Chione: The Greek Goddess of Snow
What did the Greeks have to say about the goddess of snow? Keep reading to find out!
In Greek mythology, Chione was the daughter of the North Wind. As the goddess of snow, she was closely linked to the cold air and storms her father blew in from the mountains of Thrace.
Like many of the minor gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, Chione seemed to personify the force of nature she represented. While other cultures in Europe had more well-developed deities to represent winter weather, not much was ever said about Chione.
While she may seem similar to the hundreds of other minor deities in Greek mythology, the stories that mention Chione all hint at the fact that her legend was not as old as many others. While other characters and events in her mythology were long-established, Chione herself was not mentioned in any of the stories until relatively late in Greek history.
So why did the Greeks take so long to develop a goddess of snow, and why was her story incorporated in the way it was? Read on to learn more!
The Origins of the Goddess of Snow
According to Greek mythographers, the goddess of snow was the daughter of the North Wind.
Pausanias and Pseudo-Apollodorus claimed that Chione, the goddess of snow, was born to an Athenian princess named Orithyia. Her father was Erechtheus, a famous founding king of that city.
Boreas, the god of the North Wind, saw Orithyia as he blew through Athens and fell instantly in love with her. He attempted to woo him, but as the god of a harsh and wild force he was not naturally romantic.
Orithyia had no interest in the wild wind god so she completely rejected his advances. Boreas decided to act more in keeping with his nature and abduct the princess by force.
One day as the princess was playing by the banks of the Ilissos River, the North Wind swooped down and carried her away. She was taken to his home in Thrace and eventually gave birth to four of his children.
Her sons Calais and Zetes became Argonauts. They were accompanied by Phineas, the Thracian king and seer who married their sister Cleopatra.
Orithyia’s other daughter, Chione, became a goddess. She was the personification of snow.
Interestingly, there was another character in Greek mythology by this name who was also connected to Boreas.
In the 2nd century AD, the writer Aelian claimed that Chione was the name of the North Wind’s wife rather than his daughter. He claimed that the Hyperboreans, a mythical race of giants from the far north, had three priests who were sons of Boreas and Chione.
It is more commonly accepted, however, that Chione was the wind god’s daughter instead of his consort. One later myth that emerged linked the goddess of snow to an even more important Olympian.
Several writers claimed that Chione and Poseidon had once had an affair. As a result, she gave birth to a son named Eumolpus.
Chione feared how her father would react to her pregnancy, however. She probably had reason to worry, since Boreas was known for having a quick temper and a sometimes harsh nature.
Fearing her father’s wrath, the snow goddess threw her newborn into the sea. Poseidon rescued the baby and gave it to one of his daughters, Benthesykyme, to raise.
Eumolpis was raised in Ethiopia and married one of his foster mother’s daughters. He eventually traveled to Trace, and eventually to Eleusis.
Chione’s son became the first priest of Demeter and the founder of the Eleusinian mysteries. According to most accounts, he was killed in a war against his own grandfather, King Erechtheus of Athens.
My Modern Interpretation
Many of the myths of Chione appear to have originated relatively late in Greek mythology. Most written records that mention her birth and her affair with Poseidon are from the 2nd century AD.
Chione also does not appear in art from the classical era. While the story of Orithyia is known to be older and the other children of Boreas are mentioned in other works, Chione is absent from much of the wind god’s mythology.
Relatively little is known about Chione overall. Her function as the goddess of snow can be inferred from her name, taken from the Greek word khion for “snow,” but her mythology is otherwise sparse.
This may be because much of the Greek world had little need for a goddess of snow.
The Greeks had many minor gods and goddesses that personified different features of the world around them. Nymphs were goddesses of nature, the river gods controlled waterways, and even emotions and states of being were personified by daimones.
Snow, however, is relatively rare in much of Greece. Only the northernmost parts of the country and the tops of its mountains receive snowfall on any regular basis.
It seems likely, therefore, that most of Greece had little need to personify snow with a deity. It was so rare that it played little part in most people’s lives.
When such a deity was eventually added to the pantheon, it made sense to associate here in some way with Boreas. The god of the North Wind brought in the cold winter air that made Greece frigid, although dry, in the winter months.
This cold weather was not native to Greece. They recognized that their Mediterranean climate was more mild, and often hot and dry, and that the coldest winds of winter were an outside force.
They therefore said that Boreas lived in Thrace, a country to the north that was often thought of as barbarous and cruel. The god of war Ares was also said to make his home in this wild land.
Thrace was the home, in Greek mythology, to gods that were a part of their pantheon but did not necessarily fit with the norms or ideals of their culture. Boreas was, like Ares, too cold and cruel to be thought of as fully Greek.
Chione was said to have been a Thracian goddess because, like her father, her nature was not something that was embraced or common in Greece itself. Snow could be seen at times, but it was largely relegated to foreign places and wild mountaintops.
The goddess of snow was a later addition to Greek mythology, but she was also incorporated into existing legends. This gave the appearance of a classical origin even if her stories likely began later.
The story of Eumolpis, for example, existed before that of Chione. Mythographers added his travels to Thrace to tie the two stories together.
Orithyia’s story was also well-known in Athens long before Chione’s name was mentioned. The goddess of snow was added to the list of her children to easily tie Chione into an established lineage.
The goddess of snow may have been inspired by an older source, but all evidence points to her being a relatively late addition to Greek mythology. By closely tying her into existing myths and characters, however, Chione was more easily accepted as a member of the pantheon of Greek gods.
The goddess Chione appears to be a relatively late addition to Greek mythology. There are no surviving records of her before the 2nd century AD.
Historians usually interpret Chione as the Greek goddess of snow based on her name and family. She was a daughter of Boreas, the god of the North Wind.
The stories Chione was connected to, however, were much older than her own.
Her mother was Orithyia, an Athenian princess whose abduction by Boreas was known by the 5th century BC. She also had a child with Poseidon who grew to be the legendary founder of the Eleusinian Mysteries and the cult of Demeter.
It appears as though Chione was added into these stories after they had been well-established. As a goddess who was invented, or at least became more popular, later, she was inserted into existing stories that seemed to fit her character and function.
The goddess of snow was likely not an early development in Greece because of the country’s climate. Only the highest peaks of Greece are prone to regular snowfall, so it is possible that the element was just not seen as warranting its own deity.
When Chione was added, she was logically tied to the god of the North Wind and his brutal homeland in Thrace. She became one of the deities, like Boreas and Ares, who was seen as not entirely Greek and so placed in a barbarous land.
Although Chione may have been inspired by an unknown earlier source, possibly even a Thracian or Alpine goddess, she seems to have been added into Greek mythology relatively late in its history. By weaving her into existing legends, however, Greek writers made the inclusion of the goddess of snow seem like a natural and ancient tradition.