Definition of the Keres
Who were the Keres of Ancient Greek mythology? The meaning and definition of Keres are two-fold. They are most famous as the goddesses of violent death particularly related to deaths on the battlefield where they acted like repulsive vultures and scavengers. They are also referred to as the 'Death Fates' who were present when the ultimate fate of a mortal was about to be decided. As goddesses of death, the Keres appear together with Fates (Moirai) and the infernal goddesses called the Furies (Erinnyes) who acted as agents of the Fates, exacting the punishments decreed by the gods.
Description of the Keres
The “Death Fates,” were described as the 'countless winged Keres', 'who no one can escape' and as 'scavengers who defiled the dead'. The Keres had no absolute power over the life of men, this was only given to the gods, who could stop them in their course or hurry the Keres on. Their powers of the Keres were to call up tempests and to brew potions from herbs. The following, graphic description of the Keres taken from Apis 248 - 57 explains the fear of these creatures by the ancients:
The black Keres, clashing their white teeth,
Grim faced, shaggy, blood-bespattered, dread,
Kept struggling for the fallen. They all wanted
To drink black blood. Whom first they caught.
Lying or fallen newkly wounded, around him
They threw their might talosns, and the shade to Hades
Went, in icy Tartarus. Their hearts were glutted
With human blood: they threw away the corpse
And back to the tumult and fighting rushed, in new desire
(Apis 248 - 57)
Genealogy of the Keres
According to Greek Mythology the Keres were the daughters of Nyx, the dark goddess of Night and Erebus whose province was the Underworld before the emergence of Hades. Both Nxy and Erebus were primordial deities, the offspring of Chaos. Nyx was believed to be the mother of everything mysterious and inexplicable, such as death, disease, sleep, ghosts, dreams, witchcraft and enchantments. Erebus, father of the Keres, reigned in the mysterious Underworld where no ray of sunshine nor gleam of daylight or healthy life ever appeared. The siblings of the Keres were:
- Moros the god of Doom
- Moros was the personification of impending doom, who drives every being, mortal or otherwise, to its fated doom, brother of the Keres
- Thanatos a god of Death
- Thanatos was a god of Death who was feared and hated as the enemy of mankind, whose hard heart knew no pity, brother of the Keres.
- Hypnos the god of Sleep
- Hypnos was the God of sleep who brought nightmares but also some relief to troubled mortals. The Oneiroi were his sons and gods of dreams, called Morpheus, Icelus, and Phantasos, cousins of the Keres
- Eris the goddess of Discord, Confusion and Strife
- Eris was the personification of quarrels, feuds and disagreements. Her eternal and unforgiving rage was the cause of fear and respect, sister of the Keres
- Oizys, goddess of misery
- Oizys personified distress, worry and anxiety, sister of the Keres
- Momus the god of blame
- Momus, the twin of Oizys and the evil-spirited god of blame and unfair criticism, brother of the Keres
- Geras the god of Old Age
- Geras was believed to be a malevolent spirit who personified loathsome old age
- Nemesis goddess of Divine Retribution
- Nemesis was an avenging goddess awarding to each individual the fate which his actions deserve, sister of the Keres
- Charon the Ferryman
- Charon was the grim, unshaven old boatman Charon, who ferried shades across the River Styx to the Underworld, brother of the Keres
Ananke, the goddess of inevitability and the personification of destiny, necessity and fate was also closely associated with the Keres.
Keres Family tree & Genealogy
Nyx, the dark goddess of darkness, was the mother of many of the Gods of death and darkness. Some were the result of her union with Erebus, another important god of the infernal region. The family members and genealogy of the Keres are detailed in the following family tree, providing an overview of the relationships between the Keres and some of the principle Greek gods and goddesses of the Underworld.
The Keres - Other Residents of the Underworld
The Keres were residents of the Underworld and shared their dismal abode with their siblings and other incumbents of the dreadful place. The fellows of the Keres included Hades, Lord of the Underworld, the Moirai (The Fates), Apate the goddess of Deception), Lyssa the goddess of the spirit of mad rage and frenzy, the “infernal goddesses” called the Erinyes or Furies, and Epiphron (demon of shrewdness). Also sharing the deathly domain were the dreaded judges of the Dead who judged the heart of every dead soul, determining if they would go to Elysium (Elysian Fields) or to deep pits of Tartarus. Minos, the head judge, Rhadamanthus, who declared to each wicked soul the precise torments which awaited him in Tartarus and Aeacus who held the keys to Hades. Last but by know means least, was the most famous resident of the Underworld: Cerberus, the terrible three-headed hound, that guarded the path so that no one who had once passed into the kingdom of the dead could ever come out again. These were the fellows of the Keres.