Who is Nike in Greek Mythology?
Nike (or Nicé) was a Greek goddess who embodied victory in any discipline, including art, music, warfare, and sports. She is frequently depicted in Greek art as Winged Victory in flight, although she can also be depicted without wings as “Wingless Victory” when she is being portrayed as an attribute of another deity, such as Athena. Nike is the daughter of Styx and Pallas, and she’s siblings to Kratos, Bia, Zelus and Scylla, Fontes (Fountains), Lacus (Lakes).
Even though hearing the word “Battle” would bring out a military aspect. If we think about it, the word could be associated with many diverse aspects. So, whether we like it or not, these diverse aspects of a battle are very much associated with our lives than we think.
Regardless of it being war, personal affairs, or a game, this is one of the many aspects venerated in Greek mythology as well. It could be argued that every legend is a story of a battle of a certain aspect. But for a battle to be celebrated, it should be associated with victory.
Greeks have personified the aspect of victory with the winged goddess Nike. Victory is not the only aspect Nike was associated with but also speed and strength.
The Family of Nike
She was the daughter of Pallas, the titan god of Warcraft, and Styx the nymph goddess of the River Styx—the river that separates the living world from the Gates of Hell.
During Titanomachy, which was a ten-year series of battles fought in Thessaly between the Titans and the Olympian gods and their allies, Pallas fought with the titans while Styx sided with the Olympian gods.
Styx even presented her children Nike, Kratos, Bia, and Zelus, to Zeus to fight alongside him. While Nike rules over victory, her siblings Kratos, Bia, and Zelus rule over Power, Force, and Zeal, respectively. And together, these four siblings were an unstoppable force.
Their contribution has greatly influenced the victory of Zeus and other Olympian gods. In some versions of the story Kratos, Bia and Zelus are female deities, while in others, they are considered as male gods. But just like their sister Nike, these 3 gods as well are gifted with wings.
After the war ended, Zeus granted Nike and her siblings the gift of eternal youth and promised to keep Nike safe from other gods and heroes who wanted to take her for themselves. This is because, anyone who has Nike on their side is destined to win no matter what—Here we can see the selfishness of Zeus.
Nike’s Association to Athena and Zeus
After the Titanomachy, it is said that Nike and her siblings willingly submitted themselves to Zeus. So, the goddess became the divine charioteer of Zeus.
She also became the messenger of gods, so Nike is usually depicted with elegant accessories. She accompanies Zeus on many of his quests and earns him victory.
It’s not only Zeus Nike accompanied in various quests but also Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, who is also the daughter of Zeus. In images of Zeus and Athena, you can sometimes see Nike resting on the palm of the gods. This is to show that the god is accompanied by Nike.
Especially in the sculptors of Athena and Zeus, we can often see Nike standing on the outstretched hand of the god.
Consort and Children of Nike
Greek mythology does not make a mention of any consorts of the deity nor of any children, but neither have they mentioned Nike to be a virgin goddess. With this, it can be said that Nike was indeed active but not settled.
Depictions and Symbols of Nike
Nike is often depicted as a beautiful young woman with wings, carrying a palm frond and a blade, or at least one of them. She is also depicted carrying the staff of Hermes, which symbolizes her role as the messenger of Victory.
As for some legends, it is this staff that grants her the power of speed. According to these legends, anyone in possession of the staff of Hermes will gain immense speed, which would even allow the holder to move between the land of the living and the underworld.
In some depictions of the goddess, she could be seen here holding a cup. This is to symbolize Nike’s readiness to toast to the victor of the battle.
She is also associated with victorious music since there is no victory celebration without proper music. Another very important symbol associated with Nike is the palm branch. Greeks consider a palm branch to be a symbol of peace. So, Nike holds it to symbolize that after victory peace will follow.
The Roles of Nike in Greek Mythology
During a war, it is said that Nike would fly over the battlefield to seek warriors who deserve glory and victory. She would also decide the winning troop and fill them with the speed and strength needed to defeat their enemy. Even if a worthy warrior does fall on the battlefield, regardless of the side he’s in, the goddess will give him an honourable death.
So, Nike could be considered fair and just. This too is probably a reason for the goddess to be highly recognized and worshipped among Greeks.
When hovering above a battlefield, it is said the goddess carries a shield. On that shield of hers, the goddess has inscribed the names of the winners in a battle.
Nike is believed to bring victory in all aspects of life not only in war. Even though Nike is not recognized as much as other gods such as Zeus, Poseidon, and many others, Nike is very much venerated among Greeks.
Nike in Greece
A statue of Nike could be frequently seen on the highest landmark of a city. You can even find a statue of Nike in the alters of a Greek household. Often these statures are sculptured without Nike’s wings. This is to ensure that the goddess remained firmly rooted in the city or the household where she was placed.
The Roman Counterpart of Nike
The roman counterpart of Nike is the goddess, Victoria. The 2 goddesses are similar in many aspects, for example, both goddesses are winged deities.
But unlike Nike, Romans regarded Victoria as one of the supreme gods. Many temples in honour of the goddess could be seen throughout Rome. When Christianity started to spread, Nike was often viewed as an angel.
Nike’s Influence in Today’s Pop Culture
The image of Nike could be seen in the medals given to the winners in the Olympic Games. Her image has been added to the medals since 1928.
Not only that, but many commercial brands have also adopted Nike to their logos. The most well-known and obvious brand is the sportswear brand named “Nike”.
Brands such as Rolls-Royce, Honda Motorcycles, U.S. Anti-Aircraft Missile System, etc. have also used symbols related to goddess Nike.
A thing to note among these brands is, that they have been in the global market for a considerable amount of time, but still, they have continued to maintain their competitiveness in their respective aspects.
One could view this as a victory each of these companies has achieved. Even if you haven’t heard about the goddess, surely you must’ve come across these brands.
Considering the prominence of the aspect the goddess rule upon, I believe the goddess is highly underrated and deserves to be recognized as one of the main deities in the Greek Pantheon just like Romans recognize goddess Victoria.
Art Credits: Scebiqu, Serathus.