Aether – The Great God of The Higher (Blue) Atmosphere

Aether is the god of light and the upper sky. He came into being in the early stages of creation and embraces all the celestial bodies as well as the high mountain peaks. He is, without doubt, among the first-born deities, but the old texts disagree about his origins. His symbols are the color blue and the bright mists.

Key Facts

Family tree

ParentsErebus and Nyx
Partner(s)Hemera
SiblingsHemera
OffspringThalassa (Sea)

Names & Others

Roman NameAether
Other NamesEther
Ancient GreekΑιθήρ
The God ofBright mists, light, and upper air and sky
SymbolsEther, sky blue colour

Aether’s Origins

Based on the ‘standard’ mythology of Hesiod’s Theogony, Aether and Hemera (Day) are the offspring of Erebus and Nyx. Aether is the personification of the bright upper sky; that half-nebulous half clear blue part of the atmosphere, which was called ether.

Aether’s various genealogies

Orphic Tradition

Orphic egg
James Basire, 1730–1802, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Orphic texts speak of Chronus (Time) giving birth to Aether, Chaos and Erebus. Aether was the first primordial god, who brought forth the cosmic egg that Phanes (a mystical ancient deity that created new life) hatched from. Another suggestion in the Orphic Tradition states that Chaos and Chronus were the first entities, and Chronus was the father of Aether and Eros.

Roman cosmogonies

The Romans also proposed different genealogies for Aether. According to Cicero Aether and Dies (Day) were the parents of Caelus (Sky). Hyginus on the other hand said that Chaos and Caligo (Mist) created Aether, Erebus, Dies and Nox (Night), in which Aether and Dies were the parents of Terra (Earth), Caelus, and Mare (Sea). Aether also mated with Terra and fathered many children: Anger, Arrogance, Deception, Fear, Fight, Forgetfulness, Incest, Mourning, Lying, Oath, Pain, Quarrel, Self-indulgence, Sloth, Vengeance, Ocean, Pontus, Tartarus, Themis, the Titans, and the three Furies.

Other sources

A general opinion is that Aether seems either an easy deity to attest or a difficult one regarding his true genealogy. In other texts, he is the father of Uranus or the son of Erebus and Nyx, and the brother of Eros and Metis.

Aether’s standing

Aether is the omnipotent divine entity that resides above the world of humans, holding that bright blue – barely visible – side of the sky. That high part of the atmosphere is his dominion and in the old days, it was believed that only the gods could breathe his air.

In fact, there were three kinds of air. From top to bottom the first air was Aether, the high and majestic blue mist covering the mountain peaks as well as the sun, the moon, and the stars. The second or middle air was Chaos, the pale haze that surrounded the world of mortals. And lastly, the third air was Erebus, the dark fog, which was located deep under the earth and engulfed the lands of the dead.

Aether and Hemera were said to be associated with gladness whereas their parents Erebus and Nyx were closely linked to sadness. In addition, the female version of Aether was Aethra although objections have been raised by scholars pointing out that this is the name of one of the Oceanids (legendary oceanic nymphs) or a Titaness.

Etymology

Aether indicates the highest and clearest layer of the atmosphere. The word derives from the greek verb aitho (αίθω), which means burn, blaze, flare, but also light, and shine. The upper sky was believed to hold an invisible layer of flame that was responsible for the coming of the day rather than the sun itself.

Roles and Responsibilities

Aether
Anna Zinonos, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Apart from keeping the world in balance and providing the gods with the necessary oxygen, Aether had other responsibilities as well. His main role was to assist his wife and sister Hemera to break the darkness of the night caused by their mother Nyx, and to fill the sky with the blue bright mists of the coming day.

He was believed to rule the clouds and all of the celestial bodies. He also protected the mortals from the ominous mists of Erebus and gave them hope to shine his precious light on them.

In the old texts

Greek

Aether as a deity appears quite enough times in the old texts. The most notable are Hesiod’s Theogony, Homer’s Iliad, Aristophanes’ Clouds, and the lost epic poem Titanomachy.

Concerning the Orphic Tradition, Aether is mentioned four times. In the Derveni Theogony, in the Hieronyman Theogony, in the Rhapsodic Theogony, and in the fifth Orphic Hymn that is actually an invocation to Aether.

Ὦ Διὸς ὑψιμέλαθρον ἔχων κράτος αἰὲν ἀτειρές,
ἄστρων ἠελίου τε σεληναίης θ’ ὑπέρεισμα,
πανδαμάτορ, πυρίπνους, πᾶσι ζωοῖσιν ἔναυσμα,
ὑψιφανὴς Αἰθέρ, κόσμου στοιχεῖον ἄριστον,
ἀγλαὸν ὦ βλάστημα, σελασφόρον, ἀστεροφεγγές,
κικλήσκων λίτομαί σε κεκραμένον εὔδιον εἶναι.

Yours are Zeus’ lofty dwelling, endless power too;
of the stars, of the sun, and of the moon you claim a share.
O tamer of all, O fire-breather, O life’s spark for every creature,
sublime Ether, best cosmic element,
radiant, luminous, starlit offspring,
I call upon you and I beseech you to be temperate and clear.

(The Fifth Orphic Hymn)

Roman

Aether is attested in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum, in Hyginus’ Fabulae, in Ampelius’ Liber Memorialis, and in L. Annaeus Cornutus’ Greek Theology.

FAQs

What is Aether really known for?

Aether is the highest part of the sky. He is responsible for bringing the day in the world every time. He is the light in the sky that humanity needs in order to live and grow.

How is Aether connected with Uranus?

Old sources disagree as to the relationship between these two deities, but Aether is close to Uranus. He stand at the very top of the sky, within Uranus, even though he is superior to him. It goes without saying that were it not for Aether there wouldn’t be any daylight in the world, and surely after Uranus’ dethronement Aether has become the supreme ruler of the sky.

Featured Image Credit: Carlos Gonzalez, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Vasilis Megas

Vasilis Megas (a.k.a. Vasil Meg) was born in Athens, Greece where he still resides writing epic fantasy and sci-fi books. He is a Greek - and Norse Mythology enthusiast, and he is currently working as a creative/content writer, journalist, photographer and translator.