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The Styx (//; Ancient Greek: Στύξ [stýkʰs]) is a river in Greek mythology that formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (the domain often called Hades, which is also the name of its ruler). The rivers Styx, Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, and Cocytus all converge at the center of the underworld on a great marsh, which is also sometimes called the Styx. According to Herodotus the river Styx originates near Feneos.
Significance of the River Styx
The gods were bound by the Styx and swore oaths on it. The reason for this is during the Titan war, Styx, the goddess of the river Styx, sided with Zeus. After the war, Zeus promised every oath be sworn upon her. Zeus swore to give Semele whatever she wanted and was then obliged to follow through when he realized to his horror that her request would lead to her death. Helios similarly promised his son Phaëton whatever he desired, also resulting in the boy's death.
According to some versions, Styx had miraculous powers and could make someone invulnerable. According to one tradition, Achilles was dipped in it in his childhood, acquiring invulnerability, with exception of his heel, by which his mother held him. This is the source of the expression Achilles' heel, a metaphor for a vulnerable spot.
Styx was primarily a feature in the afterworld of Greek mythology, similar to the Christian area of Hell in texts such as The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost. The ferryman Charon is believed to have transported the souls of the newly dead across this river into the underworld, though in the original Greek and Roman sources, as well as in Dante, it was the river Acheron that Charon plied. Dante put Phlegyas as ferryman over the Styx and made it the fifth circle of Hell, where the wrathful and sullen are punished by being drowned in the muddy waters for eternity, with the wrathful fighting each other.
In ancient times some believed that placing a coin (Charon's obol) in the mouth of the deceased would help pay the toll for the ferry to help cross the Acheron River which would lead one to the entrance of the underworld. If someone could not pay the fee it was said that they would never be able to cross the river. This ritual was performed by the relatives.
Styx was also the name of the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, and goddess of the River Styx itself. She was wife to Pallas and bore him Zelus, Nike, Kratos and Bia (and sometimes Eos). Styx supported Zeus in the Titanomachy where she was the first to rush to his aid. For this reason her name was given the honor of being a binding oath for the gods.
- Herodotus, Histories 6. 74. 1, http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/PotamosStyx.html
- Hesiod, Theogony 383 ff (trans. Evelyn-White)
- No ancient source says that the coins were placed on the dead person's eyes; see Charon's obol#Coins on the eyes?.
- Iliad(1-3), Homer; H. Travers, 1740
|Look up Styx in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Theoi Project - Potamos Styx
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Styx". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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