Which river would you drink from?

Welcome back to the Greek mythology series!

Writing about Zeus’s creative punishments all of which last for an eternity reminded Đề of the movie “Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind”. It was a romantic drama about two strangers who felt for each other at first sight then found out later that they used to be madly in love. Their story started when after two years being together, the two lovers separated and decided to undergo a procedure, provided by a company Lacuna, to remove all of the memories of their romance. People say sometimes the best memories are the worst. Just as much as they used to make you happy, beautiful memories hurt when it comes to the realization that those things you had were forever gone. Therefore it’s natural to have the idea of getting such painful part out of your head.

In Greek mythology, there was also a need of mind erasure, all mortals had to do this between their two lives, forget everything before being rebirth-ed. If in “Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind”, they needed a company and all kind of neuroscience technology to help them do that, go through their unconscious mind, find every single related piece and erase it, things were easier and simpler in the Greek ancient stories, all it took was to drink water.

Lethe was one of the five rivers in Hades, the underworld in Greek mythology. It was also known as Ameles Potamos, the river of unmindfulness. The river was told to flow through the cave of Hypnos, the god of sleep, who would murmur his drowsiness into the water. Just like most other rivers in in Greek myths, Lethe had a god or a goddess for its namesake, it was the same-name goddess, a personification of oblivion. One would experience complete forgetfulness of the past after drinking water from it. In the mythology, the souls of the dead would have to drink this water to erase their earthly lives before reincarnation. With some modification, Lethe came into modern English as the word lethargy. Lethargy characterizes a condition of extreme drowsiness, fatigue, laziness or torpor, and usually a lack of emotion or interest. Lethargic means unnaturally drowsy, dull or torpid.

Interestingly enough, there was another river which had just the opposite magic of Lethe, that was river Mnemosyne. It had the ability to make those who drink water from it remember all things and acquire omniscience. Greek mythology at the end of the day was human’s imagination, what they could not possess in the real world were fantasied here. If there was one way to completely obliterate one’s mind in the wink of an eye, there must be another way to fulfill it just as fast. This, to some extent, might as well indicate the ancient (Greek) people’s yearning for justice, which can also be seen in Zeus’ quite fair and elaborate treatment for the righteous and the sinner. The river Mnemosyne was powered and guarded by no other than goddess Mnemosyne. She was the personification of memory and remembrance, the creator of language and words. In some source, she was named the minor-goddess of time too, for she knew everything since the beginning of time. As you may have guessed, her name was the origin of the word memory and other “mnemo-ish” words. Mnemonics is the art or method to improve memory. Mnemonic (adj) is relating to improving memory. Mnemophobia is the fear of memory. So whoever has mnemophobia might consider going to Lacuna company if it ever exists. As for goddess Mnemosyne, she had quite a story as well, but that will come in another post.

Let’s get back to River Lethe and River Mnemosyne. One allows you to forget all the memory that was so beautiful it hurts, all the things you knew and all the events you have been through. The other lets you obtain the pinnacle of knowledge and wisdom. In one way, you basically become a new person with no history, in the other way, well, you will also become a new person except with loads of history of the whole mankind. Here comes the question, if you were given the option to drink from either of the two rivers, which one would you choose, Lethe or Mnemosyne?

Come way back to the couple in that movie, they chose Lethe, not for their entire mind though, just a part of it. But things worked out well for them. After becoming estranged, maybe thanks to their very last remnant of each other’s memory or for some inexplicable reason they happened to meet on a train. Coming across all the records of their relationship in the past, they were astounded and wanted to start everything anew.