Archive for the ‘Nyx’ Category

Ancient Greeks And Eris

October 23, 2006

Pride, Harpo:45, 6006 YD

written by Episkopos Cain

According to Hesiod in his Theogony, Eris is the daughter of Nyx, that is night. Those versed in Chinese philosophy will immediately make the connection between Yin and Nyx, the feminime, the dark and the cold.

However, Eris bucks the trend when it comes to the usual passivity associated with that principle. She is also the sister of Ares, which should give you a clue as to her temperment.

Eris is also the mother of the Kakodaimones, the evil spirits which plagued mankind, according to Hesiod. These he names as “Toil, and Forgetfulness, and Starvation, and the Pains, full of weeping, the Fightings and the Battles, the Murders and the Man-slaughters, the Quarrels, the Lies, the Disputes, and Lawlessness and Ruin, who share one another’s natures, and Oath who does more damage than any other to earthly men, when anyone, of his knowledge, swears to a false oath.”

These are also traditionally seen as the ill fates that were bound in Pandora’s Box. In fact, in Greek, the link is explicit in the mind of the poet. That would also imply that Hope is one of the children of Eris. Something to keep in mind, I feel.

For you fans of coincidence, Hesiod has a warning about the number 5. And I quote “Beware of all the fifth days [of the month]; for they are harsh and angry; it was on the fifth, they say, that the Erinyes assisted at the bearing of Horkos, whom Eris bore, to be a plague on those who take false oath.” – Hesiod, Works and Days 804

However, Eris was mostly viewed as the Goddess of the Strife of War. With the regularity at which the Greeks fought, this is perhaps unsurprising. Her first mention of battle is in the Trojan War. According to Hesiod again, “[Eris] is hateful … [she is the one] who builds up evil war, and slaughter. She is harsh; no man loves her, but under compulsion and by will of the immortals, men promote this rough Eris (Strife).” – Hesiod, Works and Days 11

In the war, she took the side of the Trojans, along with her brother Ares and his two sons, Phobos (Terror) and Deimos (Fear), against the rest of the Olympians and the Greek invaders. Homer described her as follows “only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men’s pain heavier.” – Homer, Iliad 4.441

Eris even disobeyed Zeus and continued to fight, as the Lord of Olympus had commanded every God to retreat and let this stage of the war be a purely human affair.

Later on, she is seen on the battlefield with Confusion and Death, dragging dead bodies in a way reminiscint of what fate befell Hector after his challenge. “These stood their ground and fought a battle by the banks of the river, and they were making casts at each other with their spears bronze-headed; and Eris was there with Kydoimos (Confusion) among them, and Ker (Death) the destructive; she was holding a live man with a new wound, and another one unhurt, and dragged a dead man by the feet through the carnage.” – Homer, Iliad 18.535

Eris also gifted the Amazonian Queen with an immensely dangerous weapon, presumably of her creation; “a huge halberd, sharp of either blade, which terrible Eris gave to Ares’ child to be her Titan weapon in the strife [of the Trojan War] that raveneth souls of men.” – Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1.158

She also gets a bonus mention in one of Aesops fables, funnily enough along with the mention of an apple and a very Taoist piece of advice from Athena:

“Herakles was making his way through a narrow pass. He saw something that looked like an apple lying on the ground and he tried to smash it with his club. After having been struck by the club, the thing swelled up to twice its size. Herakles struck it again with his club, even harder than before, and the thing then expanded to such a size that it blocked Herakles’s way. Herakles let go of his club and stood there, amazed. Athena saw him and said, ‘O Herakles, don’t be so surprised! This thing that has brought about your confusion is Aporia (Contentiousness) and Eris (Strife). If you just leave it alone, it stays small; but if you decide to fight it, then it swells from its small size and grows large.” – Aesop, Fables 534 (from Chambry 129)

Eris was not limited to strife on the battlefield though, the strife which inflicts married life is also mentioned. “One day they [Polytekhnos and Aedon of Kolophon in Lydia] blurted out the needless remark that they loved each other more than did Hera and Zeus. Hera found what was said to be insupportable and sent Eris (Discord) between them to create strife in their activities.”- Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 11

The story of the Golden Apple is an interesting one too. “And all the race of gods hasted to do honour to the white-armed bride [Thetis at her wedding to Peleus] … But Eris (Strife) [alone] did Kheiron [who sent out the invitations] leave unhonoured: Kheiron did not regard her and Peleus heeded her not …” so Eris “she bethought her of the golden apples of the Hesperides. Thence Eris took the fruit that should be the harbinger of war, even the apple, and devised the scheme of signal woes. Whirling her arm she hurled into the banquet the primal seed of turmoil and disturbed the choir of goddesses.” I think we all know the story from there on in (taken from Colluthus, The Rape of Helen 38)

Eris also appears in some other Greek tales, sometimes under the name of Enyo, whom Homer ranked as equal to Athena in martial prowess “[The] goddesses, who range in order the ranks of men in fighting, [are] Athene and Enyo, sacker of cities.” – Homer, Iliad 5.333

She makes many minor appearances in the Theban cycle of poetry, in particular the Thebiad, which tells of the fraticidal violence which eventually led to the epic battle as told by Aeschylus between Eteocles and the army of Thebes and Polynices and his supporters, traditional Theban enemies:

“Fit sentinels hold watch there [the Thracian palace of Mars-Ares]: from the outer gate wild Impetus (Passion) leaps, and blind Nefas (Mishief) and Irae (Angers) flushing red and pallid Metus (Fear), and Insidia (Treachery) lurks with hidden sword, and Discordia (Discord) [Eris] holding a two-edged blade. Minis (Threatenings) innumerable make clamour in the court, sullen Virtus (Valour) stands in the midst, and Furor (Rage) exultant and armed Mors (Death) with blood-stained visage are seated there; no blood but that of wars is on the altars, no fire but snatched from burning cities.” – Statius, Thebaid 7.64

She is also mentioned in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica, which is a pretty inferior rewriting of Apollonius of Rhodes’ version of the tale: “Through the terror-stricken air again and again she [Aphrodite leading the Lemnian women to slaughter their unfaithful husbands] makes a strange cry ring … Straightway Pavor (Fear) [Deimos] and insensate Discordia (Strife) [Eris] from her Getic lair, dark-browed Ira (Anger) with pale cheeks, Dolus (Treachery), Rabies (Frenzy) [Lyssa] and towering above the rest Letus (Death) [Ker], her cruel hands bared, come hastening up at the first sound of the Martian consort’s pealing voice that gave the signal.” – Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 2.200

Eris was also the escort of the dread Demon/Dragon Typhoeus, who Zeus battled deep in the Abyss, though she took no part in the battle itself.

Another important role is in the fascinating Dionysiaca text. Eris appeared in the form of the Goddess Rheia, exhorting him to make battle with the Indian King Deriades, who she later sides with, along with the usual crew of Ares and Fear and Terror.

However, Hesiod mentions there are two Eris’, or at least two aspects to her:

“It was never true that there was only one Eris. There have always been two on earth. There is one you could like when you understand her. The other is hateful. The two Erites have separate natures. There is one Eris who builds up evil war, and slaughter. She is harsh; no man loves her, but under compulsion and by will of the immortals, men promote this rough Eris (Strife). But the other one was born the elder daughter of black Nyx. The son of Kronos, who sits on high and dwells in the bright air set her in the roots of the earth and among men; she is far kinder. She pushes the shiftless man to work, for all his laziness. A man looks at his neighbour, who is rich: then he too wants work; for the rich man presses on with his ploughing and planting and ordering of his estate. So the neighbour envies the neighbour who presses on toward wealth. Such Eris (Strife) is a good friend to mortals.” – Hesiod, Works and Days 11