Last week I released an article about the first three rivers of the Underworld – you can read it by CLICKING HERE. In this article I present the final two to you – Styx and Acheron.
The 5 rivers that surrounded the Underworld eventually converged into a marsh in the middle of Hades. After a soul made its journey to the entrance it was always welcomed, but then doomed to remain there forever. The Underworld was named for the god that ruled there, and Hades was determined to have the largest possible collection of souls.
The River Styx
The Styx was the Underworld’s River of Hate, and also features in our stories of the ancient Greeks the most as it was thought to be the final step between the living and the dead. The marsh where all the five rivers of the Underworld converged was also known as the Styx.
As a goddess in the form of a body of water, this river was very powerful and had legendary magical powers. Whenever a human was dipped into its waters they became either invincible or immortal. Achilles himself was held in the river as a youth, which was the reason he became physically impossible to defeat. His heel remained his only vulnerable spot, as this was where his mother gripped him while the rest of his body was under the river’s waters. In the end this seemingly small vulnerability was the reason that he was killed.
Even the gods had an unexpected level of respect for the River Styx and, when trying to be as sincere as possible, swore by it. In the unlikely event that this oath was broken, the god was required to drink the river’s water. This resulted in them losing their voice for nine years, after which they would spend another nine exiled from the council of the gods.
In order for the souls of the dead to make it to Hades, they needed to make a journey by boat with the ferryman, Charon. Modern stories have him transporting them across the Styx to their final destination. The original Greek versions, however, make reference of him rowing the doomed souls across The River Acheron, while those that were neutral remained sitting on its banks.
This Underworld River of Woe was originally the son of Helios, who was changed into a river as punishment for giving the Titans a drink during their war with Zeus for dominion over the earth. Plato described the Acheron as the second greatest river in the world and detailed its flow beneath the ground, particularly through the desert, to form the border of the Underworld.
After the Trojan War, Odysseus lost his way while trying to return home. He visited the junction of the Styx and the Acheron, in order to summon spirits of the dead to guide him. When he poured sacrificial blood into the rivers, the shade of Teiresias (a blind prophet) appeared and gave him the directions that he needed.
As mortals, death is as much a part of our lives as eating and breathing are. In the same way, the five rivers of the Underworld were an essential part of its story. Many of the modern day concepts of the afterlife also tell about an eternal hell, where the unjust are punished until the end of time. In this way, it might be fair to say that the Greeks had a great influence over both the way that we view our lives, as well as our unpreventable deaths.