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In Greek mythology, Lethe (Λήθη, Lēthē; Classical Greek [lɛː́tʰɛː], modern Greek: [ˈliθi]) was one of the five rivers of Hades. Also known as the Ameles potamos (river of unmindfulness), the Lethe flowed around the cave of Hypnos and through the Underworld, where all those who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness. Lethe was also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion, with whom the river was often identified.

In Classical Greek, the word Lethe literally means "oblivion", "forgetfulness," or "concealment". It is related to the Greek word for "truth", aletheia (ἀλήθεια), meaning "un-forgetfulness" or "un-concealment".




Lethe (lee-thee), the river of forgetfulness, was one of the five rivers of the Greek underworld, the other four being Styx (the river of hate), Akheron (the river of sorrow), Kokytos (the river of lamentation) and Phlegethon (the river of fire). According to Statius, it bordered Elysium, the final resting place of the virtuous. Ovid wrote that the river flowed through the cave of Hypnos, god of sleep, where its murmuring would induce drowsiness.[1]

The shades of the dead were required to drink the waters of the Lethe in order to forget their earthly life. In the Aeneid, Virgil writes that it is only when the dead have had their memories erased by the Lethe that they may be reincarnated.[2]


Lethe was also the name of the personification of forgetfulness and oblivion, with whom the river was often associated. Hesiod's Theogony identifies her as the daughter of Eris ("strife") , Ponos ("toil"), Limos ("starvation"), the Algea ("pains"), the Hysminai ("fightings"), the Makhai ("battles"), the Phonoi ("murders"), the Androktasiai ("man-slaughters"), the Neikea ("quarrels"), the Pseudologoi ("lies"), the Amphilogiai ("disputes"), Dysnomia ("lawlessness"), Atë ("ruin"), and Horkos ("oath").[3]

Role in religion and philosophy

Some ancient Greeks believed that souls were made to drink from the river before being reincarnated, so they would not remember their past lives. The Myth of Er at the end of Plato's Republic tells of the dead arriving at the "plain of Lethe", through which the river Ameles ("careless") runs. A few mystery religions taught the existence of another river, the Mnemosyne; those who drank from the Mnemosyne would remember everything and attain omniscience. Initiates were taught that they would receive a choice of rivers to drink from after death, and to drink from Mnemosyne instead of Lethe. These two rivers are attested in several verse inscriptions on gold plates dating to the 4th century BC and onward, found at Thurii in Southern Italy and elsewhere throughout the Greek world. There were rivers of Lethe and Mnemosyne at the oracular shrine of Trophonius in Boeotia, from which worshippers would drink before making oracular consultations with the god. More recently, Martin Heidegger used "lēthē" to symbolize the "concealment of Being" or "forgetting of Being" that he saw as a major problem of modern philosophy. Examples are found in his books on Nietzsche (Vol 1, p. 194) and on Parmenides.

Real rivers

The River Lethe in Alaska.

Amongst authors in Antiquity, the tiny Limia River between Northern Portugal and Galicia (Spain) was said to have the same properties of memory loss as the legendary Lethe River. In 138 BC, the Roman general Decimus Junius Brutus sought to dispose of the myth, as it impeded his military campaigns in the area. He was said to have crossed the Limia and then called his soldiers on the other side, one by one, by name. The soldiers, astonished that their general remembered their names, crossed the river as well without fear. This act proved that the Limia was not as dangerous as the local myths described. In Alaska, a river which runs through the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is called River Lethe.

See also


  1. ^ "LETHE : Greek goddess of the underworld river of oblivion ; mythology". http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/PotamosLethe.html. Retrieved 02-06-2010. 
  2. ^ Day-Lewis, Cecil (trans.) (1952). Virgil's Aeneid. pp. 705. 
  3. ^ Hesiod (author); Evelyn-White, H.G. (trans.) (1914). The Theogony of Hesiod. pp. 226. http://www.theoi.com/Text/HesiodTheogony.html. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • LÉTHÉ — Appelé aussi parfois Oubli. Dans la mythologie grecque, fille d’Éris (Discorde). Léthé est aussi le nom d’un fleuve ou d’une plaine des Enfers. D’après l’orphisme, il existait une source de mémoire (Mnémosyne) et une source d’oubli (Léthé). Les… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Lethe — Léthé Dans la mythologie grecque, Léthé (en grec ancien Λήθη / Lếthê, « oubli »), fille d’Éris (la Discorde), est la personnification de l Oubli. Elle est souvent confondue avec le fleuve Léthé, un des cinq fleuves des Enfers, parfois… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Lethe — steht für: Lethe (Mythologie), ein Gewässer aus der griechischen Unterwelt Lethe (Daimon), in der griechischen Mythologie die personifizierte Vergesslichkeit Lethe (Hunte), einen Fluss, der in Oldenburg in die Hunte mündet …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lethe — LETHE, es, Gr. Λήθη, ης, einer von den höllischen Flüssen, welcher insonderheit die Kraft hatte, daß, wenn der Verstorbenen Seelen daraus tranken, sie sowohl des Elendes vergaßen, welches sie auf der Welt ausgestanden, als auch der Herrlichkeiten …   Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon

  • Lethe — Lethe, einer der Ströme, welche den traurigen Hades, den Aufenthalt der abgeschiedenen Seelen, durchfließen. Aus ihm trinken nach späterer Mythe die Schatten Vergessenheit Alles dessen, was sie im irdischen Leben erfahren und erlitten, und so ist …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Lethe — river of Hades (whose water when drunk caused forgetfulness of the past), from Gk. lethe, lit. forgetfulness, oblivion, related to lethargos forgetful, lathre secretly, by stealth, lathrios stealthy, lanthanein to be hidden. Cognate with L.… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Lethe — [lē′thē] n. [L < Gr lēthē, forgetfulness, oblivion: see LATENT] 1. Gr. & Rom. Myth. the river of forgetfulness, flowing through Hades, whose water produces loss of memory in those who drink of it 2. oblivion; forgetfulness Lethean [lē thē′ən]… …   English World dictionary

  • Lethe — Le the (l[=e] th[ e]), n. [L., fr. Gr. lh qh, prop., forgetfulness; akin to lanqa nesqai to forget, lanqa nein to escape notice.] 1. (Class. Myth.) A river of Hades whose waters when drunk caused forgetfulness of the past. [1913 Webster] 2.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Lethe — Le the (l[=e] th[ e] or l[=e]th), n. [See {Lethal}.] Death. [Obs.] Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Lethe — Lethe, 1) Strom im Hades, aus welchem die Schatten Vergessenheit tranken, s. Griechische Mythologie IV.; daher 2) Vergessenheit …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Lēthe — Lēthe, im griech. Mythus ein Fluß der Unterwelt, aus dem die Seelen der Verstorbenen Vergessenheit des Erdenlebens tranken …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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