Greece’s Acheloüs (or Akhelóös) River, which flows well over 200 kilometers through Epirus to the Corinthian Gulf, is arguably the longest river in Greece. In addition to its impressive length, the river also served as the much fought-over boundary between the ancient regions of Acarnania and Aetolia. As was common with bodies of water in ancient Greece (and much of the ancient world, in general), the river became paired with a deity that personified the geographical feature. Therefore, the Acheloüs River was linked to a god also named Acheloüs, who, naturally, was a river god and a water deity. Acheloüs was also given a lineage worthy of a water god—his father was said to have been the Titan deity, Oceanus, and his mother was variously proposed to have been the Titaness, Tethys, or the primordial earth deity, Gaia. In terms of how early in history Acheloüs was recognized as a deity in ancient Greece, he seemed to have been one of earliest inclusions into the mythology. Both Hesiod (c. 8th century BCE) and Homer (flourished c. 700 BCE) mentioned Acheloüs in their ancient poems, with the former mentioning that “silver-swirling Achelous” was a son of Oceanus (Hesiod, Theogony, approximately line 337), while the latter prestigiously named him “Achelous lord of Rivers” (Homer, The Iliad, book 21, approximately between lines 194-197), and claimed his power was surpassed only by the highest echelons of gods, such as mighty Zeus.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (The Feast of Acheloüs, by Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1577–1640), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited/introduced by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.
- Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, 1999, 2008.
- The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion, edited by Simon Price and Emily Kearns. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.