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Nyx: Goddess of the Night

Matthew Shirfield

Out of the darkness everything is born.

Nyx, the anthropomorphic manifestation of night, is a primal Goddess emerging from the flux of chaos. She is one of the prime bearers of cosmological and earthly growth, encapsulating a vast array of positive and negative characteristics. Her several offspring include Hypnos (sleep), Thanatos (death) and even Oizys (misery), angst and grief.

Her character is poetically shrouded in the darkness of the night.

With her calm grandeur, she “distils and sprinkles sleep across the darkening world” (Ovid, Metamorphoses). As a malevolent deity she is ready to consume any hint of hope or light, slaying the rooster for “awakening the warm day with its cry” (Ovid, Fasti).

Nyx is the subdual of spirit, clothed in black and blue, where black is “a totally dead silence,” “a silence with no possibilities,” and “the silence of black is the silence of death” coupled with a dark shade of blue which bears a strong affinity with the colour black. In his Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky relates that such dark blue moves away from the spectator and the spiritual light on the horizontal spectrum, edging towards the black.

It is this darkness which bridges Nyx with Mozart’s Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute. Represented as a hypocritical, conniving mother, the Queen of the Night demands her daughter to betray and murder Sarastro, who holds in his power the Circle of the Sun. Upon her daughter’s merciful hesitation, the Queen of the Night launches into her haunting aria which vocally unveils her character:

“The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart,
Death and despair flame about me!

Then you will be my daughter nevermore.
Disowned may you be forever,
Abandoned may you be forever,
If not through you
Sarastro becomes pale!
Hear, Gods of Revenge,
Hear a mother’s oath!”


Gustave Moreau, ‘Nyx, Night Goddess’, 1880.

Diana Damrau as Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, ROH 2003.

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