honored all four of them by making them his companions and winged enforcers when they helped him emerge victorious against the Titans. She was considered to be violent, so, in art, she was presented in battlefields and among people’s desires.
(Allegory of Fortune, by Salvator Rosa (Italian, 1615 – 1673), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Apate was the deity of deceit, fraud and cheat. She belonged to the daemonic spirits and alongside her companions, the Pseudologoi (lies), she was one of the evil spirits that were unleashed when Pandora’s box was opened. She was a daughter of Nyx and her siblings were Geras, Eris, Nemesis, Keres, Oizys (suffering), Moros (doom) and Momos (blame). She was linked to her male counterpart named Dolos (trickery) and she was against Alethia, the spirit of truth.
(Greek statue of a woman, [Public Domain] via pxhere.com)
Oizys was a malevolent female spirit who personified misery, distress, suffering, worry and disaster. Her mother was Nyx and Momos was her twin brother. Oizys represented great unhappiness and misery in mortals, encompassing ultimate pain of the body or the mind and was deeply linked to tribulation, calamity and the absence of luck.
(Charon Ferrying Souls, painted by José Benlliure y Gil (1855–1937), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Charon was the ferryman of the dead in the underworld of Hades. There are not exact sources about his origin, but it was believed that he was a child of Nyx and Erebos. In ancient Greek art, he was depicted as an ugly, bearded man with a crooked nasty nose, wearing a conical hat (pilos) and tunic (exomis). Moreover, he was depicted standing in his boat, ready to receive dead souls from Hermes. The dead had to pay him a coin for the fares. That is why in ancient Greece people always placed a coin under the tongue of the dead before burying them. Those who did not have a coin to pay the ferryman were doomed to wander on the banks of Acheron for a hundred years, until Charon would finally carry these shades across Acheron’s (god of the Underworld River and lake of pain) dark waters.
(Hypnos, British Museum. Dept. of Greek and Roman Antiquities; Walters, Henry Beauchamp, 1867-1944 (1915), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Hypnos was a daemonic spirit of sleep and dwelled in Erebus, the land of eternal darkness. Hera gave him his wife Pasithea, goddess of relaxation, with whom he had plenty of sons called the Oneiroi (dreams). Hypnos was depicted as a young man having wings on his forehead, shoulders or feet and often wore a white tunic. His tools included an inverted torch, a horn of sleep-inducing opium and a twig that dripped water from the river Lethe.
2. The Oneiroi
(Pandora and winged creatures painted by Arthur Rackham (1867–1939), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
The Oneiroi were deities of dreams fathered by Hypnos. They were dark winged daemonic spirits, who emerged each night like a flock of bats from their cavernous residence in Erebus. Morpheus, the god of dreams, was assumed to be their leader and master. They were believed to pass through two gates. The first was made of horn and was a source of predictive and providential dreams. The second was made of ivory and was a source of meaningless and insignificant dreams. A nightmare was considered to be a melas oneiros (black dream).
1 + 1. Deimos and Phobos
(Ancient Greek costumes painted by Albert Kretschmer, painters and costumer to the Royal Court Theatre, Berin, and Dr. Carl Rohrbach. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Deimos and Phobos were twins and personifications of fear. Deimos was a deity of dread and terror, while Phobos’ specialty was panic, flight and rout. They accompanied their father, Ares, in the battlefield, usually driving his chariot and spreading terror and fear among fighters. The two brothers, along with Enyo and Eris, spread terror and panic during the fall of the city of Troy, while they were all depicted on Achilles’ shield.
Being sons of Aphrodite, they also represented the fear of loss. Although they were not presented in many stories, in Greek art they were portrayed as unremarkable young men. However, according to Hesiod, Phobos appeared on the shields of the warriors who worshipped him as a lion with his mouth open, having fearful and terrifying teeth.
Written by Stefanos Karampalis. (Read his Author Profile, HERE).