Chaos (mythology)

In Greek mythology, Chaos (Greek: Χάος), according to Hesiod,[1] Chaos ("Chasm")[2] was the first thing to exist: "at first Chaos came to be" (or was)[3] "but next" (possibly out of Chaos) came Gaia, Tartarus, and Eros (elsewhere the son of Aphrodite).[4] Unambiguously born "from Chaos" were Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx (Night).[5]

The Greek word "chaos" (χάος), a neuter noun, means "yawning" or "gap", but what, if anything, was located on either side of this chasm is unclear.[6] For Hesiod, Chaos, like Tartarus, though personified enough to have born children, was also a place, far away, underground and "gloomy", beyond which lived the Titans.[7] And, like the earth, the ocean, and the upper air, it was also capable of being affected by Zeus' thunderbolts.[8]

For the Roman poet Ovid, Chaos was an unformed mass, where all the elements were jumbled up together in a "shapeless heap".[9]

According to Hyginus: "From Mist (Caligine) came Chaos. From Chaos and Mist, came Night (Nox), Day (Dies), Darkness (Erebus), and Ether (Aether)."[10] An Orphic tradition apparently had Chaos as the son of Chronus and Ananke.[11]

In Aristophanes's comedy Birds, first there was Chaos, Night, Erebus, and Tartarus, from Night came Eros, and from Eros and Chaos came the race of birds.[12]

See also


  1. Hesiod, Theogony 116122.
  2. West, p. 192 line 116 Χάος, "best translated Chasm"; Most, p. 13, translates Χάος as "Chasm", and notes: (n. 7): "Usually translated as 'Chaos'; but that suggests to us, misleadingly, a jumble of disordered matter, whereas Hesiod's term indicates instead a gap or opening".
  3. Gantz, p. 3, says "the Greek will allow both".
  4. According to Gantz, p. 4: "With regard to all three of these figuresGaia, Tartaros, and Eroswe should note that Hesiod does not say they arose from (as opposed to after) Chaos, although this is often assumed." For example, Morford, p. 57, makes these three descendants of Chaos saying they came "presumably out of Chaos, just as Hesiod actually states that 'from Chaos' came Erebus and dark Night". Tripp, p. 159, says simply that Gaia, Tartarus and Eros came "out of Chaos, or together with it". Caldwell, p. 33 n. 116122, however interprets Hesiod as saying that Chaos, Gaia, Tartarus, and Eros all "are spontaneously generated without source or cause". Later writers commonly make Eros the son of Aphrodite and Ares, though several other parentages are also given, Gantz, pp. 45.
  5. Gantz, p. 4; Hesiod, Theogony 123.
  6. Gantz, p. 3; West, pp. 192193 line 116 Χάος. West, p. 193 notes that 'although grammatically neuter, Chaos is treated as female". As discussed by both West and Gantz, some have argued that Chaos represented the gap between heaven and earth.
  7. Hesiod, Theogony 814: "And beyond, away from all the gods, live the Titans, beyond gloomy Chaos".
  8. Hesiod, Theogony 700.
  9. Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.5 ff..
  10. Hyginus, Fabulae Preface 1, translated by Smith and Trzaskoma, p. 95. According to Bremmer, p. 5, who translates Caligine as "Darkness": "Hyginus ... started his Fabulae with a strange hodgepodge of Greek and Roman cosmogonies and early genealogies. It begins as follows: Ex Caligine Chaos. Ex Chao et Caligine Nox Dies Erebus Aether (Praefatio 1). His genealogy looks like a derivation from Hesiod, but it starts with the un-Hesiodic and un-Roman Caligo, ‘Darkness’. Darkness probably did occur in a cosmogonic poem of Alcman, but it seems only fair to say that it was not prominent in Greek cosmogonies."
  11. Ogden, pp. 3637.
  12. Aristophanes, Birds 693699; Morford, pp 5758. Caldwell, p. 2, describes this avian theogony as "comedic parody".


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