Erebus: The Greek God of Darkness
A god of darkness might sound terrifying, but he might not be as bad as you would think. Read on to learn about Erebus, the primordial god of darkness in Greek mythology.
In Greek cosmology, the first beings to come into existence were the primordial gods. Emerging from Chaos, figures like Gaia, Uranus, and Tartarus laid the foundation for the world as the Greek people saw it.
They were not the only early elemental beings, however. Alongside them were born Nyx, the goddess of night, and Erebus, the Greek god of darkness.
The Greek creation story was relatively unique in that it did not immediately pair off the ideas of light and darkness or make them the same as day and night. Unlike many other mythologies, the Greeks did not see the god of darkness as a threatening figure to the god of light.
Instead, these elemental beings worked in harmony with one another. By establishing the first and most basic cycle, they laid the foundations for the Greek view of natural laws and proper order.
The Primordial God of Darkness
Erebus was one of the primordial gods in Greek mythology.
This meant that he did not have a definite form. While the Titans and Olympians were seen as largely human in appearance and character, the primordial gods were inseparable from their elemental nature.
This also meant that he was one of the oldest gods. The primordial deities were the first things to emerge from the mass of Chaos.
According to many versions of the Greek creation story, the primordial gods existed in pairs. While Uranus and Gaia, the heavens and the earth, were paired together, Erebus was born alongside his sister Nyx.
He was the Greek god of darkness. His name meant “Shadowed” or “Covered.”
Nyx was the goddess of night. While Uranus and Gaia were opposites who eventually needed to be kept separate from one another, Erebus and Nyx complimented each other and were inseparable.
While the primordial deities came into being, Erebus encompassed everything. The newly-formed universe was shrouded in complete darkness.
Erebus and Nyx came together and made several children. Unlike Gaia, their first offspring were also formless primordial beings.
Their first son was Aether, the god of light air. He filled the space between Gaia and Uranus.
Their first daughter was Hemera, the goddess of the day. She and her brother brought the first light, although there was no sun yet, and spread it across the sky.
Hemera pushed her parents to the edges of the world. She and Nyx shared their time across the world, creating the cycle of day and night.
Erebus was present at night, but he also had his own land. According to some stories, the far western edge of the world, where the sun set, was the eternal realm of Erebus.
Later writers also named Erebus as a location within the realm of Hades. Immediately after death, the souls of the deceased passed through a dark region of Erebus.
My Modern Interpretation
Unlike many other ancient cultures, the Greeks did not believe that daylight was derived solely from the sun.
Many ancient religions believed that if the sun god, or more rarely the sun goddess, was ever defeated or captured, darkness would descend over everything. The Greeks, however, made the god of darkness a powerful presence that was not necessarily threatening.
The separation between brightness, time of day, and the celestial gods was probably inspired by observation.
When clouds obscured the sky and the sun was not visible, there was still daylight. This likely led early Greek people to surmise that the light came from the air, or aether, while the sun only provided additional brightness and warmth.
Similar observations could have led some people to conclude that daylight and darkness were not entirely at odds with one another. Darkness still existed in shadowed areas and indoor spaces on even the brightest days.
Similarly, some light was found even in the middle of the night. Whether from the moon or a fire, this light meant that the night and darkness were not always the same thing.
The Greek creation story thus imagined light and darkness and night and day as compliments to one another rather than antagonistic. Aether and Hemera were the children of the Greek god of darkness, not beings who were at odds with him.
The importance of day and night being their own beings rather than just effects of light and dark was emphasized in many of the other children of Erebus and Nyx.
Among the deities said to be the offspring of Erebus and Nyx were the Moirai, the goddesses of fate. They were often in the company of the Horai, the goddesses of the seasons and the progression of time.
These goddesses were not aligned toward the light or the darkness. Instead, it was their duty to lay out the natural, unavoidable progression of time and events according to natural law.
This was a major feature in Greek cosmology. Their worldview was based not on a battle between light and dark, but on the importance of order and law to keep Chaos at bay.
The god of darkness and his sister created the first steps in this natural progression. Rather than being opposing forces, light and day were created by darkness and night to begin a cycle that would form the basis of all time and activity in the universe.
Later stories would be somewhat at odds with this idea as an increasing number of dangerous and chthonic figures were added to the list of Erebus and Nyx’s children. Their first primordial offspring, however, were the complimentary beings who allowed the most basic cycles in the world to begin.
In the Greek creation story, Erebus was the god of darkness. He was a primordial being without form.
He was the partner of his sister, the night goddess Nyx. When they first emerged out of Chaos, there was no light or daytime in opposition to them.
Instead of the adversarial relationship between these concepts that existed in many other religions, light and the day were instead imagined as the offspring of Erebus and Nyx. The god of darkness was not the enemy of daylight, but its father.
Nyx and Hemera, the goddess of the day, established the first and most basic cycle that would exist in the world. This laid the foundations for proper order and structure to be established, the beginnings of natural law.
The god of darkness, meanwhile, followed his partner. He could exist in some places during the day, however, just as his son could be seen at night.
Later writers would often paint Erebus and Nyx as more negative beings. More harmful gods, these ones with physical forms instead of primordial beings, would be called their children and Erebus would sometimes be portrayed as a part of the Underworld.
The first role of the Greek god of darkness in mythology, however, was not one of evil or destruction. Instead, it was the establishment of natural law and the orderly workings of the universe.