Before the Olympians and Titans fought over who would rule the world, several early deities enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence. These immortals often didn’t have human-like depictions or much of a presence in Greek mythology at all. Instead, they personified the basic foundations of the world, acting to explain natural phenomena to ancient Greeks.
One example is Nysos. Nysos was a Greek demi-god who belonged to a distinct group of immortals that existed long before humans. He’s a Protogenoi, also known as a primordial god.
The Origins of Nysos
Nysos came to be shortly after the creation of the world. According to most accounts of the Creation Myth, the world was born out of a state of nothingness called “Chaos.” One of the very first beings to exist was Gaia (Gaea). Gaia represented the Earth and acted as the mother of most living things. She’s responsible for giving birth to many Titans, which paved the way for nearly all Greek figures to come into existence!
But before all of that, Gaia gave birth to ten Ourea. The Ourea are representations of the various mountains in the known world. Most of the Ourea were seen as old bearded men. The mountains they represented were sacred places, and the demi-gods were known for their judgment and counsel.
Very few stories of the Ourea exist. The demi-gods were background figures who occasionally arbitrated conflicts or participated in events occurring in their respective mountains. The most reliable sources we have for information about the Ourea come from Hesiod’s “Theogony.” Apollonius Rhodius mentioned the demi-gods in “Argonautica” as well.
Nysos, Demi-God of Mount Nysa
Nysos represents the Mount Nysa. There’s no surviving information detailing the exact location of this mountain. However, ancient scholars alluded to its whereabouts, claiming it was near modern-day Libya, Ethiopa, or Arabia.
Some poets identified Mount Nysa with Mount Kithairon (Mount Cithaeron) in Boiotia. Because of that possible link, some scholars believe the Nysos and the mountain god Kitharion are one and the same. Other retellings mention that Mount Nysa is on the island of Naxos in Thrace or the distant Phoenicia.
While Mount Nysa is generally regarded as a mythical location, it does hold great significance in Greek mythology. As a result, the same can be said about Nysos.
Nysos and Dionysus
The most popular tale involving Nysos is the birth of Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of winemaking, orchards, vegetation, fertility, and more. There are several versions of Dionysus’s birth. According to one frequently retold legend, Dionysus was born twice!
In many retellings, Nysos comes into the picture after the birth of Dionysus. Zeus, Dionysus’s father and the king of the gods, entrusted Nysos to raise his infant son. The demi-god agreed, and many of his nymph daughters helped with the task. His daughters were called Nysiads. Some accounts also refer to them as Hyades rain nymphs.
Under the protection of the nymphs, the infant god grew up to be a healthy deity ready to rule!
According to some poets, Nysos wasn’t the one to raise Dionysus. Instead, that task went to Seilenos. Seilenos was either a nurse, an assigned guardian, or even the god’s stepfather, depending on which source you read. Either way, the overlapping stories caused a great deal of confusion. As such, some versions of the story refer to Nysos as Seilenos and vice versa.
Nysos in Other Stories
The young life of Dionysus is where Nysos appears most. However, the demi-god is briefly mentioned in passing during other tales.
In one story, Nysos doesn’t appear directly. Instead, the plains of Mount Nysa are a central location. The southern vales of Mount Nysa, also known as Nysian fields, were the site of Persephone’s abduction.
Different versions of that story exist. However, the general plotline is that Hades abducts Persephone, Demeter’s daughter, to be his wife. The abduction reportedly occurs as Persephone frolics around the Nysian fields with her maidens. The maidens become distracted momentarily, allowing Hades to come in and sweep her away.
What follows is extreme mourning from Demeter. While Demeter eventually reunites with Persephone, her daughter is still bound to the Underworld. The events reportedly led to the creation of the seasons and the dying of plant life during the winter months.
Another story that includes Nysos comes from Hyginus. In “Fabulae,” Hyginus recounts a story that adds a unique layer to the relationship between Dionysus and Nysos.
According to Hyginus, Dionysus temporarily grants authority over his kingdom to Nysos. He does this so that he can lead his army to India. The fact that Dionysus trusted Nysos with his kingdom at all shows how much respect he has for his demi-god stepfather.
Unfortunately, that trust may be misguided. Upon his return, Dionysus attempts to take his kingdom back. But, Nysos refuses. He continues to rule the kingdom for three years! The only way that Dionysus claims his kingdom back is by disguising soldiers as women. When Dionysus goes to introduce Nysos, the soldiers reveal their true identities and capture the demi-god. He swiftly returns the kingdom to Dionysus.
Nysos is one of the 10 Ourea.
Some refer to Nysos as “Nysus.”
Like other Ourea, Nysos is the personification of a mountain in the known world. In this case, Nysos ruled over the mythical mount Nysa.
Nysos is likely the same figure as Silenus (Seilenos).
Zeus tasked Nysos with caring for the infant god Dionysus.
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