Hemera: The Greek Personification of Day

Many Greek gods and goddesses exist as fully realized personalities, for better or worse. Everyone knows Zeus for his wisdom and mercy (and, in equal parts, his philandering and quick temper), just as Aphrodite is widely recognized for her vanity and jealousy.

This makes a great deal of sense. The Greek gods, after all, were meant to be a reflection of the Greeks themselves. Their feuds and foibles were the same as everyday people, just written on a larger, mythic scope. Thus, amongst the tales of creation and grand epics are all sorts of petty squabbles, grudges, and unforced errors in Greek mythology.

But not all gods are so fully formed. There are some, even those representing foundational, important aspects of life, who are written in only the broadest strokes without the “humanizing” elements that make many of the other gods so relatable. They have few if any notable personality traits, and little in the way of stories about vendettas, flings, or ambitions that some of the other gods have in such abundance. But even without those relatable details, these gods still have stories worth hearing, so let’s examine one such goddess that’s short on personality despite her key place in daily life – the Greek personification of day, Hemera.

The Genealogy of Hemera

Hemera is listed among the earliest gods of the Greeks, well before the Olympians rose to prominence. Her most common genealogy is that noted by Hesiod in his Theogony, she is the daughter of the Night-goddess Nyx and her brother Erebus, or Darkness.

Both of these gods were themselves the children of Chaos, and among the very first beings to exist, along with Gaia, who would give birth to Uranus and thus give rise to the Titans. This makes Hemera effectively the cousin of Uranus, the father of the Titans – placing her among the most senior deities in Greek mythology.

There are, of course, alternate genealogies to be found. The Titanomachy has Hemera – by her brother Aether (the Bright Sky, or the Upper Air) – as the mother of Uranus, making her the grandmother of the Titans. Other accounts have her as the daughter of Cronus, and in some cases the daughter of the sun-god Helios.

Empty Days: Hemera’s Status as a God

For all this established genealogy, however, Hemera is still more a personification than a true anthropomorphic  goddess. She has little in the way of interactions with her fellow gods or with mortals, and Greek myths make only passing references to her, without any of the more detailed stories other deities such as Apollo or Artemis boasted.

Her most substantial references are found in Hesiod’s Theogony, which in addition to her place in the family tree of gods gives us a look at her routine. Hemera occupied a house in Tartarus with her mother, the night-goddess, and each morning she would leave for the surface world, crossing a bronze threshold. In the evening, she would return to the house, passing her mother who always left just as she arrived, carrying Sleep and bringing night to the world above.

And while shrines have been found with references to Hemera, there’s no evidence that she was a regular (or even occasional) object of worship. Hemera seems to occupy a position more comparable to that of the modern concept of Father Time or Lady Luck – names attached to an idea, but with no real humanity conferred by them.

The Day and the Dawn: Hemera and Eos

At this point, we should talk about Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn. Ostensibly, Eos was a wholly separate entity from the primordial Hemera and seems to appear only later in Greek stories. For one thing, Eos was described as the daughter of the Titan Hyperion, a genealogy which is never credited to Hemera (though as noted, rare instances place Hemera as the daughter of Eos’ brother Helios).

Still, there are some obvious similarities between the two goddesses. And while they may have been intended to be distinct figures, it’s clear that in practice the Greeks were prone to conflate the two.

That shouldn’t be surprising – Eos, like Hemera, was said to bring light to the world each morning. It was said she rose each morning driving a two-horse chariot not unlike that of her brother Helios. And while Hemera’s daily ascent from Tartarus each morning is a little more vague, it clearly establishes her and Eos in the same role (and while there are no specific mentions of Hemera having a chariot, she is described as “horse-driving” in scattered references in Greek lyric poetry).

Eos was also referred to by the poet Lycophron as “Tito,” or “day”. In other cases, the same story might use either goddess’ name – or both, in different places – treating them effectively as different names for the same entity. A prime example of this is found in the Odyssey, in which Homer describes Eos as abducting Orion, while other writers cite Hemera as the kidnapper.

The Distinctions

There are, however, still stark differences between the two goddesses. As noted, Hemera is given little in the way of personality and was not described as interacting with mortals.

Eos, on the other hand, was depicted as a goddess quite keen to interact with them. She was spoken about in myth as both lustful – she was said to frequently abduct mortal men with whom she was infatuated, similar to the way many male gods (notably Zeus) were prone to abduct and seduce mortal women – and surprisingly vindictive, often tormenting her male conquests.

In one particular case, she took the Trojan hero Tithonus as a lover, and promised him eternal life. She did not, however, promise youth as well, so Tithonus simply aged eternally without dying. Other tales of Eos have her likewise punishing her trysts with seemingly little or no provocation.

And aside from the less-common genealogies that credit her as the mother of Uranus or the sea-god Thalassa, Hemera is rarely described as having children. Eos – unsurprisingly, considering her lustful nature – was said to have borne several children by her various mortal lovers. And as the wife of the Titan Astraeus, she also gave birth to the Anemoi, or the four wind gods Zephyrus, Boreas, Notus, and Eurus, who themselves appear in numerous places throughout Greek mythology.

And the Blurred Lines

While Hemera has some mentions of her own, however scant, in early mythology, these references tend to dry up by the time Eos becomes firmly established. In later periods, the two seem to be used interchangeably, and there are no references to Hemera which don’t seem to be simply Eos by another name, such as in Pausanias’ Description of Greece in which he describes a royal stoa (portico) with tiled images of Hemera carrying away Cephalus (another of Eos’ most notable ill-fated lovers).

 Despite her description as a goddess of the Dawn, Eos is often described as riding across the sky for the whole of the day, just like Helios. This, along with the conflation of their names in monuments and poetry, plays to the idea that Eos was not a separate entity per se but reflects a kind of evolution -namely, that of the somewhat hollow, primordial goddess into the fully-fledged goddess of the Dawn, with a rich personality and a more connected place in the Greek pantheon.

So where does Eos end and Hemera begin? Perhaps they don’t – anymore than “dawn” and “day” have sharp borders between them, perhaps these two goddesses simply can’t be separated, and are naturally a kind of blended entity.

The Earlier Dawn

The irony here is that Eos may in practice be the older goddess – her name seems to relate to Ausos, a proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn. And Ausos was said to live upon the ocean, out to the east, whereas Eos (unlike Hemera, who dwelt in Tartarus) was said to live in or beyond Oceanus, the great ocean-river that the Greeks believed encircled the world.

Variations of this goddess appear in ancient times as far north as Lithuania and connect to the dawn goddess Usas in Hinduism. All of which makes it likely that this same goddess worked her way into Greek mythology as well, and that “Hemera” was initially an attempt to rebrand this older goddess.

It seems this attempt didn’t stick, however, and the older identity inevitably bled through again to fill in the many blanks of Hemera and create Eos. But then one of the mythological traits of Ausos was that she was undying and eternally young, renewing with each new day. Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that this ancient proto-Indo-European goddess should be reborn in Greek mythology as well.

Her Roman Counterpart

Rome would have its own Day goddess, Dies, who occupied a similar place to Hemera. Like Hemera, Dies was one of the earliest goddesses in Rome’s pantheon, being born of Chaos and Mist along with Night (Nox), Aether, and Erebus.

Also like Hemera, there is little detail to her mythology. She was said in some sources to be the mother of the Earth and Sea, and in some cases the mother of the god Mercury as well, but beyond these references she, like her Greek counterpart, she seemed to exist as an abstraction, a somewhat bland personification of a natural phenomenon much more than true goddess.

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