Keres (Greek mythology)

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In Greek mythology, the Keres (Κῆρες; singular: Ker Κήρ) were female death-spirits. The Keres were daughters of Nyx, and as such the sisters of Fate (Moirae), Doom (Moros), Death and Sleep (Thanatos and Hypnos), Strife (Eris), Old Age (Geras), Divine Retribution (Nemesis), Charon, and other personifications. Some, such as Cicero who calls them by a Latin name, Tenebrae, or the Darknesses, name them daughters of Erebus and Nyx.

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Description

They were described as dark beings with gnashing teeth and claws and with a thirst for human blood. They would hover over the battlefield and search for dying and wounded men. A description of the Keres can be found in the Shield of Heracles (248-57):

As death daimons, they were also associated with Cerberus.

Though not mentioned by Hesiod, Achlys may have been included among the Keres.[1]

A parallel, and equally unusual personification of "the baleful Ker" is in Homer's depiction of the Shield of Achilles (Iliad,ix.410ff), which is the model for the Shield of Heracles. These are works of art that are being described.

In the fifth century Keres were imaged as small winged sprites in vase-paintings adduced by J.E. Harrison (Harrison, 1903), who described apotropaic rites and rites of purification that were intended to keep the Keres at bay.

According to a statement of Stesichorus noted by Eustathius, Stesichorus "called the Keres by the name Telchines", whom Eustathius identified with the Kuretes of Crete, who could call up squalls of wind and would brew potions from herbs (noted in Harrison, p 171).

The term Keres has also been cautiously used to describe a person’s fate.[2] An example of this can be found in the Iliad where Achilles was given the choice (or Keres) between either a long and obscure life and home, or death at Troy and everlasting glory. Also, when Achilles and Hector were about to engage in a fight to the death, the god Zeus weighed both warrior's keres to determine who shall die.[3] As Hector’s ker was deemed heavier, he was the one destined to die.[4] During the festival known as Anthesteria, the Keres were driven away. Their Roman equivalents were Letum (“death”) or the Tenebrae (“shadows”).

Among destructive personifications are (not all called Keres);

  • Anaplekte (Quick,Painful Death),
  • Akhlys (mist, that is, of death),
  • Nosos (disease),
  • Ker (destruction),
  • Stygere (hateful).

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