About Achlys – Goddess of Misery in Greek Mythology

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Most of us are familiar with the major Olympian Gods and Goddesses of Greek mythology. Many of the stories center around these major deities, but there is a lot more to the Greek myths than that! Achlys is an example of a goddess that few know about, but she does have a place in some of the stories. She is considered to be a primordial goddesses and is known to represent both misery and sadness. Here’s more information about her:

Get to Know Achlys

As mentioned above, Achlys was not an Olympic god but a primordial spirit (daimona) who existed before the Titans and the Olympians warred for control of the world. There are two possibilities for her origin. According to some of the oldest cosmogonies, she was the Eternal Night that existed even before Chaos, from whom all other primordial beings descended. This origin story would make her the most ancient of the gods.

Alternatively, Achlys was the daughter of Nyx, the primordial goddess of the night. Nyx birthed a number of dark spirits, including the three Fates, the Hesperides, and the Keres. Since Achlys has been depicted alongside the Keres, she may also have been a daughter of Nyx, but this possibility is not confirmed anywhere.

Description of Achlys

Achlys is an unpleasant figure in all descriptions, which is unsurprising for a goddess known to represent sadness. According to Hesoid, she was pictured on the shield of Heracles. Hesiod’s poem describes the shield in detail. It features Fear and Strife with many figures from the Greek pantheon, such as Zeus and Ares. Achlys appears alongside the Keres as a starving, dusty, weeping woman. Blood covers her pale cheeks, and she grins painfully even as the tears drip off of her nose.

In addition to being the spirit of misery and sadness, Achlys may have been the goddess of deadly poisons. Another ancient writer, Nonnus, recounts how Hera (the Olympian queen of the gods) went to Achlys for poisonous flowers that turned the nurses of Dionysus into horned centaurs.

Achlys in Literature

Hesiod’s account from the Shield of Heracles is chilling: “And beside the (the Keres and the Fates) was standing Akhlys, dismal and dejected, green and pale, dirty-dry, fallen in on herself with hunger, knee-swollen, and the nails were grown long on her hands, and from her nostrils the drip kept running, and off her cheeks the blood dribbled to the ground, and she stood there, grinning forever, and the dust that had gathered and lay in heaps on her shoulders was muddy with tears.”

Nonnus’s account from the Dionysiaca gives a different interpretation: “[Hera] procured from Thessalian Akhlys treacherous flowers of the field, and shed a sleep of enchantment over their heads; she distilled poisoned drugs over their hair, she smeared a subtle magical ointment over their faces, and changed their earlier human shape.”

Achlys was the goddess of misery and sadness in Greek mythology. She was a primordial spirit who may have existed before Chaos or been birthed by Nyx. She appears in two key sources, Hesiod’s The Shield of Heracles and Nonnus’s Dionysiaca.


Wikipedia – Greek Primordial Deities 

Wikipedia – Achlys – Akhlys

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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