Chaos is the origin of everything, the very first thing that ever existed. She is the primal void from which everything comes, including the universe and the Greek gods. In ancient Greece, the word Chaos means “primal emptiness”. The first gods to emerge from Chaos are Gaia (the Earth), Tartarus (the Underworld) and Eros (love). Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night) were then created.
In the beginning, Chaos was a state of chaotic disorder existing in the prime void. Later, a Cosmic Egg formed in her womb and hatched, giving birth to the first gods in the darkness. Chaos was often seen as a woman who possessed both anthropomorphic and concrete qualities. But this interpretation will change over the course of the evolution of mythology and the different accounts of historians and poets. The general idea is that Chaos is a space that separates and divides Earth and Heaven.
According to the Greek historian Hesiod, Chaos was also a place very similar to Tartarus, placed under the Heavens. Hesiod describes it as a remote, subterranean, dark place that could also be affected by Zeus’ lightning. With the first gods emerging from Chaos, Hesiod establishes the gods related to each known element, beginning with the prime elements: the Earth; the Heavens and the Sea. In the account of the battle of Zeus against the Titans, he describes how an alarming heat took hold of Chaos, as if Gaia and Ouranos had run towards each other and met . The union caused Chaos to change places and no longer find itself in its usual place, between earth and heaven. Hesiod also says that the Titans, after their defeat, had to live in dark Chaos, far from the gods of Olympus.
For the Roman poet Ovid, Chaos was a deformed mass where all the elements were mixed. In a later theory, Chaos is formless matter from which the cosmos (or order) was created. Not much is known about Chaos, likely due to its condition and role in Greek mythology. Later sources describe, following Ovid, Chaos as “lifeless and formless, a state prior to the world and order which is not a divine presence”.
These descriptions may be a consequence of the growing importance of Olympian gods like Zeus and Hera, at the expense of older gods like Chaos. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Chaos is described as “a rather raw and indigestible mass, a lifeless size, frameless and without contours, a dark mixture of discordant and badly united elements, very aptly named Chaos”.
Other interesting facts about Chaos
– There was no organized cult or worship of Chaos in Ancient Greece, which may explain why there is so little information about Chaos.
– The oldest references to Chaos are found in Hesiod’s “Theogony”, which dates back to 700 BC
– Hygin wrote that Chaos was created from mold and fog and that it was the mother of night and darkness, but also that of day and light.
– Chaos is described as “a goddess without myths”
– According to the etymology (study of the origin of a word) of the name Chaos, it would come from the Greek word Khaos, used to name the deity from which everything comes. The meaning of this name is quite similar to Ovid’s description of the entity: “utter disorder and confusion”.