Death Spirit, Doom (kêr)
THE KERES were female spirits (daimones) of violent or cruel death, including death in battle, by accident, murder or ravaging disease. Another spirit, Thanatos, was the god of non-violent death.
They were agents of the Moirai (Fates), birth-goddesses who measured out the length of a man's life when he first entered the world, and Moros (Doom) the Daimon who drove a man towards his inevitable destruction. The Keres were cravers of blood and feasted upon it after ripping a soul free from the mortally wounded bodies and sending it on their way to Haides. Thousands of Keres haunted the battlefield, fighting amongst themselves like vultures over the dying. The Keres had no absolute power over the life of men, but in their hunger for blood would seek accomplish death beyond the bounds of fate. Zeus and the other gods, however, could stop them in their course or speed them on. The Olympian gods are often described standing by their favorites in battle, beating the clawing death spirits from them. Some of the Keres were personifications of epidemic diseases, which haunted areas riven by plague. (See also the Nosoi.) The Keres were depicted as fanged, taloned women dressed in bloody garments.
The Keres may have been the evil spirits released from Pandora's jar to plague mankind. Hesiod mentions them indirectly in his account of the episode. He describes these spirits as kakoi (evils), nosoi (sicknesses and plagues) and lugra (banes).
FAMILY OF THE KERES
[1.1] NYX (no father) (Hesiod Theogony 225)
[1.2] EREBOS & NYX (Hyginus Preface, Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.17)
CER (Kêr), the personified necessity of death (Kêr or Kêres Thanatoio). The passages in the Homeric poems in which the Kêr or Kêres a appear as real personifications, are not very numerous (Il. ii. 302, iii. 454, xviii. 535), and in most cases the word may be taken as a common noun. The plural form seems to allude to the various modes of dying which Homer ((Il. xii. 326) pronounces to be muriai, and may be a natural, sudden, or violent death. (Od. xi. 171, &c., 398, &c.) The Kêres are described as formidable, dark, and hateful, because they carry off men to the joyless house of Hades. (Il. ii. 859, iii. 454; Od. iii. 410, xiv. 207.) The Kêres, although no living being can escape them, have yet no absolute power over the life of men: they are under Zeus and the gods, who can stop them in their course or hurry them on. (Il. xii. 402, xviii. 115, iv. 11; Od. xi. 397.) Even mortals themselves may for a time prevent their attaining their object, or delay it by flight and the like. (Il. iii. 32, xvi. 47.) During a battle the Kêres wander about with Eris and Cydoimos in bloody garments, quarrelling about the wounded and the dead, and dragging them away by the feet. (Il. xviii. 535, &c.) According to Hesiod, with whom the Kêres assume a more definite form, they are the daughters of Nyx and sisters of the Moerae, and punish men for their crimes. (Theog. 211, 217; Paus. v. 19. § 1.) Their fearful appearance in battle is described by Hesiod. (Scut. Here. 249, &c.) They are mentioned by later writers together with the Erinnyes as the goddesses who avenge the crimes of men. (Aesch. Sept. 1055; comp. Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1665, &c.) Epidemic diseases are sometimes personified as Kêres. (Orph. Hymn. xiii. 12, lxvi. 4, Lith. vii. 6; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 847.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
PARENTAGE OF THE KERES
Hesiod, Theogony 211 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"And Nyx (Night) bare hateful Moros (Doom) and black Ker (Violent Death) and Thanatos (Death), and she bare Hypnos (Sleep) and the tribe of Oneiroi (Dreams). And again the goddess murky Nyx, though she lay with none, bare Momos (Blame) and painful Oizys (Misery), and the Hesperides . . . Also she bare the Moirai (Moirae, Fates) and the ruthless avenging Keres (Death-Fates) . . . Also deadly Nyx bare Nemesis (Envy) to afflict mortal men, and after her, Apate (Deceit) and Philotes (Friendship) and hateful Geras (Old Age) and hard-hearted Eris (Strife)."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Nox (Night) and Erebus [were born]: Fatum (Fate), Senectus (Old Age), Mors (Death), Letum (Dissolution) [i.e. Ker], Continentia (Moderation), Somnus (Sleep), Somnia (Dreams), Amor (Love)--that is Lysimeles, Epiphron (Prudence), Porphyrion, Epaphus, Discordia (Discord), Miseria (Misery), Petulantia (Wantonness), Nemesis (Envy), Euphrosyne (Good Cheer), Amicitia (Friendship), Misericordia (Compassion), Styx (Hatred); the three Parcae (Fates), namely Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos; the Hesperides."
[N.B. In Latin the personification Thanatos (Death) is translated as Mors, and Ker as Letum.]
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 17 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"Their [Aether and Hemera's] brothers and sisters, whom the ancient genealogists name Amor (Love), Dolus (Guile), Metus (Fear), Labor (Toil), Invidentia (Envy), Fatum (Fate) [Moros], Senectus (Old Age) [Geras], Mors (Death) [Thanatos], Tenebrae (Darknesses) [i.e. the Keres], Miseria (Misery), Querella (Complaint), Gratia (Favour), Fraus (Fraud), Pertinacia (Obstinacy), the Parcae (Fates), the Hesperides, the Somnia (Dreams): all of these are fabled to be the children of Erebus (Darkness) and Nox (Night)."
[N.B. Cicero translates the name Keres as Tenebrae (Darknesses) in Latin.]
KERES & THE JAR OF PANDORA
The "kakoi", "nosoi" and "lugra" which escaped from Pandora's jar were possibly Keres.
Hesiod, Works and Days 90 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"For ere this [the opening of Pandora's jar] the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills (kakoi) and hard toil (ponoi) and heavy sickness (nosoi) which bring the Keres (Fates) upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar (pithos) with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Elpis (Hope) remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aigis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds. But the rest, countless plagues (lugra), wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils and the sea is full. Of themselves diseases (nosoi) come upon men continually by day and by night, bringing mischief to mortals silently; for wise Zeus took away speech from them. So is there no way to escape the will of Zeus."
KERES SPIRITS OF KILLING SICKNESS
Homer, Odyssey 11. 171 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Odysseus addresses the ghost of his mother Antikleia (Anticlea) in Haides :] ‘What doom of distressful Ker Thanatoio (Spirit of Death) subdued you? Was it some long-continued sickness, or did the archeress Artemis visit you with her gentle shafts and slay you.’"
Simonides, Fragment 533 (from Aelius Aristides, Orations 31. 2) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (Greek lyric C6th to 5th B.C.) :
"They turn aside the Keres (Death-Spirits)."
Theognis, Fragment 1. 11 (trans. Gerber, Vol. Greek Elegiac) (Greek elegy C6th B.C.) :
"Artemis . . . give ear to my prayers and ward off the evil Keres (Deaths). For you, goddess, this is no small thing, but for me it is critical."
Seneca, Oedipus 647 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[The ghost of Laios (Laius) demands Oidipous (Oedipus) be expelled from Thebes before he will recall the pestilence daimones ravaging the land back to Haides :]
[Laios :] ‘Wherefore speedily expel ye the king from out your borders, in exile drive him to any place so-ever with his baleful step. Let him leave the land; then, blooming with flowers of spring, shall it renew its verdure, the life-giving air shall give pure breath again, and their beauty shall come back to the woods; Letum (Ruin) [Ker] and Lues (Pestilence) [Nosos], Mors (Death) [Thanatos], Labor (Hardship) [Ponos], Tabes (Corruption) [Phthisis] and Dolor (Distress) [Algos], fit company for him, shall all depart together. And he himself with hastening steps shall long to flee our kingdom, but I will set wearisome delays before his feet and hold him back. He shall creep, uncertain of his way, with the staff of age groping out his gloomy way. Rob ye him of the earth; his father will take from him the sky.’"
Seneca, Oedipus 1052 ff :
"[After blinding himself and heading for exile, Oidipous (Oedipus) calls upon the pestilence-daimones to leave Thebes :] ‘All ye who are weary in body and burdened with disease, whose hearts are faint within you, see, I fly, I leave you; lift your heads. Milder skies come when I am gone. He who, though near to death, still keeps some feeble life, may freely now draw deep, life-giving draughts of air. Go, bear ye aid to those given up to death; all pestilential humours of the land I take with me. Ye blasting Fatae (Fates) [Keres], thou quaking terror of Morbus (Disease) [Nosos], Macies (Wasting) [Ischnasia], and black Pestis (Pestilence) [Nosos], and mad Dolor (Despair) [Algos], come ye with me, with me. ‘Tis sweet to have such guides.’"
See also Keres & the Jar of Pandora (above) and the Nosoi (Diseases)--including the Roman personifications of disease Morbus, Pestis, etc.
KERES SPIRITS OF VIOLENT DEATH
Homer, Iliad 2. 302 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Odysseus addresses the Greek army at Troy :] ‘You are all witnesses, whom the Keres (Death-Spirits) have not carrried away from us.’"
Homer, Iliad 2. 830 ff :
"Adrestos and Amphios armoured in linen, sons both of Merops of Perkote (Percote), who beyond all men knew the art of propecy, and tried tried to prevent his two sons from going into the battle where men die. Yet these would not listen, for the dark Keres Thanatoio (Spirits of Death) were driving them onwards."
Homer, Iliad 2. 859 ff :
"Ennomos (Ennomus) the augur, was lord of the Mysians; yet his reading of birds could not keep off dark Ker (Death) but he went down under the hands of swift-running Aiakides (Aeacides) [Akhilleus (Achilles)] in the river, as he slew other Trojans beside him."
Homer, Iliad 3. 32 ff :
"Alexandros [Paris] the godlike when he saw Menelaos showing among the champions, he heart was shaken within him; to avoid Ker (Death) he shrank into the host of his own companions."
Homer, Iliad 3. 355 ff :
"[Menelaos (Menelaus)] blanaced the spear far-shadowed and threw it and struck the shield of [Paris] Priamos's (Priam's) son on its perfect circle. All the way through the glittering shield went the heavy spearhead and smashed its way through the intricately worked corselet; straight ahead by the flank the spearhead shore through his tunic, yet he bent away to one side and avoided dark Ker (Death)."
Homer, Iliad 3. 454 ff :
"They [the Trojans] would not have hidden him [Paris from the Greeks] for love, if any had seen him, since he was hated among them all as dark Ker (Death) is hated."
Homer, Iliad 4. 11 ff :
"[Zeus goads the goddess Hera :] ‘Aphrodite forever stands by her man [Paris] and drives the Keres (Deaths) away from him. Even now she has rescued him when he thought he would perish.’"
Homer, Iliad 5. 22 ff :
"Idaios (Idaeus) leaping left the fair-wrought chariot nor had he the courage to stand over his stricken brother [slain by Diomedes]. Even so he could not have escaped the black Ker (Death) but Hephaistos (Hephaestus) caught him away and rescued him, shrouded in darkness, that the aged man [i.e. the boy's father, a priest of Hephaistos] might not be left altogether desolate."
Homer, Iliad 8. 70 ff :
"The father [Zeus] balanced his golden scales, and in them he set two fateful portions of Ker (Death), which lays men prostrate for Trojans, breakers of horses, and bronze-armoured Akhaians (Achaeans), and balanced it by the middle. The Akhaians' death-day was heaviest. There the Keres (Death) of the Akhaians settled down toward the bountiful earth, while those of the Trojans were lifted into the wide sky."
Homer, Iliad 8. 528 ff :
"[Hektor (Hector) of Troy prays to the gods :] ‘I pray to Zeus and the other immortals that we may drive from our place these dogs [the Akhaians (Achaeans)] swept into destruction whom the Keres (Deaths) have carried here on their black ships.’"
Homer, Iliad 9. 411 ff :
"[Akhilleus (Achilles) speaks :] ‘My mother Thetis tells me I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death (keres thanatoio). Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans, my return home is gone, buty my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home toe hte beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be long life left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.’"
Homer, Iliad 12. 114 ff :
"Asios (Asius), Hyrtakos' (Hyrtacus') son, was unwilling to leave his horses there and a charioteer to attendt them but kept them with him, and so drove on at the fast-running vessels [of the Greeks], poor fool, who by the ships in the pride of his horses and chariot was not destined to evade the evil Keres (Deaths) nor ever to make his way back to windy Ilion. Before this the dark-named destiny (moira) had shrouded about him through the spear of Idomeneus."
Homer, Iliad 12. 326 ff :
"[Sarpedon speaks in battle :] ‘But now, seeing that the Keres (Deaths) stand close about us in their thousands (myriai), no man can turn aside nor escape them, let us go on and win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others.’"
Homer, Iliad 12. 402 ff :
"And Teukros (Teucer) hit him [Sarpedon] with an arrow in the shining belt that encircled his chest to hold the man-covering shield, but Zeus brushed the Keres (Deaths) from his son, and would not let him be killed there."
Homer, Iliad 16. 687 ff :
"Had he [Patroklos (Patroclus)] only kept the command of Peleiades [Akhilleus (Achilles)] he might have got clear away from the evil spirit of black Ker (Death). But always the mind of Zeus [i.e. as god of fate] is a stronger thing than a man's mind. He terrifies even the warlike man, he takes away victory lightly, when he himself has driven a man into battle as now he drove on the fury in the heart of Patroklos."
Homer, Iliad 18. 535 ff :
"[From a war-scene depicted on the shield of Akhilleus (Achilles) :] The other army, as soon as they heard the uproar arising . . . suddenly mounted behind their light-foot horses, and went after, and soon overtook them. 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 (Hate) was there with Kydoimos (Cydoemus, 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. The clothing upon her shoulders showed strong red with the men's blood as she glared horribly and gnashed her teeth till they echoed. All [the Keres] closed together like living men and fought with each other and dragged away from each other the corpses of those who had fallen."
Homer, Iliad 21. 548 ff :
"He [Apollon] drove courage into his [the Trojan Agenor's] heart, and stood there beside him in person, so as to beat the dragging Keres (Deaths) from him, and leaned there on an oak tree with close mist huddled about him."
Homer, Iliad 21. 565 ff :
"[The Trojan Agenor speaks :] ‘He [Akhilleus (Achilles)] might see me . . . and in the speed of his feet overtake me. Then there wil be no way to escape death and the Keres (Deaths). He is too strong, his strength is beyond all others.’"
Homer, Iliad 22. 202 ff :
"[Hektor (Hector) is pursued by Akhilleus (Achilles) :] How then could Hektor have escaped the Keres (Deaths) had not Apollon, for this last and uttermost time, stood by him, and driven strength into him, and made his knees light?"
Homer, Iliad 23. 78 ff :
"[The ghost of Patroklos (Patroclus) addresses Akhilleus (Achilles) :] ‘No longer shall you and I, alive, sit apart from our other beloved companions and make our plans, since the bitter (stygerê) Ker (Doom) that was given me when I was born has opened its jaws to take me. And you godlike Akhilleus, have your own destiny (moira); to be killed under the wall of the prosering Trojans.’"
Homer, Odyssey 2. 316 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Telemakhos (Telemachus) addresses Antinous leader of the suitors :] ‘So now I will strive as best I may to set the Keres (Deaths) upon you.’"
Homer, Odyssey 3. 410 ff :
"[King] Neleus had been brought low by Ker (Fate) and had gone on his way to Haides' house."
Homer, Odyssey 11. 397 ff :
"[Odysseus speaks of his journey to the Underworld :] I wept to see him [the ghost of Agamemnon], my heart went out ot him, and I uttered these words in rapid flight : ‘Renowned Atreides, Agamemnon, the lord of men, what doom (ker) of distressful death (thanatos) overmastered you? Did Poseidon cause some hideous blast of contrary winds and destroy you among the ships that went with you? Or did hostile men strike you down on land as you drove off their flocks and herds or battled to win their town and women?’"
Homer, Odyssey 14. 207 ff :
"It is Kastor (Castor) that I claim for father . . . But the Keres (Death Spirits) carried him down to Haides' house."
Hesiod, Shield of Heracles 139 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"In his hands he [Herakles] took his shield, all glittering: no one ever broke it with a blow or crushed it. And a wonder it was to see . . . In the centre [of the shield] was Phobos (Fear) worked in adamant, unspeakable, staring backwards with eyes that glowed with fire. His mouth was full of teeth in a white row, fearful and daunting, and upon his grim brow hovered frightful Eris (Battle-Strife) who arrays the throng of men: pitiless she, for she took away the mind and senses of poor wretches who made war against the son of Zeus . . . Upon the shield [in a scene of war] Proioxis (Pursuit) and Palioxis (Flight) were wrought, and Homados (Tumult), and Phobos (Panic), and Androktasia (Slaughter). Eris (Battle-Strife) also, and Kydoimos (Cydoemus, Confusion) were hurrying about, and deadly Ker (Fate) was there holding one man newly wounded, and another unwounded; and one, who was dead, she was dragging by the feet through the tumult. She had on her shoulders a garment red with the blood of men, and terribly she glared and gnashed her teeth."
Hesiod, Shield of Heracles 237 ff :
"[From a war-scene depicted on the shield of Herakles :] There were men fighting in warlike harness, some defending their own town and parents from destruction, and others eager to sack it; many lay dead, but the greater number still strove and fought . . . and behind them the dusky Keres, gnashing their white fangs, lowering, grim, bloody, and unapproachable, struggled for those who were falling, for they all were longing to drink dark blood. So soon as they caught a man overthrown or falling newly wounded, one of them would clasp her great claws about him, and his soul would go down to Haides to chilly Tartaros. And when they had satisfied their souls with human blood, they would cast that one behind them, and rush back again into the tumult and the fray. [The Moirai (Fates)] Klotho (Clotho) and Lakhesis (Lachesis) were over them and Atropos less tall than they, a goddess of no great frame, yet superior to the others and the eldest of them. And they [the Keres] all made a fierce fight over one poor wretch, glaring evilly at one another with furious eyes and fighting equally with claws and hands. By them stood Akhlys (Achlys, Death-Mist), mournful and fearful, pale, shrivelled, shrunk with hunger, swollen-kneed. Long nails tipped her hands, and she dribbled at the nose, and from her cheeks blood dripped down to the ground. She stood leering hideously, and much dust sodden with tears lay upon her shoulders."
Simonides, Fragment 7 (from Herodotus, Histories 7. 228. 3) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (Greek lyric C6th to 5th B.C.) :
"Megistias, whom once the Medes killed when they crossed the river Sperkheios (Spercheus) : he was a seer, who recognised clearly that the Keres (Death-Spirits) were approaching then, but could not bring himself to desert."
Mimnermus, Fragment 2 (from Stobaeus, Anthology) (trans. Gerber, Vol. Greek Elegiac) (Greek elegy C7th B.C.) :
"The dark Keres (Deaths) stand beside us, one holding grievous old age as the outcome, the other death."
Aeschylus, Fragment 41 Threissae (from Scholiast on Sophocles, Ajax 833) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Back he [Aias (Ajax)] bent his sword, as when a man bends a bow, for that his body offered no place to murderous death, until at last some daimona [probably a Ker] appeared and showed him [the vital spot]."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 19. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Among the scenes depicted on the chest of Kypselos (Cypselus) dedicated at Olympia :] Polyneikes (Polynices), the son of Oidipous (Oedipus), has fallen on his knee, and Eteokles (Eteocles), the other son of Oidipous, is rushing on him. Behind Polyneikes stands a woman with teeth as cruel as those of a beast, and her fingernails are bent like talons. An inscription by her calls her Ker (Death-Spirit), implying that Polyneikes has been carried off by fate, and that Eteokles fully deserved his end."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 171 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Penthesileia in her goodlihead left the tall palaces of Troy behind. And ever were the ghastly-visaged Keres (Deaths) thrusting her on into the battle, doomed to be her first against the Greeks."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 192 ff :
"All agonies I have suffered in the deaths of dear sons whom the Keres (Deaths) have torn from me by Argive hands in the devouring fight."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 273 ff :
"The arrow glanced aside, and carried death whither the stern Keres (Deaths) guided its fierce wing, and slew Evenor brazen-tasleted."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 306 ff :
"All through the tangle of that desperate fray stalked slaughter and doom. The incarnate Kydoimos (Cydoemus, Onset-shout) raved through the rolling battle; at her side paced Thanatos (Death) the ruthless, and the Fearful Keres (Deaths), beside them strode, and in red hands bare murder and the groans of dying men. That day the beating of full many a heart, Trojan and Argive, was for ever stilled."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 650 ff :
"It was the darkness-shrouded Keres (Deaths) and thine own folly of soul that pricked thee [the Amazon Penthesilea] on to leave the works of women, and to fare to war, from which strong men shrink shuddering back."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 2. 480 ff :
"Sore distressed with dust and deadly conflict were the folk. Then with a sudden hand some Blessed One swept the dust-pall aside; and the Gods saw the deadly Keres (Deaths) hurling the charging lines together, in the unending wrestle locked of that grim conflict, saw where never ceased Ares from hideous slaughter, saw the earth crimsoned all round with rushing streams of blood."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 2. 490 ff :
"[Memnon and Akhilleus (Achilles) engage in combat :] By behest of Zeus the twin Keres (Deaths) suddenly stood beside these twain, one dark--her shadow fell on Memnon's heart; one bright--her radiance haloed Peleus' son [Akhilleus]. And with a great cry the Immortals saw, and filled with sorrow they of the one part were, they of the other with triumphant joy."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 44 ff :
"For round him now hovered the unrelenting Keres (Deaths)."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 614 ff :
"A man whom joyless eld soon overtook, to whom the Keres (Deaths) are near, with death for gift."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 25 ff :
"[Among the scenes depicted on the shield of Akhilleus (Achilles) :] And therewere man-devouring wars, and all horrors of fight . . . Phobos (Panic) was there, and Deimos (Dread), and ghastly Enyo with limbs all gore-bespattered hideously, and deadly Eris (Strife) . . . Around them hovered the relentless Keres (Deaths); beside them Hysminai (Fights) incarnate onward pressed yelling, and from their limbs streamed blood and sweat."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 10 ff :
"Hard beside him [the doomed warrior] stood the Keres (Deaths) laughing to scorn his vain imaginings."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 324 ff :
"So man to man dealt death; and joyed the Keres (Deaths) and Moros (Doom), and fell Eris (Strife) in her maddened glee shouted aloud."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 9. 145 ff :
"The Keres (Deaths) exulted over them; deadly Eris (Strife) shrieked out a long wild cry from host to host. With blood of slain men dust became red mire."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 9. 190 ff :
"His bowels gushed out, and deadly Ker (Doom) laid hold on him."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 10. 260 ff :
"[Paris, mortally wounded, begs Oinone (Oenone) heal him :] ‘My queen, I sinned, in folly sinned; yet from the Keres (Deaths) save me--oh, make haste to save!’"
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 10. 411 ff :
"[Oinone (Oenone) laments the death of Paris :] ‘Oh had the black Keres (Deaths) snatched me from the earth ere I from Paris turned away in hate!’ . . .
Down the long tracks flew Oinone's feet; seeking the awful pyre, to leap thereon [in suicide]. No weariness she knew: as upon wings her feet flew faster ever, onward spurred by fell Ker (Fate), and Kypris (Cypris) [Aphrodite]."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 11. 7 ff :
"The Akhaians (Achaeans) pressed hard on the Trojans even unto Troy. Yet these charged forth-- they could not choose but so, for Eris (Strife) and deadly Enyo in their midst stalked . . . Beside them raged the ruthless-hearted Keres (Deaths) fiercely: here Phobos (Panic-fear) and Ares there stirred up the hosts: hard after followed Deimos (Dread) with slaughter's gore besprent, that in one host might men see, and be strong, in the other fear."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 11. 151 ff :
"The black Keres (Deaths) joyed to see their conflict [the Greeks and Trojans], Ares laughed, Enyo [the war-goddess] yelled horribly. With corpses earth was heaped, with torrent blood was streaming: Eris (Strife incarnate) o'er the slain gloated."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 13. 125 ff :
"All round the fell Keres (Deaths) gloated horribly o'er the slain [when Troy was finally captured by the Greeks]."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 13. 235 ff :
"He [Akhilleus (Achilles)] spared me [King Priamos (Priam)]--so the Keres (Deaths) had spun my thread of destiny."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 14. 563 ff :
"Grim Keres (Deaths) stood round the man [the shipwrecked Aias (Ajax) clinging to a rock] unnumbered; yet despair still kindled strength."
Philostratus the Younger, Imagines 10 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[From a painting depicting the shield of Akhilleus (Achilles) as described in Homer's Iliad :] What shall we say of those beings who pass to and fro among the combatants and of that daimon (spirit) whose person and clothing are reddened with gore? These are Eris (Strife) and Kydoimos (Cydoemus, Tumult), and the third is Kêr (Doom), to whom are subject all matters of war. For you see, surely, that she follows no one course, but thrusts one man, still unwounded, into the midst of hostile swords, a second is being dragged away a corpse beneath her, while a third she urges onward wounded though he is. As for the soldiers, they are so terrifying in their onrush and their fierce gaze that they seem to me to differ not at all from living men in the charge of battle."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 2. 200 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"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) [Lyssa] with pale cheeks, Dolus (Treachery) [Dolos], Rabies (Frenzy) [Lyssa] and towering above the rest Letum (Death) [Ker], her cruel hands bared, come hastening up at the first sound of the Martian consort's pealing voice that gave the signal." [N.B. Latin writers usually translate Thanatos as Mors and Ker as Letum.]
Suidas s.v. Ker (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Ker : Spirit (psykhe); also death-bringing fate (moira thanatephoros). Also [in the plural] Keres, death-bringing fates. Those who bring on burning (kaenai) . . . The spirit [is] a Ker, because it consists of fire. For that which [is] inborn warmth [is] a spirit . ‘I am a tomb-haunting Ker, and Koroibos (Coroebus) killed me [Poine].’"
Suidas s.v. Anamplaketoi :
"Anamplaketoi (Unerring) : They [the Keres, goddesses of death and doom,] who miss nothing, but overcome everything. Alternatively inescapable, inexorable, unfailing, invisible, they who cannot be fled. Sophokles (Sophocles) [playwright C5th B.C.] writes : ‘dread Keres are following [him], unerring.’ That is, those of Laios (Laeus) [i.e. the father of Oidipous (Oedipus), who was slain on his way to Delphoi]."
THE SUMMONING OF KERES BY WITCHES
A witch could summon Keres with the evil eye to bring death to her enemies.
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 1659 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"Medea went up on the deck. She covered both her cheeks with a fold of her purple mantle, and Iason (Jason) led her by the hand as she passed across the benches. Then, with incantations, she invoked the Keres (Spirits of Death), the swift hounds of Hades who feed on souls and haunt the lower air to pounce on living men. She sank to her knees and called upon them, three times in song, three times with spoken prayers. She steeled herself of their malignity and bewitched the eyes of Talos with the evil in her own. She flung at him the full force of her malevolence, and in an ecstasy of rage she plied him with images of death. Is it true then, Father Zeus, that people are not killed only by disease or wounds, but can be struck down by a distant enemy? The thought appals me. Yet it was thus that Talos, for all his brazen frame, was brought down by the force of Medea's magic. He was hoisting up some heavy stones with which tow keep them from anchorage, when he grazed his ankle on a sharp rock and the ichor ran out of him like molten lead. He stood there for a short time, high on the jutting cliff. But even his strong legs could not support him long; he began to sway, all power went out of him, and he came down with a resounding crash."
KERES IDENTIFIED WITH THE ERINYES
Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 1060 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[After the death of the brothers Polyneikes (Polynices) and Eteokles (Eteocles) , the Argive women lament :] Ah, misery! O Erinyes (Furies), far-famed destroyers of families, Keres (goddesses of death) who have thus laid ruin to the family of Oidipous (Oedipus), digging it up from the roots!"
Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 775 ff :
"Oidipous (Oedipus) removed that deadly, man-seizing plague (kêr) [i.e. the Sphinx] from our land."
Euripides, Electra 1250 ff (trans. Vellacott) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[The Dioskouroi (Dioscuri) gods instruct Orestes after the killing of his mother Klytemnaistra (Clytemnestra) :] ‘But you leave Argos; for it is not for you, who killed your mother, to set foot in this city. And the dread Keres, the one who glare like hounds, will drive you up and down, a maddened wanderer. Go to Athens and embrace the holy image of Pallas [Athena]; for she will prevent them, flickering with dreadful serpents, from touching you, as she stretches over your head her Gorgon-faced shield.’"
Euripides, Heracles 870 ff :
"[Lyssa, daimona of madness, stalks Herakles (Heracles) :] ‘The thunderbolt with blast of agony shall be like the headlong rush I will make into the breast of Herakles; through his roof will I burst my way and swoop upon his house,after first slaying his children; nor shall their murderer know that he is killing the children he begot, till he is released from my madness. Behold him! see how even now he is wildly tossing his head at the outset, and rolling his eyes fiercely from side to side without a word; nor can he control his panting breath, like a fearful bull in act to charge; he bellows, calling on the Keres of Tartaros.’"
Sophocles, Oedipus the King 463 ff (Greek tragedy C5th B.C) :
"[The seer Teiresias (Tiresias) prophesies the doom of Oidipous (Oedipus).]
Chorus : Who is he of whom the divine voice from the Delphian rock has said [the voice of Apollon speaking through Teiresias] to have wrought with blood-red hands horrors that no tongue can tell? It is time that he ply in flight a foot stronger than the feet of storm-swift steeds. The son of Zeus [Apollon] is springing upon him with fiery lightning, and with him come the dread unerring (anaplaketoi) Keres (Dooms)."
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Hesiod, Works and Days - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Hesiod, The Shield of Heracles - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Greek Lyric III Simonides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th - 5th B.C.
- Greek Elegaic Mimnermus, Fragments - Greek Elegaic C7th B.C.
- Greek Elegaic Theognis, Fragments - Greek Elegaic C6th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Sophocles, Oedipus the King - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Euripides, Electra - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Euripides, Heracles - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Philostratus the Younger, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.
- Seneca, Oedipus - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Suidas, The Suda - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Orphic Hymn 13.12 & 67.4, Lith. 7.6, Eustathius on Homer 847.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.