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What Was Nyx the Goddess Of?

Nyx, the goddess of the night, was a complicated entity who could bring both great evil and great comfort to the people of Greece.

The primordial deity Nyx was the night in Greek thought. She was not just the goddess of that time, but was literally the night itself.

As a primordial being, she was a great mother in the pantheon. Her children were the spirits of things that happened in the night, from the restful peace of sleep to the spectre of an uneventful death.

While Nyx and her children could be threatening, they could be comforting as well. Night was a time of rest after a long day of hard work as much as it was a time of potential danger and uncertainty.

The goddess of the night was associated with witchcraft and deception, but she could also bring truth and comfort in equal measure. Nyx was neither malevolent nor kind, but was a truly neutral force in the Greek universe.

Nyx as the Goddess of Night

Nyx was one of the primordial deities who were created at the very beginning of the universe, before even time existed. According to most legends, she was born from Chaos, making her a peer of the other primordial gods like Gaia, Uranus, and Tartarus.

Nyx was the goddess of night. She did not just rule over the night as younger gods ruled over their respective domains; she was the night itself.

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Like the rest of the primordial gods, this meant that she had no form and little characterization beyond this element. While she was sometimes personified as a woman enrobed in dark mists, she was understood to be the whole of the night in its most essential form.

As the goddess of night, Nyx was often shown as the partner of Erebus, the primordial god of darkness. Their daughters, Hymera and Aether, were the day and light that balanced out their parents and brought illumination to the heavens.

They were also the parents of Hypnos, the god of sleep. He and the personifications of dreams lived in the darkness of Erebus and followed their mother as she moved across the world.

Nyx was also considered the be the mother goddess of many of the things people feared during the night. The personifications of death, old age, and deception were named among her children.

Philotes, the personification of affection, shared her name with a euphemism for sexual intercourse. She was called a daughter of Nyx because she visited people during the night as well.

Nyx also played an important role in many of the mystery cults of ancient Greece. With their focus on the secrets of death and hidden knowledge, followers of the Mysteries believed Nyx could bring clarity.

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The Orphic Mysteries believed that Nyx, rather than Chaos, was the first origin of creation in the world. They thought she was the source of the greatest truths and most accurate prophecies possible because all things came from her.

Both the mystery cults and mainstream religion often associated Nyx with magic and witchcraft as well. Hecate’s powers were thought to be their strongest at night and witches in written legends usually invoked Nyx when working their magic.

My Modern Interpretation

Nyx was a goddess who could inspire fear, but she was not an inherently malevolent force.

In the Iliad, for example, Nyx was so powerful that Zeus himself would not move against her, even when he was consumed by the type of anger that usually resulted in destruction. She was not acting in an antagonistic capacity, however, but in the protection of her son Hypnos.

The night brought many dangers to the people of the ancient world, just as it does today. Criminals were often more active under cover of darkness, predators could not be seen, and supernatural threats were thought to emerge in the dark.

The night could be peaceful as well, however. It was a time of rest and calm amid the often difficult work of the time.

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While some dangers were active at night, it also brought an opportunity to hide from others. Those in danger could flee or hide under the protective cloak of night.

To some people, Nyx brought great gifts. Sailors thanked her for bringing out the start that allowed them to navigate, for example.

In one play, the soldiers of Greece credited Nyx for their victory in the Trojan War. Night had given the men inside the Trojan Horse the opportunity to open the gates of the city, letting in the Greek army and ending ten year long conflict.

Nyx was sometimes helpful to the gods, as well. When Eos, the goddess of the dawn, lost her human son in a battle, night came over the earth early so his body could be safely retrieved under cover of darkness.

While her children were often unwelcomed, she was not the mother of monsters either. Evils may have been more active during the night, but Nyx herself was not necessarily their source.

Things such as old age and death were seen as unavoidable even if they were not loved, and could even be welcomed to those with especially hard or painful lives.

Nyx and her children often balanced the dangers of the night with its comforts.

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Dreams, for example, could bring happiness and clarity or they could be nightmares that inspired terror. Nemesis was the spirit of retribution, but she also ensured balance and brought justice to those who earned their wealth through fraud or committed crimes without facing legal ramifications.

Unlike many of the primordial beings of the universe, Nyx remained an active presence in Greek mythology. She played a role in many myths and even took on a physical form in art.

Beings like Oceanus and Tartarus were distant and uninvolved in daily life, but Nyx was a reliable presence in people’s lives. She was close, and thus more actively involved, in the lives of the Greek people than some of their more abstract gods.

As the night, Nyx could be both threatening and comforting. She was neither evil nor good, but represented a time of balance and neutrality.

In Summary

Nyx was the primordial goddess of night, one of the first beings created in Greek cosmology. As a primordial deity she did not just represent the night, but was literally the time itself.

Her children included the goddesses of the day and light, but she was also the mother of the spirits who were active at night. Sleep, death, deception, and retribution all came from Nyx.

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Nyx was a powerful being who could inspire dread even in Zeus, but she was not a source of evil. For all the dangers of the night, there was comfort and beauty within her as well.

People dreaded the night for the unknown dangers it could bring, but they also welcomed Nyx as a time to rest after a long day of toil. She brought truthful dreams and the joys of affection as well as nightmares and suffering.

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Mike Greenberg, PhD

My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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