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Lethe (lee-thee), the river of forgetfulness, was one of the five rivers of the Greek underworld, the other four being Styx (the river of hate), Akheron (the river of sorrow), Kokytos (the river oflamentation) and Phlegethon (the river of fire). According to Statius, it bordered Elysium, the final resting place of the virtuous. Ovid wrote that the river flowed through the cave of Hypnos, god ofsleep, where its murmuring would induce drowsiness.[1]

The shades of the dead were required to drink the waters of the Lethe in order to forget their earthly life. In the Aeneid, Virgil writes thatit is only when the dead have had their memories erased by the Lethe that they may be reincarnated.[2]

[edit] GoddessLethe was also the name of the personification of forgetfulness and oblivion,with whom the river was often associated. Hesiod's Theogony identifies her as the daughter of Eris ("strife") and sister of Ponos ("toil"), Limos ("starvation"), the Algea ("pains"), the Hysminai("fightings"), the Makhai ("battles"), the Phonoi ("murders"), the Androktasiai ("man-slaughters"), the Neikea ("quarrels"), the Pseudologoi ("lies"), the Amphilogiai ("disputes"), Dysnomia("lawlessness"), Atë ("ruin"), and Horkos ("oath").[3]

[edit] Role in religion and philosophySome ancient Greeks believed that souls were made to drink from the river before being reincarnated, so they would notremember their past lives. The Myth of Er at the end of Plato's Republic tells of the dead arriving at the "plain of Lethe", through which the river Ameles ("careless") runs. A few mystery religionstaught the existence of another river, the Mnemosyne; those who drank from the Mnemosyne would remember everything and attain omniscience. Initiates were taught that they would receive a choice ofrivers to drink from after death, and to drink from Mnemosyne instead of Lethe. These two rivers are attested in several verse inscriptions on gold plates dating to the 4th century BC and onward, found...
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