A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Κήρ), the personified necessity of death (Κήρ or Κῆρες Δανάτοιο). The passages in the Homeric poems in which the Κήρ or Κῆρες a appear as real personifications, are not very numerous (Il. 2.302, 3.454, 18.535), and in most cases the word may be taken as a common noun. The plural form seems to allude to the various modes of dying which Homer ((Hom. Il. 12.326) pronounces to be μυρίαι, and may be a natural, sudden, or violent death. (Od. 11.171, &c., 398, &c.) The Κῆρες are described as formidable, dark, and hateful, because they carry off men to the joyless house of Hades. (Il. 2.859, 3.454; Od. 3.410, 14.207.) The Κῆρες, although no living being can escape them, have yet no absolute power over the life of men: they are under Zeus and the gods, who can stop them in their course or hurry them on. (Il. 12.402, 18.115, 4.11; Od. 11.397.) Even mortals themselves may for a time prevent their attaining their object, or delay it by flight and the like. (Il. 3.32, 16.47.) During a battle the Κῆρες wander about with Eris and Cydoimos in bloody garments, quarrelling about the wounded and the dead, and dragging them away by the feet. (Il. 18.535, &c.) According to Hesiod, with whom the Κῆρες assume a more definite form, they are the daughters of Nyx and sisters of the Moerae, and punish men for their crimes. (Theog. 211, 217; Paus. 5.19.1.) Their fearful appearance in battle is described by Hesiod. (Scut. Here. 249, &c.) They are mentioned by later writers together with the Erinnyes as the goddesses who avenge the crimes of men. (Aesch. Sept. 1055; comp. Apollon. 4.1665, &c.) Epidemic diseases are sometimes personified as Κῆρες. (Orph. Hymn. 13.12, 66.4, Lith. 7.6; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 847.)