Erebus: The Primordial Greek God of Darkness

Erebus, the primordial god of deep darkness in Greek mythology, has no particular stories about him. Still, the terrible “otherness” of being defined as “completely empty” makes them infinitely intriguing. Erebus sits between Heaven and Earth, full of power and fury. Of course, the Greek god would then be the perfect name to give a volcano or an empty dust bowl on Mars. 

Is Erebus a God or Goddess in Greek Mythology?

Erebus is a primordial god. In Greek mythology, this means that they do not have a physical form, like Zeus or Hera, but exist as part of the entire universe. Erebus isn’t just a personification of darkness but is darkness itself. In this way, Erebus is often described as a place, rather than a being, and is given no personality.

What is Erebus the God Of?

Erebus is the primordial god of darkness, the complete absence of light. Erebus should not be confused with Nyx, the goddess of night, nor Tartarus, the pit of nothingness. However, many Greek writers would use Tartarus and Erebus interchangeably, as occurs in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Is Erebus Good or Evil?

As is true of all the primordial gods of Greek mythology, Erebus is neither good nor evil. Nor is the darkness they represent in any way evil or punishing. Despite this, it is easy to believe there is something evil within the god, as the name is often used in replacement for Tartarus, or the underworld.

What is the Etymology of the Word “Erebus”?

The word “Erebus” means “darkness,” although the first recorded instance refers to the “forming a passage from Earth to Hades.” In this way, the word appears to refer not to the “absence of light” but to the nothingness that is within the universe. The word is Proto-Indo-European and likely contributed to the Norse word “Rokkr” and the Gothic “Riqis.” 

Who Were the Parents of Erebus?

Erebus is a son (or daughter) of Chaos (or Khaos), the ultimate pinnacle of the Greek pantheon. Unlike later Greek gods, the primordials were rarely gendered or given other human traits. Erebus had one “sibling,” Nyx (Night). Chaos is the god of “the air,” or, more concisely, the gaps between Heaven (Uranus) and Earth. Chaos came to be at the same time as Gaia (the Earth), Tartarus (the Pit), and Eros (primordial Love). While Erebus was the child of Chaos, Uranus was the child of Gaia.

READ MORE: The Greek God Family Tree: A Complete Family Tree of All Greek Deities

One source contradicts this story. An Orphic Fragment, possibly of a work by Hieronymus of Rhodes, describes Khaos, Erebus, and Aether as the three brothers born of the serpent Chronos (not to be confused with Cronus). “Chaos,” “Darkness,” and “Light” would make up the world born of “Father Time.” This fragment is the only one that tells this story and speaks of the three as a clear metaphor for describing the nature of the universe in a scientific manner. 

Who Were the Children of Erebus?

It is not entirely clear which of the primordial gods was a “child” or “sibling” of Erebus. However, two of the primordial gods have at least once been referred to as coming from the god of darkness. 

Aether, the primordial god of the blue sky above and sometimes the god of light, is sometimes referred to as coming from the darkness and thereby a “child” of the brothers Erebus and Nyx. Aristophanes references Erebus as the father of Aether, and Hesiod also makes this claim. Other sources in Greek mythology, however, state that Aether is a child of Kronos or Khaos.

Eros, the Greek god of primordial love and procreation, should not be confused with the Roman god Eros (connected to Cupid). While the Orphics say that the Greek god came from “the germless egg” created by Khaos, Cicero wrote that Erebus was the father of Eros.

Are Hades and Erebus the Same?

Hades and Erebus are definitely not the same gods. Hades, the brother of Zeus, was given the role of god of the underworld after the Titanomachy. However, before this time, the underworld already existed.

READ MORE: Hades Family Tree: A Family of Hades, Greek God of the Dead

The confusion comes from multiple steps. Many people often compare the underworld of Hades with the depths of Tartarus, the pit. While these are two very different places, they both influenced the creation of the Judeo-Christian “Hell,” and so are confused.

Meanwhile, Greek myths often confuse the underworld with Tartarus. After all, the pit is dark, and Erebus is the darkness. The Homeric Hymns offer examples of this confusion, with one example stating that Persephone came from Erebus rather than the underworld in which she was queen.

There may also be some confusion as, in some instances, Erebus is prayed to as if they were a physical, human-like god. The most famous example is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where the witch, Circe, prays to Erebus and Nyx, “and the gods of the night.”

Who Wrote about Erebus?

Like many of the primordials, very little was written about Erebus, and most of it was contradictory. Hesiod’s Theogony is the one text that most refers to the Greek god, which is no surprise – it was, after all, an attempt at creating a complete family tree of all the Greek gods. For this reason, it is also considered the text to refer to when other texts may disagree – it is “the bible” for mythological genealogy.

The Spartan (or Lydian) poet Alcman is probably the second-most referred-to writer about Erebus. Sadly, modern scholars only have fragments of his original work. These fragments are from larger choral poems designed to be sung. They contain love poems, worship songs of gods, or oral descriptions to be sung while performing religious rituals. Among these fragments, we find that Erebus is described as being before the concept of light.  

Is Erebus the Father of Demons?

According to both the Roman writer Cicero and the Greek historian Pseudo-Hyginus, Erebus and Nyx were parents to “the daemones” or “daimones.” These otherworldly creatures represented the good and bad aspects of human experience and were precursors to our more modern understanding of “demons.” 

Included among the many “daimones” listed by both writers are Eros (love), Moros (fate), Geras (old age), Thanatos (death), the Oneirois (dreams), the Moirai (the fates), and the Hesperides. Of course, some of these are contracted in other writings, with the Hesperides often being written in Greek mythology as children of the Titan god, Atlas.

READ MORE: The 12 Greek Titans: The Original Gods of Ancient Greece

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