Greek Myths: The River of Styx

By Megan McCloud and Valerie Mick

Narrative First Retold By Edith Hamilton

Have you ever wondered where you go when you die? Have you wondered what happens to your soul after you pass away? Some people believe that if they put something of value; like money, into a deceased person’s mouth that they will be able to ride the ferry with Charon, the man who takes the souls of the dead to the Underworld. This journey can only take place if the person has a proper burial with the coin in their mouth. If they did not have a coin buried with them they were sent to wander the banks of Archeon, grabbing at the ferry trying to seek their way into the underworld.

After leaving the dock to journey to the underworld, Charon crosses the river of Acheron (the river of woe) where Cerebus stands on the bank as the eternal guardian of the underworld. His job is to let the of the dead in but never let them leave. The rivers start with Acheron, but then three others must be crossed; Cocytus, Phlegethon, Lethe, and then they all converge together at the end. Each one has a meaning. Acheron is the river of woe. Cocytus is the river of lamentation because those who were not buried properly were left at the dock to walk alone in the afterlife. (Micheal Dawson, 1-4)

Phlegethon is the river of fire, and Lethe is the river of forgetfulness. The waters of this river, Lethe, were meant to be drunk by the souls so that they would forget the life they once lived on earth before entering the realm of Hades. The last and final river, is the river of Styx which means hate. This river is the boundary that separates the living from the dead. This boundary circles Hades nine times. Also, it was a sacred place to both the dead and undead, but also the gods. The gods even made an oath not to cross into the underworld and it was made clear by Zeus that if any god disobeyed this oath they were forced to drink from the river of Styx. It possessed a power that made the gods loose there voice for years, but only had this affect on the gods. It was very different for some demigods like Achilles. Achilles mother dipped him in the river of Styx in his childhood which gave, him invulnerability with the exception of his heel. (Greek Gods, Hades & Death, 1, 6, 7, 8)

There’s no doubt that The River of Styx possessed powers for all gods, demigods, and mortals alike when they die. To me, it can give people a sense of comfort by explaining how there is a boundary that separates the living from the dead. For the people who believe this to be true, it puts the mind at ease knowing that if they do place a coin in the deceased person’s mouth that the deceased will pass over no matter what. Another way to put the grieving mind to restfulness, is to believe that after the soul drinks from The River of Lethe, they forget the life they lived on earth and can start anew. They forget all the bad memories, terrible heartache, or people they once lost before them. It is like being reborn, but the life you are given will be eternal.

Interpretation By Megan McCloud and Valerie Mick

The myth of “The River of Styx” explores the depths of the Underworld that tell of where the souls of deceased go when they pass. When the ferryman is revealed in the beginning, the result depicts just a small portion of the underworld, and the essence of the myth creates the imagery of eternal death in the afterlife. The value of death showcases the underworld because after someone dies their body stays behind but there soul moves on, and The River of Styx gives a better understanding as to where the human soul wanders.hades_kingdom.jpg"The entities are brought before three judges to be told where they will be condemned for eternity. The judges are Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aecus who pass sentences and send the wicked to an everlasting torment and the good to a place of blessedness called the Elysian Fields."(Edith Hamilton, 4)

"The river of Lethe, the third passageway you cross to get into the Underworld and is known as the river of forgetfulness. Before you enter the underworld the souls are made to drink from it so they forget the life they once lived on earth", yet you might ask yourself why they do this? The river of Lethe is a symbolic part of the journey; this represents cleanliness of the soul. It is as if you are born again, but the souls are meant to live a completely different life in the underworld as anew. (The Underworld Rivers, 1)
Charon (the ferryman) taking another soul to the Underworld, and is crossing over The River of Lethe.

When someone you know passes on what do you give them out of an act of caring or respect? Flowers, a note, maybe even something of value that both of you shared. Well in early Greece out of an act for caring or even respect. Friends or relatives would place a coin underneath the deceased person’s mouth under their tongue, or they would place two coins over their eyes. Coins are a stupendous token of gratitude and respect for the deceased because without these simple tokens their souls would not be able to take the ferry to the underworld. This would leave them to wander the realm of purgatory forever.

"Charon (or KHARON) was the ferryman of the dead, an underworld Daiman (spirit) in the service of King Hades. He received the shades of the dead from Hermes, who gathered them from the upper world and guided them to the shores of the Akherousian. From there Charon transported them in his boat to a final resting place in Hades, the land of the dead, on the other side. The fee for his service was a single coin which was placed in the mouth of a corpse at burial, or there are two coins places on the eyelids. Those who had not received due burial and were unable to pay his fee, would be left to wander the earthly side of the Archeron, haunting the upper world as ghosts." (KHARON, 1)