Chaos: Greek God of Air, and Parent of Everything

A “rude and undeveloped mass” and yet also “an empty void,” the gloomy Chaos is both a being and not, a god and not. Chaos is best described as the oxymoron of “a shapeless heap,” both contradictory and all-encompassing. The huge Chaos, in essence, is the very foundation in which the universe exists, being the first thing to exist, even before Earth itself. While literary and artistic sources from antiquity try their best to describe the concept of Chaos, their best doesn’t do justice to capture the complexity of the primordial god.

Who is Chaos From Greek Mythology?

Chaos is the parent of all Greek gods. The chorus of Aristophanes’ comedy, Birds, states:

At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus, and deep Tartarus. Earth, the air and heaven had no existence. Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light.

Nyx (or Night), Erebus (darkness), and Tartarus were other primordial gods. According to the Greek poet Hesiod, Chaos was the first of the Greek gods, followed by Gaia (or Earth). Chaos was also mother to Erebus and Nyx:

At the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Gaia, and Eros, 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; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus.

What God is Chaos?

Chaos is one of the primordial gods of early Greek myth. As such, they are one of the “deathless gods,” without form or gender, and often referred to as an element instead of a being.

When “personified,” however, early versions of Chaos have her represented as a goddess of the invisible air and the birds which fly in it. It is this personification that led to her presentation in Aristophanes’ play.

The Etymology of the Word “Chaos”

“Chaos,” or “Khaos,” is a Greek word that literally means a “chasm” or “void” that is impossible to measure. In Hebrew, the word translates to “void” and is believed to be the same word used in Genesis 1:2, “And the earth was without form, and void.”

The word “chaos” would continue to refer to voids and abyss well into the 15th century. Using the word to simply mean “confusion” is a very English definition and only became popular after the 1600s. Today, the word is also used in mathematics.

READ MORE: Who Invented Math? The History of Mathematics

According to Oxford, the term “gas” in the field of chemistry may have evolved from the word “chaos.” The term was used in this way during the 17th century by noted Dutch chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont, referring to the alchemical usage of the “Chaos” but using a “g” as was typical for Dutch translations of many words with the “ch” start.

What Did the Greek God Chaos Do?

Chaos’ role was as part of all the elements of the universe. She was “the gaps,” or “the randomness” of the universe, into which everything exists. The Roman poet, Ovid, opened his famous poem Metamorphoses by describing Chaos as “a rude and undigested mass, and nothing more than an inert weight, and the discordant atoms of things not harmonizing, heaped together in the same spot.”

Who Were the Primordial Gods?

The Primordial Gods, or “Protogenoi,” are the elements that ancient Greeks believed made up the universe. While sometimes personified like other gods, early Greek philosophers would also refer to the protogenoi the same way we would to air, water, or earth. According to these ancient scholars, all the gods in the pantheon were just as beholding to these core concepts of the universe, just like man.

The most important of the primordial gods were Chaos, Nyx, Erebus, Gaea, Chronos and Eros. However, there were twenty-one separate beings identified as primordials throughout history. Many were the children of other primordials.

Who is Poros?

Ancient Greek poet, Alcman, had a theogony (or encyclopedia of the gods) that was not quite as popular as Hesiod’s. However, it is sometimes worth referring to as it includes Greek gods and stories not found elsewhere.

One such case is Poros, a Greek god that rarely appears elsewhere. Poros is the child of Thetis (who Alcman believed was the first god) and was “the path,” the unseen structure of the void. His brother, Skotos, was the “darkness of night,” or what obscured the path, while Tekmor, was “the marker.” This is similar to the primordial siblings, with Skotos often compared to Nyx and Tekmor with Erebus.

This Poros should not be confused with Plato’s Poros, the son of Metis. Poros in this case was the lesser god of “plenty,” and the story within “Symposium” appears to be the only example of this deity.

Is Chaos Stronger Than Zeus?

No being could exist in a universe without Chaos, and for this reason, Zeus relies on the primordial god. However, that is not to say that the Olympian was unknown to the primordial gods. According to Hesiod’s “Theogony,” during the Titanomachy, Zeus hurled a lightning bolt so powerfully that “Astounding heat seized Khaos: and to see with eyes and to hear the sound with ears it seemed even as if Gaia and wide Ouranos above came together.”

So while Chaos is infinitely more powerful than Zeus, that is not to diminish the power of the “King of the Gods,” who could be called the most powerful of the corporeal beings in the universe.

Who Was the Father of Chaos in Greek Mythology?

Most literary and artistic sources of Greek mythology portray Chaos as the first among all, without parents. However, there are some dissenting voices. A fragment of ancient Greek literature known as “Orphic Fragment 54” records that Chaos was a child of Kronos (Cronus). It records that other texts, such as the Hieronyman Rhapsodies, say Chaos, Aether, and Erebos were the three children of Cronus. It is in the mix of these three that he laid the cosmic egg that was to create the universe.

Other sources, such as Pseudo-Hyginus, say that Chaos was “born” from Caligine (or “the mist”).

Were There Other Greek Gods of Chaos?

While Chaos is one of the primordials, other names among the blessed gods sometimes receive the epithet “god/dess of chaos.” The most common of these is Eris, the “goddess of strife.” In Roman mythology, she goes by Discordia. In early Greek myth, Eris is a child of Nyx, and therefore could be the granddaughter of Chaos.

Eris is best known for playing a part in starting the Trojan War, and the role she played in the wedding of Peleus and Thetis may have been an early influence on the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty.”

READ MORE: Gods of Chaos from Around the World

Are the Fates Children of Chaos?

According to Quintus Smyrnaeus, the three goddesses known as “The Moirae” or “The Fates” were children of Chaos instead of Nyx or Kronos. The name “Moirae” means “portions” or “parts.”

The three fates were Klotho (the spinner), Lakhesis (the divider of lots), and Atropos (she would not be turned). Together, they would determine people’s futures and personify the inescapable destiny that an individual would need to face.

This connection between the fates and Chaos is important. For modern thinkers around the world, “Chaos” brings up ideas of randomness, but to those in ancient Greece, Chaos had meaning and structure. It appeared random, but it was, in fact, simply too complex for mere mortals to understand.

Who is the Roman God of Chaos?

Unlike many Greek and Roman counterparts, the Roman form of this god was also called “Chaos.” The only difference between Greek and Roman biography speaks of Chaos is that Roman texts make the god far more ethereal and sometimes gender them as male. The “Chaos” mentioned by the Roman poet Ovid is the best example of how Greek and Roman philosophers could find a middle ground in how they viewed the gods.

READ MORE: Roman Gods and Goddesses: The Names and Stories of 29 Ancient Roman Gods

Who is the Japanese God of Chaos?

In Japan, there is a Shinto analog to Chaos called Amatsu-Mikaboshi. Interpreted as “The Dread Star of Heaven,” Amatsu was born of Kagutsuchi (Fire), and would be part of the combined “god of all stars.” However, because of his refusal to conform, he was known for bringing randomness into the universe.

READ MORE: The Japanese Gods That Created The Universe and Humanity

What is Chaos in Hermeticism and Alchemy?

In 14th-century alchemy and philosophy, Chaos came to be used as a term to mean “the foundation of life.” Identified with water rather than air, the term “chaos” was sometimes used synonymously with the concept of a “classical element.” Alchemists such as Llull and Khunrath wrote pieces with titles that included the word “Chaos,” while Ruland the Younger wrote in 1612, “A crude mixture of matter or another name for Materia Prima is Chaos, as it is in the Beginning.”

What is Chaos Theory in Mathematics?

Chaos Theory is the mathematical study of how extremely complex systems can present as if they are random. Much like the Chaos of ancient Greece, mathematicians view the term as discordant elements confused to be random rather than actually random. The term “chaos theory” appeared in 1977 to describe how systems may appear to act randomly if we expect them to follow simplistic models that do not represent reality.

This is especially true when using predictive models. Mathematicians have, for example, discovered that weather prediction can be drastically different if you use recordings of temperatures in 1/100ths of a degree compared to 1/1000th of a degree. The more precise the measurement, the more accurate the prediction may be.

It is from mathematical chaos theory that we developed the concept of the “butterfly effect.” The earliest reference to this phrase came from a paper by Edward Lorenz written in 1972, titled “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” While the studies of this phenomenon proved popular for mathematicians, the phrase also took off among lay people and has been used hundreds of times in popular culture.

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