Meandering across landscapes for thousands of years, rivers are a timeless link to the past, full of secrets, fables and legends.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn about ‘river’ myths.
1. The Lorelai
The idea of sirens – beautiful women who lure sailors to their death through songs – stems from Greek mythology. But this popular myth received a reboot in the 19th century when German poet Clemens Brentano sang about Lore Lay in his 1801 ballad, Zu Bacharach am Rheine. The story goes, a femme fatale, who was abandoned by her love, is accused of bewitching men and causing their deaths. She is banished to a nunnery, but when she is on her way to it, she falls to her death after climbing the Lorelai (or ‘murmuring rock’). The rock is based on a real-life, 400-foot slate outcrop in the Rhine Gorge in Germany. Legend has it, the mermaid-like siren still lives there, on the narrowest, most dangerous part of the river, luring sailors to death with her singing.
2. Legend of Sabrina
In the 12th century, English writer Geoffrey of Monmouth, who is known for structuring the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, recounted another story. This one had to do with Sabrina, whose name is derived from the Roman title for the Severn River, the longest river in the UK. The legend revolves around King Locrine, who dismisses his wife, Guendolen and their son Maddan, and recognises Sabirna, the daughter of his mistress, German princess Estrildis. Furious at the way she was treated, Guendolen raises an army, which defeats her husband in battle. She then ensures Sabrina and her mother are drowned in the river, and full of spite, names the river after her so that the king’s betrayal is never forgotten. Legend has it, Sabrina continues to live in the river, riding a chariot with dolphins and salmon for company.
3. The Lethe
You may have heard of the best-known mythological river in the Greek underworld – River Styx. But have you heard of River Lethe? Known as the river of forgetfulness, the dead would have to drink its waters upon entering the Underworld, to forget their earthly existence. Named after Lethe, the daughter of Eris (the deity of strife and discord), the river was first mentioned in Greek philosopher Plato’s Republic. The word ‘lethe’ was used in Greek when people would forget past kindnesses, and it would result in a quarrel. On several tombs in the country, inscriptions dating back to 400BC state that the dead can keep their memories by avoiding the Lethe and drinking from the waters of the lake of Mnemosyne (the deity of memory) instead.
What do you think of these mythological rivers? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.