Greek mythology, Achelous (English, pronEng|ækɨˈloʊəs; Greek: polytonic|Ἀχελῷος (Achelōos)) was the patron deity of the "silver-swirling" [ Hesiod, "Theogony" 337f.] Acheloos River, which is the largest river of Greece, and thus the chief of all river deities, every river having its own river spirit. His name is pre-Greek, its meaning unknown. The Greeks invented etymologies to associate it with Greek word roots (one such popular etymology translates the name as "he who washes away care"). However, these are etymologically unsound and of much later origin than the name itself.
Some sources say that he was the son of
Gaiaand Helios, [Smith, "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology", "s.v." "Achelous", referencing Natal. Com. vii. 2] or Gaia and Oceanus. [ Alcaeus, fragment, a quote] However, ancient Greeks generally believed with Hesiod [ Hesiod, " Theogony" 340] that Tethys and Oceanuswere the parents of all three thousand river gods. Homerplaced Achelous above all, the origin of all the world's fresh water. [ Homer, " Iliad" 21,194: "...it is not possible to fight Zeus, son of Kronos. Not powerful Akheloios matches his strength against Zeus..."] By Roman times, Homer's reference was interpreted as making Achelous "prince of rivers". [Pausanias, 8.38.10, remembering the line in Homer.]
Others derived the legends about Achelous from Egypt, and describe him as a second Nilus. But however this may be, he was from the earliest times considered to be a great divinity throughout Greece, [
Homer, " Iliad" xxi. 194] and was invoked in prayers, sacrifices, on taking oaths, &c., [ Ephorus"ap. Macrob." v. 18] and the Dodonean Zeususually added to each oracle he gave, the command to offer sacrifices to Achelous. [ Ephorus, "l.c."] This wide extent of the worship of Achelous also accounts for his being regarded as the representative of sweet water in general, that is, as the source of all nourishment. [ Virgil, " Georgics" i. 9] [Citation
last = Schmitz
first = Leonhard
author-link = Leonhard Schmitz
contribution = Achelous
editor-last = Smith
editor-first = William
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
volume = 1
pages = 8-9
place = Boston, MA
year = 1867
contribution-url = http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/0017.html ]
Achelous was a suitor for
Deianeira, daughter of Oeneusking of Calydon, but was defeated by Heracles, who wed her himself. Sophoclespictures a mortal woman's terror at being courted by a chthonic river god::'My suitor was the river Achelóüs,:who took three forms to ask me of my father::a rambling bull once, then a writhing snake:of gleaming colors, then again a man:with ox-like face: and from his beard's dark shadows:stream upon stream of water tumbled down.:Such was my suitor.' (Sophocles, "Trachiniae")
The contest of Achelous with
Heracleswas represented on the throne of Amyclae, [ Pausaniasiii. 18. § 9] and in the treasury of the Megarians at Olympia there was a statue of him made by Dontasof cedarwood and gold. [ Pausaniasvi. 19. § 9] On several coins of Acarnaniathe god is represented as a bull with the head of an old man. [Comp. Philostr. "Imag." n. 4]
sacred bullthe serpent and the Minotaurare all creatures associated with the Earth goddess Gaia. Achelous was most often depicted as a gray-haired old man or a vigorous bearded man in his prime, with a horned head and a serpent-like body. When he battled Heracles over the river nymph Deianeira, Achelous turned himself into a bull. Heracles tore off one of his horns and forced the god to surrender. Achelous had to trade the goat horn of Amalthea to get it back. [ Apollodorus, i. 8. § 1, ii. 7. § 5] Heracles gave it to the Naiads, who transformed it into the cornucopia. Achelous relates the bitter episode afterwards to Theseusin Ovid's " Metamorphoses". [ Ovid, " Metamorphoses" ix, 1-88] Sophoclesmakes Deianeirarelate these occurrences in a somewhat different manner. [ Sophocles, " The Trachiniae" 9, &c.]
The mouth of the Achelous river was the spot where Alcmaeon finally found peace from the
Erinyes. Achelous offered him Callirhoe, his daughter, in marriage if Alcmaeon would retrieve the clothing and jewelry his mother Eriphylehad been wearing when she sent her husband Amphiarausto his death. Alcmaeon had to retrieve the clothes from King Phegeus, who sent his sons to kill Alcmaeon. Ovidin his " Metamorphoses" provided a descriptive interlude when Theseusis the guest of Achelous, waiting for the river's raging flood to subside: "He entered the dark building, made of spongy pumice, and rough tuff. The floor was moist with soft moss, and the ceiling banded with freshwater mussel and oyster shells." [ Ovid, " Metamorphoses" VIII, 547ff] In sixteenth-century Italy, an aspect of the revival of Antiquity was the desire to recreate Classical spaces as extensions of the revived villa. Ovid's description of the cave of Achelous provided some specific inspiration to patrons in France as well as Italy for the Mannerist garden grotto, with its cool dampness, tuffvaulting and shellwork walls. The banquet served by Ovid's Achelous offered a prototype for Italian midday feasts in the fountain-cooled shade of garden grottoes.
At the mouth of the Achelous River lie the
EchinadesIslands. According to Ovid's pretty myth-making in the same "Metamorphoses" episode, the Echinades Islands were once five nymphs. Unfortunately for them, they forgot to honor Achelous in their festivities, and the god was so angry about this slight that he turned them into the islands.
Achelous was sometimes the father of the
Sirens by Terpsichore, or in a later version, they are from the blood he shed where Heracles broke off his horn. [Kerenyi 1951:56; Georg Kaibel, "Comicorum Graecorum Fragmenta" (Berlin) 1899, noted in Kerenyi: 1959:199.]
In another mythic context, the Achelous was said to be formed by the tears of
Niobe, who fled to Mount Sipylon after the deaths of her husband and children.
In Hellenistic and Roman contexts, the river god was often reduced to a mask and used decoratively as an emblem of water, "his uncut hair wreathed with reeds". [
Ovid, " Metamorphoses" ix.] The feature survived in Romanesque carved details and flowered duruing the Middle Agesas one of the Classical prototypes of the Green Man.
Achelous and the River Achelous
The origin of the river Achelous is thus described by
When Achelous on one occasion had lost his daughters, the
Sirens, and in his grief invoked his mother Gaea, she received him to her bosom, and on the spot where she received him, she caused the river bearing his name to gush forth. [ Servius, "ad Virg. Georg." i. 9; "Aen." viii. 300]
Other accounts about the origin of the river and its name are given by
Stephanus of Byzantium, Strabo, [ Strabo, x. p. 450] and Plutarch. [ Plutarch, "De Flum." 22] Straboproposes a very ingenious interpretation of the legends about Achelous, all of which according to him arose from the nature of the river itself. It resembled a bull's voice in the noise of the water; its windings and its reaches gave rise to the story about his forming himself into a serpent and about his horns; the formation of islands at the mouth of the river requires no explanation. His conquest by Heracles lastly refers to the embankments by which Heracles confined the river to its bed and thus gained large tracts of land for cultivation, which are expressed by the horn of plenty. [ Strabo, x. p. 458] [Compare Voss, "Mytholog. Briefe", lxxii]
* Andrews, Tamra. "A Dictionary of Nature Myths", 1998. ISBN# 0-19-513677-2
*Kerenyi, Karl. "The Heroes of the Greeks". New York and London: Thames and Hudson, 1959.
*Kerenyi, Karl. "The Gods of the Greeks". New York and London: Thames and Hudson, 1951.
*March, Jenny. "Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology", 2001. ISBN # 0-304-35788-X
* [http://www.theoi.com/Potamos/PotamosAkheloios.html Theoi Project - Potamos Akheloios]
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