I want to know whether the Greek creator of the universe is a woman or man. I looked at many resources and each said one or the other.

Thanks in advance.

  • 6
    Please explain (in your question) why you think Chaos should be gendered at all. As per Wikipedia, "chaos"" is a neuter noun. – Spencer Mar 27 '17 at 23:49
  • @Spencer I'm writing a book which includes chaos. – 12944qwerty Mar 28 '17 at 3:02
  • 1
    @Spencer - Gods of the Greek pantheon are almost always gendered. I think it's probably reasonable to assume any given Greek deity will be gendered. Chaos certainly may not be, but that would make it the exception. – femtoRgon Mar 28 '17 at 16:56
  • Great question! Welcome to Mythology. – DukeZhou Mar 28 '17 at 19:57
  • My personal opinion would be that Chaos is a liminal deity that forms a bridge between nothingness and all things that exist. (Sort of a "primordial soup" order arises out of.) Despite the Aristophanes, the case is very strong for an hermaphroditic or neutral figure. (Don't forget that Loki gave birth to Sleipnir, Zeus carried Dionysus to term in his own body, and Tiresias was changed from man to woman and back again. Sexual and gender fluidity are indisputably a part of Greek mythology. (See also Pentheus and transvestism.) – DukeZhou Mar 30 '17 at 21:38

Theoi's thing, the summary, says that it's a goddess

KHAOS (Chaos) was the first of the primordial gods (protogenoi) to emerge at the dawn of creation. She was followed in quick succession by Gaia (Gaea, Earth), Tartaros (the Pit Below) and Eros (Procreation).

Khaos was the lower atmosphere which surrounds the earth--both the invisible air and the gloom of fog and mist. The word khaos means "gap" or "chasm" being the space between heaven and earth. Khaos was the mother and grandmother of the other misty essences--Erebos (the mists of netherworld darkness), Aither (the ethereal mists of heaven), Nyx (the night) and Hemera (the day), as well as the numerous emotion-driving Daimones (Spirits) which haunted it. She was also a goddess of fate like her daughter Nyx and grand-daughters the Moirai (Moirae).

As the goddess of the air Khaos was also the mother of birds, just as Gaia (the Earth) was the mother of land animals, and Thalassa (the Sea) was the mother of fish.

A primary source:

Aristophanes, Birds 685 ff (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"At the beginning there was only Khaos (Chaos, the Chasm) [Air], Nyx (Night), dark Erebos (Darkness), and deep Tartaros (the Pit). Ge (Gaea, Earth), Aer (Air) [Aither] and Ouranos (Uranus, Heaven) had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Nyx (Night) laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebos (Darkness), and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros (Desire) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated [or fertilised] in deep Tartaros (the Pit) with dark Khaos (Chaos, the Chasm) [Air], winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race [the birds], which was the first to see the light."

Being able to be fertilized generally means you're a girl. Or something's wrong.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Are you sure the gendered pronouns in your quotes exist in the original texts? – yannis Mar 28 '17 at 8:06
  • You can take a look at the original Hurrian myth of that part, the cycle of Kumarbi which is devoided of any female element, except Kumarbi "himself" which will be the mother of Teshub [Zeus]. Lots of time Kumarbi in Hurrian is called "she". – Gibet Mar 28 '17 at 12:00
  • 2
    The bolded "his" in the Seneca refers to Hercules, not chaos, which is not capitalized in the Latin text per the Rudolf Peiper, Gustav Richter, Ed. – DukeZhou Mar 28 '17 at 18:53
  • 2
    In Aristophanes' Birds (which is interpreting Hesiod's Theogony), Chaos is impregnated by Eros. With some notable exceptions See David Leitao's [book on the subject], the goddesses gave birth. That said, chaos was very often thought of as a genderless substance. – C. M. Weimer Mar 28 '17 at 22:58
  • 3
    @bleh Re "being fertilized": doesn't mean the individual in question was born female. Tiresias was genderswapped twice (MtoF and back again). Loki changed from male to female, got pregnant by a horse, bore the foal, and then changed back to male. So Chaos might be both genders, or change at will. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Mar 29 '17 at 16:09

It is important to note the concept derives from the Greek, with Hesiod as the likely original textual source, and there it is definitively neuter.

Some confusion may arise from translations. For instance:

"let Chaos re-echo the outcries of his grief."
Source: Hercules Furens, trans. Frank Justus Miller

Based on the Latin:

Resonet maesto clamore chaos
Seneca, Hercules Furens, Rudolf Peiper, Gustav Richter, Ed., 1108-9

So far, three Latin scholars have pointed out that it is difficult to definitively categorize the Roman conception of Chaos as masculine, although there may be masculine instances. @Alex B. gives an overview in this answer.

@Joonas Ilmavirta provided a re-translation that does not require gender, more in keeping with how modern scholars, in my experience, try to approach:

May chaos re-echo with a sorrowful cry.

For a more detailed explanation on both the grammar and gender of Chaos, see @C.M.Weimer's answer here. C.M., who is careful to include the Aristophanes example of Chaos giving birth, also presents an Hyginus example in Latin that suggests a masculine instance.

Notable that in the above passage that "chaos" is not capitalized in the Peiper and Richter, which may be an indication of the concept as opposed to a direct personification. (There may variation in different versions of Greek and Latin source texts, which were preserved for millennia by transcription. Ancient texts tend to have no punctuation or division between words, and lack of capitalization in this instance may have been a choice of these particular scholars.)

In the Aristophanes, Chaos (Χάους), capitalized, singular and neuter. (Note that the specific form of the word may also be adjectival, though not in this example, and in that form is plural. I'm not sure this can be taken as an indication that Chaos is multipartite, but it's an interesting thought!) The English O'Neil text may be found on Perseus with the Greek text linked.

The Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy (3.755), about eight centuries after Aristophanes, uses the same form (Χάους).

The Virgil reference (Georgics 4. 345 ff) uses "Chao", here capitalized, which again may be either masculine or neuter. (Note that the translator, J. B. Greenough, uses "old Chaos", which seems to be poetic license, but avoids gender categorization.)

Hesiod, in the Theogony (line 116) uses Χάος, which again, is neuter in the intended nominative form, but in the adjectival form may be either masculine or feminine, which I mention only because I think it is interesting.

This is an extraordinarily interesting question, and my viewpoint has continued to evolve the more I learn. I think this definitely warrants more detailed study, but hopefully this evolving answer will provide at least a little insight into the issue.*

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Grammatical gender =/= Personified gender. Also, keep reading the Aristophanes passages in which Chaos is impregnated by Eros. – C. M. Weimer Mar 28 '17 at 22:55
  • 2
    @C.M.Weimer Absolutely! The grammatical case is that it can be male, but the Aristophanes suggests female. Sexual fluidity is a component of both Classical and Norse mythology. – DukeZhou Mar 29 '17 at 3:27
  • 4
    I'm not entirely sure about the male part, as it's absent from the Greek. I imagine in Latin there was a mistake based off it's ending. It's therefore neuter gender with some feminine aspects (like pregnancy). All this doesn't necessarily add up to a "goddess" in the traditional sense, though. – C. M. Weimer Mar 29 '17 at 4:31
  • 2
    I hope you realise that the capital and lower-case letters represent the interpretations of modern scholars. – fdb Apr 2 '17 at 22:18
  • 1
    ....and that χάους is genitive singular neuter, not an adjective and not a plural. – fdb Apr 2 '17 at 22:22

In the Greek language neutral pronouns are used for Chaos. And if I remember correctly, in Hesiod's works that I read some years ago in original Greek, he didn't specified a sex for Chaos.

On the other hand, there is also Orpheus's creation myth. This myth starts with an Egg out of which the Universe came out. But Orpheus doesn't touch the subject of the Egg's origin. Did it always existed ? Or was it laid by someone ? If it was laid by someone, that someone would have to be a female though, as it's females that lay eggs.

| improve this answer | |

Chaos was male, though the original legend didn't specify a gender, in later tales, he was stated as male, though many sources get this wrong such as greekmythology.com and britannica.com which both state Chaos as female, I got this info from timelessmyths.com, the mythology is complicated.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.