Achelous and the Divine in Sophocles' Trachiniae

Naomi Rood

Colgate University

Discussed in the prologue (lines 9-14) and in the first Stasimon (497-530), the river god Achelous is prominent in Sophocles' Trachiniae but not in the scholarship on the play.  Attention to this neglected figure can reveal much about various characters and concepts in the play which he reflects in different ways: his rival Herakles, Nessus the centaur, and, of course, the divine.  This paper focuses on the last of these – on how Achelous illuminates the play's subtle representation of the nature of divinity.

In the ancient world Achelous was the river god par excellence.  As such, he incarnated not only the particular river, Achelous, in northwestern Greece, but the concept of liquid generally (Gardner, P. 1878. "Greek River Worship," Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature. 11:185).  From his connection to liquid, Achelous was associated with Dionysus, the god of wine (Isler, H. P. 1970. Acheloos. Francke Verlag Bern. 113-20.).  Sophocles invokes this association between Achelous and Dionysus in the forms the river god takes in his courtship of Deianeira: a serpent and a bull (cf. Bacchae 100-2, 618, 920-22, 1017-18, cf. 519-25). 

This paper will argue the following points concerning the Trachiniae's presentation of the divine:


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