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 “absence of light” but 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 the 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.

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 god. 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.

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

Where Is the Erebus Volcano?

Situated on Ross Island, Mount Erebus is the sixth-largest mountain in Antarctica. Over twelve thousand feet above sea level, the mountain is also the highest of the active volcanoes on the continent and is believed to have been active for over a million years.

Mount Erebus is the southernmost active volcano in the world and is constantly eruptive. Both McMurdo Station and Scott Station (run by the United States and New Zealand, respectively) are situated within fifty kilometers of the volcano, making it quite easy to research seismic data and take samples of magma from the site.

The Erebus Volcano was said to have been formed after a giant eruption somewhere between 11 and 25 thousand years ago. It has many unique features as a volcano, from its expulsion of gold dust from its vents to its abundance of microbiological life forms, including bacteria and fungi.

What Was HMS Erebus?

Mount Erebus was not named directly after the primordial Greek god, but after a British Navy warship made in 1826.

HMS Erebus was a “bomb vessel” that held two large mortars to attack fixed positions on land. After two years as a war vessel, the boat was retrofitted for exploration purposes and famously used as part of the expedition to Antarctica led by Captain James Ross. On 21 November 1840, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror left Van Dieman’s Land (modern-day Tasmania) and landed on Victoria Land by January the next year. On 27 January 1841, Mount Erebus was discovered in the process of eruption, Mount Terror and Mount Erebus were named after the two ships, and Ross mapped the coast of the continent before docking in the Falkland Islands five months later.

Erebus made another trip to Antarctica in 1842, before returning to London. Three years later, it was refitted with steam engines and used in an expedition to the Canadian Arctic. There, is became icebound, and its entire crew died of hypothermia, starvation, and scurvy. Oral reports by Inuits included the remaining crew resulting to cannibalism. The ships sank and went missing until the wreck was discovered in 2008.

Erebus and its expeditions were famous both and the time and in the future. It was explicitly mentioned in both “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “Heart of Darkness.”   

The Lava Lake of Mount Erebus

In 1992, a walking robot called “Dante” was used to explore the inside of the volcano, including its “unique convecting magma lake.” This lava lake sat inside an inner crater with walls of ice and rock embedded with “lava bombs” that could easily explode. 

Dante (named after the poet who wrote of exploring the dark depths of hell) would travel by rope and then using mechanical legs, through the summit crater of Erebus, before reaching the inner lake where it took gas and magma samples. While the outside of Erebus reached temperatures below minus twenty degrees celsius, deep in the middle of the lake was recorded to be over 500 degrees above boiling point.

The Disaster at Mount Erebus

On 28 November 1979, Flight 901 of Air New Zealand flew into Mount Erebus, killing over two hundred and fifty passengers and crew. It was a sightseeing trip, with a flight plan designed to showcase Antarctica’s volcanoes and fly over multiple bases.

A Royal Commission later determined that the crash resulted from multiple failures, including a changed flight path the night before, the incorrect programming of the onboard navigation system, and a failure to communicate with the flight crew.

What Is the Erebus Crater of Mars?

The Erebus Crater is a 300-meter-wide area in the MC-19 region of Mars. From October 2005 to March 2006, the Mars rover, “Opportunity” traversed the crater’s edge, taking several breathtaking photos.

Scientists are unsure how deep Erebus is due to how filled it is with Martian sand and “blueberry pebbles.” The Erebus crater includes many unusual features, such as called Olympia, Payson, and Yavapai outcrops, the Payson Outcrop being the most clearly photographed of the three. 

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