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river-gods


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Rivers and seas are ultimately derived from Oceanus, the mythical father of all rivers. As personifications of seemingly animate powers river‐gods such as Scamander in the Trojan plain may assume human form (conversation with Achilles) but attack as gushing waters. River‐gods also assemble in the council of Zeus. Rivers are ancestors of ‘older’ heroes, articulating a differentiation of the landscape and humanity's link with it. Rivers can function as guardians. One‐tenth of the property of the traitors of Amphipolis (the city ‘surrounded by river’) was dedicated to the river.

River‐gods, such as the Nile or the Tiber, are quintessentially male, and are often represented as bulls (also as horses and snakes) and appear thus—or as humans with bull‐attributes, sometimes swimming—on coins (esp. from Sicily). Live bulls, a natural metaphor for the roaring waters, were occasionally sacrificed by throwing them into the river (horses too, sometimes). Ritual acts and cult seem to have been ubiquitous. Before crossing a river one must, says Hesiod, pray and wash one's hands. A vision of rivers is a sign of offspring, says Artemidorus. River shrines were located at river‐banks. Oaths are sworn by invoking rivers. During a battle diviners would offer sacrifices to the river.

Acheloüs was perceived as the archetypal river. A son of Oceanus and Tethys, it wrestled with Heracles for Deianira; when it metamorphosed into a bull, Heracles won by breaking one of its horns. Acheloüs was a father of several nymphs associated with water, such as Castalia (the spring at Delphi), and the Sirens.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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