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Miller, in his translation of Seneca, makes Chaos masculine:

"let Chaos re-echo the outcries of his grief."
Source: Hercules Furens, trans. Frank Justus Miller, ~1100

Here is a link to the Latin on Perseus:

Resonet maesto clamore chaos
Source: Seneca, Hercules Furens, Rudolf Peiper, Gustav Richter, Ed., 1108-9

The Perseus word study tools has chaos and maesto as either masculine or neuter, but clamore as masculine only thus my conclusion is that clamore is the reason for Miller's choice.

However, this analysis was the subject of some disagreement. Is there a case for a neuter Chaos in this passage?

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3 Answers 3

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Doubtful. In 860 of the same play, we get:

stat chaos densum tenebraeque turpes

Chaos here is neuter (because of densum). Lewis and Short says that Chaos is masculine when personified as a god rather than as the underworld or the formless, primordial matter, but I don't see that in the OLD, and none of the examples they give (two from Vergil, one from Quintilian, one from Ovid, one from Hyginus) support anything grammatical.

However, the Hyginus passage is interesting in appearing to present Chaos as a male counterpart to Caligine:

ex Chao et Caligine Nox Dies Erebus Aether.

from Chaos and Caligine: Night, Day, Erebus, Aether.

This would give some credence to the idea that Chaos was considered a masculine persona with a neuter name. Such a thing isn't entirely crazy - a talking baculum is still going to be neuter regardless of whether it's a male or female persona. Moreover, as mentioned in the other Stack, Aristophanes has Chaos giving birth, so how early this masculine aspect was is doubtful, and at any rate, I don't think Lewis & Short were referring to its grammatical form.

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    Thank you for your clarification. I hope you don't mind if I reference this is my amended (corrected) answer.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 22:01
  • PS The comments on the original answer weren't very helpful, but I'm glad I finally thought to bring it over here where the experts could address it in the proper detail.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 22:01
  • @DukeZhou Not at all, please feel free to do so. You may want to wait in case someone has some more information. I didn't do an exhaustive search of every instance, but I know more than a couple here have the time and inclination to do so, leading to even more accurate responses!
    – cmw
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 22:07
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The adjective maesto determines the noun clamore and is therefore in a masculine form. The corresponding neuter form is also maesto. The thing that reveals the connection to clamore is case: both maesto and clamore are in ablative, whereas chaos is nominative (the subject of the clause).

This literal translation might not be idiomatic English, but it should give an idea of how the Latin structure works:

Resonet maesto clamore chaos.
May chaos re-echo with a sorrowful cry.

The English preposition "with" corresponds to the Latin ablative in this case.

In fact, this passage tells nothing about the gender of chaos. It could perfectly well be masculine, feminine, or neuter. Other sources are needed to draw any conclusions about its gender and declension.

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Indeed, the Greek borrowing was mostly used an a neuter noun in Latin but occasionally we see examples of chaos used as a masculine noun (one source claims that there is only one use of chaos in Latin as a masculine noun - Vetus Latina Luca 16.26 but I couldn't verify this). We need to look it up in TLL.

Quite often, we can't easily tell whether it was used as a masculine or neuter noun though. For example, Ovid writes in Metamorphoses II:299:

si freta, si terrae pereunt, si regia caeli,

in chaos antiquum confundimur! eripe flammis,

si quid adhuc superest, et rerum consule summae!”

As we know, the Greek word Χάος is neuter. Here's its entry from Montanari:

Caduff 2006 describes it as "which is no further reducible but nevertheless exists" (Brill New's Pauly).

Even though its etymology is not entirely clear, the communis opinio is that it is probably related to the verb χάσκω 'be open, gape wide.'

Thus, Beekes (2009/2016) speculates that "an original meaning 'hole, empty space, yawning' is quite thinkable for Χάος."

Because of its connection to the verb χάσκω, some researchers speculated that Chaos can be seen as an essentially feminine symbol. But imho this is highly speculative and there is no clear evidence to verify this claim.

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    Aristophanes, in Birds ln. 698 says that Eros (m.) mated with Chaos: "οὗτος δὲ Χάει πτερόεντι μιγεὶς νυχίῳ κατὰ Τάρταρον εὐρὺν / ἐνεόττευσεν γένος ἡμέτερον..." So maybe it's not that far-fetched after all.
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 17:55
  • @brianpck Unfortunately, in Greek mythology, being female is not a strict requirement in producing offspring (Zeus re: Athena and Dionysus) and there is a very famous case of sex fluidity in Tiresias. Thus, while I strongly agree with Beekes' speculation and the implications, I still have trouble conceiving Chaos as strictly female. The fundamental conception of chaos may be said to be a state of continual, unpredictable change.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 23:04
  • @Alex B. Thank you for this excellent answer!
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 23:07

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