You might have spotted this word over on our Twitter feed the other day:
And we thought you might like to know a bit more.
Those of you who know your classical literature will know that, in Greek mythology, the Acheron was one of the principal rivers of the Underworld. In some versions of the myth, it was a tributary of the river Styx, while in others the river Styx flowed into it. According to Dante’s Inferno, it was the river that encircled Hell. According to Aristophanes (he of the 182-letter stew), it was more of a swamp or quagmire—and in fact the name Acheron is thought to derive from a Greek word meaning “marshlike” or “swampy”.
Cashier number 4, please: the queue of the damned in Blake’s Vestibule of Hell (c. 1824)
(Image credit: Public domain)
But no matter how or where it appeared, one thing was always the same: the recently-deceased would all be carried across the Acheron by the ferryman Charon and taken into Hades. Those who couldn’t pay his fare were destined to wander its banks for eternity.
The Acheron, despite that description, is actually a very real place—a river in Epirus in northwest Greece, whose isolated location led to a tradition that it supposedly marked the westernmost end of the Earth and the entrance to the Underworld. In reality it’s a fairly picturesque area, but its associations with Hades and the wandering damned has endured, so that adjectives Acherontic and Acheronian—both derived from its name—have referred to hellish, ghoullish places and things since the sixteenth century.