Eridanos (mythology)

Eridanos (mythology)

The river Eridanos (or Eridanus) is a river of Hades in Greek mythology, whose name has been adopted by geologists and paleogeographers to describe the real river that existed between 40 million to 700 thousand years ago, flowing from Lapland to the North Sea: for that river, see Eridanos (geology).

The Eridanos is mentioned in Greek writings as a river in northern Europe rich in amber. ["the holy isle of Elektris", named for "elektron", "amber", off the mouth of the Eridanos, was reached by the Argonauts, who were fleeing from the Colchians, in Apollonius of Rhodes' "Argonautica", Book IV; their return trip from Colchis, in which they passed "the farthest reaches of the stream Eridanos" (iv.597), cannot be made to coincide with actual geography.] There have been various guesses at which real river was the Eridanos: these include the Po River in north Italy, and the Nile and the Danube. Another, lesser Eridanos, a small river near Athens has been rediscovered in modern times, with the excavations for construction of the Athens Metro.

Hesiod, in "Theogony," calls it “deep-eddying Eridanos” in his list of rivers, the offspring of Tethys. In "Dionysiaca", the vast monster Typhon boasts that he will bathe in “starry Eridanus.” Herodotus (III, 115) points out that the word "Eridanos" is essentially Greek in character, and surmises that consequently the river supposed to run around the world is probably a Greek invention. He associated it with the river Po, because the Po was located near the end of the Amber Trail. According to Apollonius of Rhodes ["Argonautica", iv.597ff.] and Ovid, [Ovid, "Metamorphoses" II, 367-380.] amber originated from the tears of the Heliades, encased in poplars as dryads, shed when their brother, Phaeton, died and fell from the sky, struck by Zeus' thunderbolt, and tumbled into the Eridanos, where "to this very day the marsh exhales a heavy vapour which rises from his smouldering wound; no bird can stretch out its fragile wings to fly over that water, but in mid-flight it falls dead in the flames;" [Apollonius, iv.602ff. ] “along the green banks of the river Eridanos,” Cygnus mourned him— Ovid told— and was transformed into a swan. There in the far west, Heracles asked the river nymphs of Eridanos to help him locate the Garden of the Hesperides.

Strabo disregards such mythmaking::“"One must put aside many of the mythical or false accounts such as those of Phaethon and of the Heliades changed into black poplars near the Eridanos (a river that does not exist anywhere on earth, although it is said to be near the Po), and of the Islands of Amber that lie off the Po, and of the guinea-fowl on them, because none of these exist in this area."” [Strabo, "Geography" v,1,9.]

Eridanus (“the river”) was considered one of the rivers of Hades by Virgil in his "Aeneid" VI, 659.

ee also

*Eridanus (constellation)


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