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River Styx

Tales beyond belief

River Styx for kids
Discover the legends and mythology surrounding River Styx, the great river that encircled Hades the Underworld, the world of the dead and the infernal regions of Tartarus. The River Styx had to be crossed by the souls of the dead to reach the Underworld. The only way to cross the River Styx was in a ferryboat rowed by a terrible boatman named Charon, who demanded payment for his service. The name Styx derived from the Greek word 'Stux' meaning "hate" and "detestation".

River Styx - Hades, the Underworld
The place called Hades, the Underworld was the domain of the god Hades and other gods and goddesses associated with the inexplicable, such as death, sleep, witchcraft, ghosts, dreams  and enchantments. According to Greek mythology the River Styx was a great black river that completely encircled the Underworld. The River Styx formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. The word 'stygian' came to refer to anything dark, dismal, and murky. Hades the Underworld consisted of different areas where the souls of dead mortals resided. The souls of mortals who had led good lives were sent to Elysium and the Elysian Fields (paradise). The souls of mortals who had led both good and evil lives on earth were sent to endless toil in the Asphodel Meadows. Those evil mortals that had led sinful lives were confined in the dark depths of Tartarus, in the bowels of the earth where the souls of the wicked suffered endless torture. The River Styx was connected all of the places via four tributaries.

The River Styx & Charon in Greek Mythology
The River Styx had to be crossed to reach life after death and the only way to cross the River Styx was in a ferryboat rowed by a terrible old boatman named Charon. The boatman would only take a soul if their bodies had received funereal rites on earth. Charon the ferryman also demanded to be paid. The funeral rites of the Ancient Greeks therefore included placing a small coin or obolus under the tongue of a dead person for this purpose. An obolus was a small silver coin of Athens. A single coin buried with the dead and made of silver or gold was referred to as a danake or as Charon's obol. The  coin to pay Charon for passage was also called 'naulum' from the Greek word meaning "boat fare". If these conditions had not been fulfilled, the souls were left behind to wander up and down the banks of the River Styx for 100 years as restless spirits.

The River Styx & Cerberus
Hades the Underworld was guarded by Cerberus the monstrous three-headed dog whose howls could be heard across the dark domain. Cerberus permitted all shades to enter, but none to return. The sight of the huge and monstrous Cerebus was the first to confront the souls of the dead when they alighted from the ferryman's boat following their journey across the River Styx.

River Styx - The Five Rivers of Hades the Underworld
Five infernal rivers flowed through Hades the Underworld, each of them had a specific function and meaning. Four of the rivers were tributaries of the River Styx. The following list defines each of the infernal rivers in the Underworld:

  • The River Styx (meaning Hateful and detestable) was a great black waterway that encircled Hades the Underworld. The Styx separated the world of the living on Earth from the world of the dead in Hades. The Styx had to be crossed to reach life after death. The only way to cross the Styx was in a ferryboat rowed by a terrible old boatman named Charon. The Styx was said to be filled with lost hopes, dreams and wishes that never came true.

  • The River Phlegethon (meaning flaming) was the river around Tartarus (Hell). The waves of the Phlegethon rolled flames of fire, and lit up, with their vivid glare, the appalling realm of Tartarus. It was described as "a stream of fire, which coils round the earth and flows into the depths of Tartarus". Legend tells that the Phlegethon flowed with fire that burned but did not consume fuel, some say it was made of boiling blood.

  • The Acheron (meaning the river of woe or sorrow) was also known as the River of Pain that flowed from the Styx and believed to carry pains intended for mortals back to earth. It also carried the good souls from the Underworld that were sent back to earth after 1000 years to be reincarnated as mortals. The ferryman Charon was tasked with taking souls across the Acheron.

  • The worthy souls of the dead had to drink from the River Lethe (meaning oblivion & forgetfulness) which made them forget all they had done and suffered when they were living on earth. Lethe was also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion, with whom the waters was often identified.

  • The souls that had committed a terrible sin in a moment of passion but had lived in repentance for the rest of their mortal lives were sent to Tartarus. But after one year suffering the torments of hell were sent down the Cocytus (meaning lamentation or the 'river of wailing') to face a further judgement. The souls of the unburied dead were said to wander along its marshy banks

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