Who is Styx in Greek Mythology?
STYX in Greek mythology is the Titaness goddess of the River Styx and Sacred Oaths. Styx was the daughter of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys. The rivers Acheron, Cocytus, Lethe, Phlegethon, and Styx, are all part of the underworld, of which Hades is its god. The River Styx, named after the goddess, is said to have miraculous powers making an oath binding and also could be a source of punishment to the gods.
Many of us will be familiar with the River Styx in Greek mythology—a river that forms the boundary between the earth and the underworld. But how many of you are aware that Styx was also a Titan goddess? The daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, making her one of the oldest Oceanid sisters.
She was regarded as the goddess of oath making and the river that shared her name—Styx, meaning hatred or detest. The river itself was considered to be one of the few portals into the underworld.
Styx married the Titan Pallas, and together they had four children: Nike, the goddess of victory; Zelos, the god of zeal and rivalry; Bia, the goddess of force; and Kratos, the god of strength.
When the time came that the Olympians decided they would go to war with the titans, Styx was one of the first deities to pledge her allegiance to Zeus. In doing so, her children quickly followed suit and became vital allies during the war.
When Zeus and the Olympians finally emerge victorious, to show that goddess his gratitude, he gave her name to the binding oath that gods and goddesses will take.
Whenever a binding oath was taken, they would have to do so in Styx’s name, and the earth would have to be honoured in her waters.
The Oaths at River Styx
Zeus and Semele
There is a story where Zeus fell in love with a princess named Semele, who asked him to grant her one wish. Zeus accepted the princess’s request and took an oath on a river Styx that he would grant her anything that she desired.
Semele asked Zeus to appear to her in his full glory. It was believed that any mortal who gazed upon a god in their proper form would burst into flames. Knowing that his presence would almost certainly kill the princess, Zeus had no choice but to honour his oath and when he did finally appear, Semele and all those around her burst into flames and died instantly.
Helios and Phaethon
The god of the Sun, Helios, also features in a very similar story; where his son Phaethon begged him to let him drive the chariot of the Sun. Phaethon was highly persistent, eventually convinced in his father to take an oath in Styx’s name to one-day grant his request.
When Helios eventually allowed his son to take the reins, the boy’s inexperience meant that he bit out of control and crashed.
The ancient Greeks believed that the chariots landed in Africa in Ethiopia; Scorching what was once lush green land, creating deserts and killing all those in the surrounding areas.
When Zeus heard of the destruction caused by Helios’ son, he had no choice but to strike the boy down, killing him with a single lightning bolt.
Consequences of Breaking Oaths at River Styx
In both of these stories, the gods took an oath in Styx’s name and made promises to loved ones. Zeus and Helios weren’t able to break these oaths despite knowing how dangerous they could be, and on both occasions, those involved died.
This leaves us with a few interesting questions:
If the gods knew that only death would occur from these oaths, why would they honour them? What punishments awaited them if they broke their word?
It’s believed that the gods who broke an oath would have to drink from Styx’s waters, causing them to lose their voice and eventually being exiled from the Council of gods. The exact duration of this punishment seems to vary. Anywhere from several years to eternity, but the gods must have considered them extremely severe, being so unwilling to break their word regardless of who they harmed.
Achilles at the River Styx
Styx was an extremely powerful goddess, and some believe that those touched by her waters will grant them invisibility.
The Greek hero Achilles was dipped into the River Styx while he was a child by his mother, making him strong, quick and almost invincible.
When Achilles’s mother submerged him in the river, she held him by his ankle, meaning the early part of his body untouched by the waters was his heel. This exposed area would become the hero’s only vulnerability and eventually result in his death.
The term Achilles’ Heel would later be used to highlight the specific weakness that someone may have.
Styx in Greek Mythology
The goddess Styx herself doesn’t feature a great deal in Greek mythology, but her role in the Titanomachy war must have been quite significant to elicit the gratitude it did from Zeus.
The start of the war signals a very uncertain time in Greek mythology. Many gods and goddesses were unsure which side they should align with, but she is one of the first goddesses bold enough to pick her side, and she was rewarded accordingly.
Mentions of her after the war are few and far, but we know she was responsible for making sure that gods honoured their promises and kept their word. And for the most part, they did, fearing the punishment that awaited them if they broke their oath.
I find it pretty interesting that the River Styx—the domain that the goddess had rule over—appeared more often in the stories and myths of Greek mythology than the goddess herself.
My interpretation of Styx is that of a strong, fierce and assertive goddess, who was equally as feared as she was respected.
Do you see her differently? Is she a goddess that you would have liked to see more of?
Image Sources: EmanuellaKozas, Gallery Gerard.