Nyx – The Greek primordial Goddess of Night

Nyx is the goddess of Night and Shadows. She was born at the beginning of the world, an ancient and cosmic deity (first-born) that was feared even by Zeus. Nyx had many children and her quarters were in Tartarus. Her symbols are agate, black animals, moonstone, and shadows

Key Facts

Family tree

ParentsChaos
Partner(s)Erebus
SiblingsErebus
OffspringAether, Hemera, Moros, Apate, Dolos, Hypnos, Thanatos, Philotes, Geras, Eris, Oizys, Momus, Nemesis, the Keres, the Moirai, the Hesperides, the Erinyes, and the Oneiroi

Names & Others

Roman NameNox
Other NamesNykta
Ancient GreekΝύξ
The Goddess ofNight, and shadows
SymbolsAgate, black animals, dark mists, moonstone, shadows, and black wings

Nyx’s Origins

Out of nothingness came Chaos, and from Chaos Erebus and (dark) Nyx were born. Έκ Χάεος δ᾽ Ἔρεβός τε μέλαινά τε Νὺξ ἐγένοντο. Engulfing Gaia, Nyx held the world together with her sibling and later consort, Erebus. Darkness was prevalent, but only for a short while as Nyx mated with Erebus and gave birth to the bright Aether and the clear Hemera (Day).

Nyx
Anna Zinonos, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Orphic Tradition states that Nyx is the first and foremost entity from which all life sprang. She lives inside a dark cave with Phanes (a mystical deity believed to have created life as is commonly known) where a chained Cronus gives prophecies through his dreams.

Nyx in the Greek mythology

Nyx’s story

The Night goddess was thought to be the first child of Chaos instead of Gaia. Although Hesiod places Mother Earth among Chaos’ first five offspring, Nyx, mainly because of her ethereal and otherworldly nature, was revered as the primary of the first-born deities. She is often depicted as a young woman with black feathered wings and only a black cloak (filled with stars) or a dark mist covering her naked body.

Nyx (Night) resides in Tartarus and comes out each time her daughter Hemera (Day) descends into the abyss. When Hemera leaves Tartarus Nyx returns and they meet only for a few moments on the bronze threshold because the Great House cannot hold them both at the same time.

In another tale, Hera asks Hypnos, the son of Nyx, to put Zeus to sleep and thus avoid helping Heracles. Zeus finds out about this mischief and is so enraged he almost lashes out at the culprit. Fearful of Zeus’ wrath, Hypnos runs and hides in her mother’s bosom. The king of the gods may be angry, but he’s not a fool, and so he does absolutely nothing as he dares not to provoke the great and powerful goddess Nyx.

Nyx’s offspring

Nyx, together with Erebus, brought forth Aether and Hemera. But, these were not her only children. Nyx, on her own, gave birth to Apate (Deceit), Eris (Discord), Geras (Old Age), Hypnos (Sleep), Momus (Blame), Moros (Doom), Nemesis (Retribution), Oizys (Misery), Philotes (Friendship), Thanatos (Death), the Hesperides, the Keres, the Moirai, and the Oneiroi.

Nyx’s worship

Those who followed the Orphic Tradition worshipped Nyx as the giver of all life. They would sacrifice black animals for her by burning and burying them in the ground, always during nighttime. Yet, Nyx, in a fashion similar to that of her obscure nature, mysteriously attracted the ancient Greeks and Romans. Although there were no temples dedicated to her she was revered by people alongside other major gods. Many statues of the goddess of the Night and references to her name were made in the old days. 

Etymology

Nyx means Night. The word is a derivative of an ancient root that means the same thing. In Greek, it also signifies the Darkness that Night brings and with it Sleep and the terrible shadowy Death.

Roles and Responsibilities

Nyx main role was to bring the Night over the world and the desired rest to those who have toiled during the day. Her dark countenance didn’t really point to something sinister rather than express her hidden and mysterious character. Nyx was (is) a cosmic and principal entity that gave birth to many wonderful and also frightful children. Nyx’s dualism shows that the Night is neither good nor evil, but both.

In the old texts

Greek

Nyx
I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nyx is mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony, Homer’s Iliad, Aristophanes’ Birds, and Argonautica among other works.

Pausanias writes about an oracle of Nyx at the acropolis of the town of Megara.

The second Orphic Hymn is dedicated to Nyx.

Νύκτα θεῶν γενέτειραν ἀείσομαι ἠδὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.
Νὺξ γένεσις πάντων, ἣν καὶ Κύπριν καλέσωμεν.
κλῦθι, μάκαιρα θεά, κυαναυγής, ἀστεροφεγγές,
ἡσυχίῃ χαίρουσα καὶ ἠρεμίῃ πολυύπνῳ,
εὐφροσύνη, τερπνή, φιλοπάννυχε, μῆτερ ὀνείρων,
ληθομέριμν’, ἀγαθή τε πόνων ἀνάπαυσιν ἔχουσα,
ὑπνοδότειρα, φίλη πάντων, ἐλάσιππε, νυχαυγές,
ἡμιτελές, χθονία ἠδ’ οὐρανία πάλιν αὐτή,
ἐγκυκλίη, παίκτειρα διώγμασιν ἠεροφοίτοις,
ἣ φάος ἐκπέμπεις ὑπὸ νέρτερα καὶ πάλι φεύγεις
εἰς Ἀίδην∙ δεινὴ γὰρ ἀνάγκη πάντα κρατύνει.
νῦν δέ, μάκαιρ’ ὦ Νύξ, πολυόλβιε, πᾶσι ποθεινή,
εὐάντητε, κλύουσα ἱκετηρίδα φωνὴν
ἔλθοις εὐμενέουσα, φόβους δ’ ἀπόπεμπε νυχαυγεῖς.

Night, parent goddess, source of sweet repose,
from whom at first both Gods and men arose,
Hear, blessed Kypris, decked with starry light,
in sleep’s deep silence dwelling Ebon night!
Dreams and soft case attend thy dusky train,
pleased with the lengthened gloom and fitful strain.
Dissolving anxious care, the friend of Mirth,
with darkling coursers riding round the earth.
Goddess of phantoms and of shadowy play,
whose drowsy power divides the natural day:
By Fate’s decree you constant send
the light to deepest hell, remote from mortal sight
For dire Necessity which naught withstands,
invests the world with adamantine bands.
Be present, Goddess, to thy suppliant’s prayer,
desired by all, whom all alike revere,
Blessed, benevolent, with friendly aid dispel
the fears of Twilight’s dreadful shade.

Roman

Nyx is alluded to in Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Fasti.

FAQs

Why Nyx was (is) so revered?

The unknown and sometimes the fear of it is what made people in the old days to think of the Night as a great goddess. After dusk, the dark mists of Nyx swarm the sky and plunge the land into darkness. Humans standing alone under a starry dome couldn’t bring themselves not to raise their heads and look with awe at the wondrous vastness of the world. Nyx was worshipped as much as she was feared; secretly, quietly, and at times fervently.

How strong is the Night (Nyx)?

As one of Chaos’ offspring, Nyx is a very powerful deity. She is considered superior to Gaia and Uranus despite not being as eminent as they are. To be able to make others fear you, even the great king of the gods Zeus, surely makes Nyx a dominant entity.

Featured Image Credit: Henri Fantin-Latour, Public domain, 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.