VIII. THE RIVER LETHE: ('Forgetfulness')

Spirits are required to drink from the stream of forgetfulness, so that they lose their memories of the world of the living. This produces an entity which is (in modern physiological terms) something like a patient with Alzheimer's disease, who cannote remember what has been said moments or seconds earlier. The souls live entirely in the `present', with no thought of past or future.
The image of `forgetfulness' in the ORPHIC CULT (see HANDOUT) is that of `a spring on the left of the Halls of Hades, and beside it a white cypress growing'. This is the Orphic equivalent, which takes away the memory that the deceased is actually `...the Child of Ge and of starry OURANOS...',`...a GOD instead of a mortal...who noble PERSEPHONE, that she may be kind and send me to the seats of the Pure...'


abode of Hades, Persephone, the Furies, and others. It is visited by Heracles, Orpheus, Theseus and Perithoos in heroic adventures, even though they are alive. It is the goal of the Orphic initiate.


a murky gloomy plain, covered with these gray plants which produce dead-white or pale yellow flowers with no dramatic scent. Virtually all the dead go to the Field(s) of Asphodel. The exception is HEROES, who
  • (a) very occasionally go to OLYMPUS (Herakles, Asklepios, Ganymede);
  • (b) occasionally (according to Hesiod and Homer) go to the ISLES OF THE BLESSED, where the Hesperides guard the golden Apples of Immortality;
  • (c) are specially assigned to a punishment in TARTARUS;
in most cases, however, they are sent to...


an exclusive suburb of the Underworld, still presided over by Hades and Persephone, but reserved for the Hesiodic 'Fourth Generation', the HEROES (offspring of a god and a human). Even at best, however, it is gloomy. ACHILLES (in Homer's Odyssey, Book 11) says he would prefer to be a slave of the poorest dirt farmer in Boeotia rather than be King of the Underworld. In the Elysian Fields there are athletic contests and heroic banquets, distinguishing the place from the FIELDS OF ASPHODEL.


a prison area below the `House of Hades', presided over by KRONOS (Zeus' father and predecessor) who is as much a prisoner there as anyone else (In some versions, Kronos is released and returned to Olympos, like Prometheus). The place is guarded by the Hundred-handed Giants. Humans who are guilty of special crimes against the gods and their code are sent here for eternal punishment:
  • (a) TITYUS: sent at APOLLO's request for having molested his mother LETO, he is stretched out like Prometheus (over nine acres of land).
  • (b) TANTALUS: (Odyssey 11. 582-92), son of Zeus and Plouto (a female), king of Sipylus in Lydia, and father of PELOPS and NIOBE. Crimes: - cannibalism - stealing secrets of gods - betraying trust of Zeus
  • (c) PHLEGYAS, king of Orchomenos, father of IXION and CORONIS (Apollo's girl-friend). He set fire to a temple of Apollo!
  • (d) IXION: visited Olympus, tried to rape Hera. At home murdered a guest-friend, DIONEUS (violation of hospitality)
  • (e) SISYPHUS: king of Corinth, son of Aeolus (son of Hellen, the son of Deucalion and Pyrrha).
    - Attacked travellers
    - betrayed the secrets of the gods.


-D. Kurtz & J. Boardman, Greek Burial Customs (Cornell 1978).
-Robert Garland, The Greek Way of Death (Cornell 1985) paper [ISBN 0-8014-9528-8].

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May 24, 2009 8:06 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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