Web Theoi
AITHER
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Αιθηρ Aithêr Aether, Ether Bright Upper Air
Ακμων Akmôn Acmon Zenith (akmê)
Untiring (akmês)

AITHER (or Aether) was the Protogenos (first-born elemental god) of the bright, glowing upper air of heaven - the substance of light. Above him lay the solid dome of the sky-god, Ouranos, and below, the transparent mists of earth-bound air. In the evening his mother Nyx drew her veil of darkness between the aither and the aer to bring night to man. In the morn his sister-wife Hemera dispersed these mists, revealing the shining blue aither of day. Night and day were regarded as quite independent of the sun in the ancient cosmogonies.

Aither was one of the three "airs". The middle air was Aer or Khaos, a colourless mist which enveloped the mortal world. The lower air was Erebos, the mists of darkness, which enveloped the dark places beneath the earth and the realm of the dead. The third was the upper air of aither, the mist of light, home of the gods of heaven. It enveloped the mountain peaks, clouds, stars, sun and moon. The stars themselves were said to be formed from the concentrated fires of aither.

His female counterpart was Aithre, Titanis of the Clear Blue Sky, mother of the Sun and Moon.

PARENTS
[1.1] EREBOS & NYX (Hesiod Theogony 124, Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.17)
[1.2] EREBOS (Aristophanes Birds 1189)
[2.1] KHRONOS & ANANKE (Orphic Argonautica 12, Orphic Fragment 54)
[2.2] KHRONOS (Orphic Rhapsodies 66)
[3.1] KHAOS (Hyginus Preface)
OFFSPRING PROTOGENOI
[1.1] OURANOS (Alcman Frag 61, Callimachus Frag 498, Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.17)
[2.1] GAIA, OURANOS, THALASSA (by Hemera) (Hyginus Preface)
OFFSPRING NYMPHAI
[1.1] NEPHELAI (Aristophanes Clouds 563)
OFFSPRING DAIMONES
[1.1] ALGOS (DOLOR), DOLOS (DOLUS), LYSSA (IRA), PENTHOS (LUCTUS), PSEUDOLOGOS (MENDACIUM), HORKOS (JUSIURANDUM), POINE (ULTIO), ? (INTEMPERANTIA), AMPHILOGIA (ALTERCATIO), LETHE (OBLIVIO), AERGIA (SOCORDIA), DEIMOS (TIMOR), ? (SUPERBIA), ? (INCESTUM), HYSMINE (PUGNA) (by Gaia) (Hyginus Preface)

ENCYCLOPEDIA

AETHER (Aithêr), a personified idea of the mythical cosmogonies. According to that of Hyginus (Fab. Pref. p. 1, ed. Staveren), he was, together with Night, Day, and Erebus, begotten by Chaos and Caligo (Darkness). According to that of Hesiod (Theog. 124), Aether was the son of Erebus and his sister Night, and a brother of Day. (Comp. Phornut. De Nat. Deor. 16.) The children of Aether and Day were Land, Heaven, and Sea, and from his connexion with the Earth there sprang all the vices which destroy the human race, and also the Giants and Titans. (Hygin. Fab. Prof. p. 2, &c.) These accounts shew that, in the Greek cosmogonies, Aether was considered as one of the elementary substances out of which the Universe was formed. In the Orphic hymns(4) Aether appears as the soul of the world, from which all life emanates, an idea which was also adopted by some of the early philosophers of Greece. In later times Aether was regarded as the wide space of Heaven, the residence of the gods, and Zeus as the Lord of the Aether, or Aether itself personified. (Pacuv. ap. Cic. de Nat. Deor. ii. 36, 40; Lucret. v. 499; Virg. Aen. xii. 140, Georg. ii. 325.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


AITHER & THE BIRTH OF THE COSMOS

I) THE HESIODIC COSMOGONY

Hesiod, Theogony 124 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"Of Nyx (Night) were born Aither (Light) and Hemera (Day), whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebos (Darkness)."

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 17 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"[If Ouranos is a god then] the parents of Caelus [Ouranos], Aether (Upper Air) and Dies (Day) [Hemera], must be held to be gods . . . these are fabled to be the children of Erebus (Darkness) and Nox (Night)."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Chaos [was born] : Caligine (Darkness).
From Chaos [was born] : Nox (Night), Dies (Day), Erebus, Aether.
From Aether and Dies (Day) [Hemera] [were born] : Terra (Earth) [Gaia], Caelum (Sky) [Ouranos], Mare (Sea) [Thalassa].
From Aether and Terra (Earth) [Gaia] [were born] : Dolor (Grief), Dolus (Deceit), Ira (Wrath), Luctus (Lamentation), Mendacium (Falsehood), Jusiurandum (Oath), Vltio (Vengeance), Intemperantia (Intemperance), Altercatio (Altercation), Obliuio (Forgetfulness), Socordia (Sloth), Timor (Fear), Superbia (Pride), Incestum (Incest), Pugna (Combat),
[From Caelum? and Terra? :] Oceanus, Themis, Tartarus, Pontus; and Titanes: Briareus, Gyes, Steropes, Atlas, Hyperion and Polus [Koios], Saturnus [Kronos], Ops [Rhea], Moneta [Mnemosyne], Dione; and three Furiae, namely Alecto, Megaera, Tisiphone."

II) THE COSMOGONY OF ALCMAN

Alcman, Fragment 61 (from Eustathius on Iliad) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (Greek lyric C7th B.C.) :
"The father of Ouranos (Heaven), as was said already, is called Akmon [probably Aither] because heavenly motion is untiring (akamatos); an the sons of Ouranos are Akmonidai: the ancients make these two points clear. Alcman, they say, tells that the heaven belongs to Akmon."

Alcman, Fragment 5 (from Scholia) :
"So at the same moment there came into being Poros [Khaos?] and Tekmor [Gaia?] and Skotos [Erebos]. `Amar (Day) and Melana (Moon) and third, Skotos (Darkness) as far as Marmarugas (Flashings) [Aither and/or the Stars?]' : days does not mean simply day, but contains the idea of the sun. Previously there was only darkness, and afterwards, when it had been differentiated, light came into being."

Callimachus, Fragment 498 (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"[Ouranos is called] revolving Akmonides, son of Akmon [Aither]."

III) THE ORPHIC COSMOGONY

Aristophanes, Birds 1139 (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"Aer (Air) [probably here meaning Aither], the son of Erebos, in which the clouds float."

Orphica, Theogonies Fragment 54 (from Damascius) (trans. West) (Greek hymns C3rd - C2nd B.C.) :
"The great Khronos (Unaging Time) that we found in it [the Rhapsodies], the father of Aither and Khaos. Indeed, in this theology too [the Hieronyman Theogony], this Khronos (Time), the serpent has offspring, three in number: moist Aither (Light), I quote, unbounded Khaos (Air), and as a third, misty Erebos (Darkness)."

Orphica, Epicuras Fragment (from Epiphanius) :
"And he [Epicurus] says that the world began in the likeness of an egg, and the Wind [Khronos (Time) and Ananke (Inevitability)?] encircling the egg serpent-fashion like a wreath or a belt then began to constrict nature. As it tried to squeeze all the matter with greater force, it divided the world into the two hemispheres, and after that the atoms sorted themselves out, the lighter and finer ones in the universe floating above and becoming the Bright Air [Aither, Ouranos?] and the most rarefied Wind [Khaos?], while the heaviest and dirtiest have veered down, become the Earth (Ge), both the dry land and the fluid waters [Pontos, Okeanos?]. And the atoms move by themselves and through themselves within the revolution of the Sky and the Stars, everything still being driven round by the serpentiform wind [Khronos and Ananke?]."

Orphica, Argonautica 12 ff (trans. West) (Greek epic C4th to C6th A.D.) :
"Firstly, ancient Khaos’s stern Ananke (Inevitability), and Khronos (Time), who bred within his boundless coils Aither (Light) and two-sexed, two-faced, glorious Eros."


AITHER GOD OF HEAVENLY LIGHT

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 88 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[The Titan Prometheus calls on the whole of nature to witness his torment :] O you bright sky of heaven (dios aithêr), you swift-winged breezes (takhypteroi pnoiai), you river-waters (pêgai potamôn), and infinite laughter of the waves of sea (pontos), O universal mother Earth (panmêtôr gê), and you, all-seeing orb of the sun (panoptês kyklos hêlios), to you I call! See what I, a god, endure from the gods."

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 1091 ff :
"Prometheus : `O holy mother (mêtêr sebas) mine [Themis], O you firmament (aithêr) that revolves the common light of all (phaos pantôn), you see the wrongs I suffer!'"

Aristophanes, Birds 264 ff (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"Sokrates : Give heed to the prayers. (In an hierophantic tone) Oh! most mighty king, the boundless Aer (Air), that keepest the earth suspended in space, thou bright Aither (Upper Air) and ye venerable goddesses, the Nephelai (Clouds)."

Aristophanes, Birds 563 ff :
"First Semi-Chorus [of Nephelai or Clouds] (singing): . . . I invoke my illustrious father, the divine Aither, the universal sustainer of life."

Aristophanes, Thesmophriazusae 273 :
"I swear it by Aither, the dwelling-place of the king of the gods [Zeus]."

Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 1075 ff :
"Oh! thou divine Nyx (Night)! how slowly thy chariot threads its way through the starry vault, across the sacred realms of the Aither (Upper Air) and mighty Olympos."

Plato, Cratylus 400d & 410b (trans. Fowler) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[Plato constructs philosophical etymologies for the names of the gods :]
Sokrates : Let us inquire what thought men had in giving them [the gods] their names . . . The first men who gave names [to the gods] were no ordinary persons, but high thinkers and great talkers . . . But why should you not tell of another kind of gods, such as sun, moon, stars, earth, ether, air, fire, water, the seasons, and the year? . . . Sokrates : Air is called aêr because it raises (airei) things from the earth, or because it is always flowing (aei rhei), or because wind arises from its flow? . . . The word aithêr (ether) I understand in this way: because it always runs and flows about the air (aei thei peri ton aera rheon), it may properly be called aeitheêra."

Orphic Hymn 5 to Ether (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To Aither (Ether), Fumigation from Saffron. O ever untamed Aither, raised on high, in Zeus’ dominions, ruler of the sky; great portion of the stars (astron) and lunar light, and of the sun, with dazzling lustre bright; all-taming power, ethereal shining fire, whose vivid blasts the heat of life inspire; the world’s best element, light-bearing power, with starry radiance shining, splendid flower; o hear my suppliant’s prayer, and may thy frame be ever innocent, serene and tame."

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 1. 14 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"[The philosopher Cleanthes, pupil of Zeno] decides that the most unquestionable deity is that remote all-surrounding fiery atmosphere called the Aether, which encircles and embraces the universe on its outer side at an exceedingly lofty altitude."


Sources:

  • Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
  • Greek Lyric II Alcman, Fragments - Greek Lyric C7th B.C.
  • Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Aristophanes, Clouds - Greek Comedy C5th-4th B.C.
  • Aristophanes, Birds - Greek Comedy C5th-4th B.C.
  • Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae- Greek Comedy C5th-4th B.C.
  • Plato, Cratylus - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
  • The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns B.C.
  • Orphic, Fragments - Greek Hymns B.C.
  • Callimachus, Fragments - Greek C3rd B.C.
  • Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Philosophy C1st B.C.