Who is Horkos in Greek Mythology?

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Greek mythology has gods and monsters, as well as some beings who are even stranger. In this lesson, we'll get to know Horkos and see what role he played in Greek cosmology.

Daemon Worship

In the mythology of ancient Greece, the gods were pretty active. They had a lot of direct influence in the lives of the Greek people. However, we tend to forget that the Greek world was shaped by more than just the gods. There were also the daemons.

A daemon (sometimes spelled daimon) was the personification of an abstract concept. They weren't quite gods, but more like forces of nature that had their own personalities and agency. For example, Justice, Love, Health, Sleep, Fear, Memory, Death, and Peace were all daemons of the Greek world. Of these personified concepts, one was perhaps the strictest of all: Oath, or as he was known in Greece, Horkos.

Horkos

So, who was Horkos? This daemon was the personification of oath taking, which was a very serious action in Greek society. More specifically, he was the daemon responsible for punishing those who broke their oaths. So, if you made a promise, broke it, and then bad things started happening to you, you knew Horkos had come for his vengeance. Horkos did not care why you broke your oath. He was not the personification of justice and therefore wasn't concerned with intent. All he cared was that you hadn't kept your promise, and he could retaliate in pretty extreme ways.

The famed storyteller Aesop told one fable of a man who tried to sneak around Horkos' rules and was snatched by the daemon to be thrown off a cliff. In fact, the Greek author Hesiod claimed that Horkos ''does more damage than any other to earthly men, when anyone, of his knowledge, swears a false oath''.

Oaths were sacred actions in ancient Greece
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Obviously lying is bad, but why was Horkos such a hardliner about oath breaking? Making an oath in ancient Greek culture was basically signing a three-way contract between you, the person you were making a promise to, and the gods. Taking an oath was therefore basically a divine action, something you could only do in the name of the gods. Breaking an oath was thus a violation against the divine order, and a direct insult to the gods. If there's one thing we can learn from Greek mythology it's this: you do not insult the gods.

Family Tree

Part of understanding Horkos also requires understanding his family tree. Horkos' mother was Eris, a daemon who personified strife. The connection between oath-breaking and strife (on a personal and social scale) was evident in Greek morality tales. Hesiod stated that Eris gave birth to Horkos ''to be a plague on those who take false oath''.

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