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Lethe

Lethe

In Greek and Roman mythology, Lethe was one of five rivers in the underworld, or the kingdom of the dead. Drinking from Lethe (whose name means "forgetfulness") caused the souls of the dead to forget all knowledge of their previous lives.

cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god

Some Greek religious cults taught their members not to drink from Lethe after they died. They believed that it was important to remember the mistakes of one's past lives so that, when reborn, one would be wiser in the next life. To avoid Lethe's waters, they told their followers to drink from a spring named Mnemosyne (meaning "memory") that was near the Lethe.

oracle priest or priestess or other creature through whom a god is believed to speak; also the location (such as a shrine) where such words are spoken

Springs called Lethe and Mnemosyne were located at a cave near the Greek town of Lebadeia. The cave, which contained an oracle, was believed to be an entrance to the underworld.

See also Afterlife; Hades; Styx; Underworld.

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Lethe

Lethe in Greek mythology, a river in Hades whose water when drunk made the souls of the dead forget their life on earth. The name comes via Latin from Greek lēthē ‘forgetfulness’.

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Lethe

Lethe (lē´thē), in Greek mythology, river of forgetfulness in Hades. The dead drank from Lethe upon their arrival in the underworld.

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Lethe

Lethe In Greek mythology, the river of forgetfulness in Hades. All who drank from it lost their memories of past lives.

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Lethe

Lethe •Cathy •Iolanthe, Xanthe •McCarthy • breathy •healthy, stealthy, wealthy •lengthy •heathy, Lethe •pithy • filthy •bothy, frothy, mothy, wrathy •toothy •polymathy, timothy •apathy • telepathy • empathy •antipathy • sympathy •encephalopathy, homeopathy, osteopathy •Dorothy • earthy

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Lethe

Lethe

Nationality/Culture

Greek/Roman

Pronunciation

LEE-thee

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

Ovid's Metamorphoses, Virgil's Aeneid

Myth Overview

In Greek and Roman mythology , Lethe (pronounced LEE-thee) was one of five rivers in the underworld , or the kingdom of the dead. Drinking from Lethe (whose name means “forgetfulness”) caused the souls of the dead to forget all knowledge of their previous lives.

Lethe in Context

The ancient Greeks believed in the possibility of reincarnation: rebirth on Earth in a different body or form. The shades of the dead were supposed to drink from Lethe to purge themselves of past memories. Some Greek religious groups taught their members not to drink from Lethe after they died, however. They believed that it was important to remember the mistakes of one's past lives so that, when reborn, one would be wiser in the next life. Members of these sects were told to drink from a spring named Mnemosyne (pronounced nee-MOSS-uh-nee, meaning “memory”) that was near Lethe.

Key Themes and Symbols

Lethe represents the peace of forgetfulness. It is generally associated with the removal of painful memories or worries as opposed to the loss of cherished memories, although both are handled the same way by the river's powerful waters.

Lethe in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Springs called Lethe and Mnemosyne were located at a cave near the Greek town of Lebadeia. The cave was believed to be an entrance to the underworld. The river Lethe is an important part of a story about the afterlife told in Plato's Republic.

In modern times, the myth of Lethe has remained popular enough to be referenced in many works, including poems by John Keats, Lord Byron, Charles Baudelaire, and Edgar Allan Poe. Lethe has also found its way into Dante's Divine Comedy, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and three of William Shakespeare's plays.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The saying “ignorance is bliss” can be applied to the idea of washing away old memories in the waters of Lethe. The saying suggests that it is impossible to worry about or fear something if you do not know it exists. Do you think this is an effective way to deal with the potential risks found in the modern world? What do you think are the consequences of living a life in ignorance?

SEE ALSO Afterlife; Hades; Underworld

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