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Here's a simple question from me today...

So recently I came across a few answers on this site about the River Styx Goddess, and how you can make promises upon her. If you don't fulfill the promise, you get punished or cursed. But that got me thinking for a bit.

Can she swear upon herself? And if she did, could she also curse herself if she failed to keep that promise?

Is this just a hypothetical paradox that really has no answer? Or is there a logical one? Please let me know. Thanks!

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because mythology is not an RPG. You'd be better off asking whether there are any myths involving Styx swearing by herself. – Spencer Aug 22 at 13:09
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    From my perspective this is a perfectly legitimate & actually very interesting Question, along the lines of fairly timeless sociopolitical dilemmas such as "Who polices the police?" or "What if a judge breaks the law in her own courtroom?" (& we do have a number of similar hypothetical/paradox-related Questions on the site preceding this one.) – Adinkra Aug 23 at 17:17
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    Or to put it differently: The gods are beholden to certain laws; Styx is a part of the legal framework thereof; but Styx herself is also one of the gods, is 1 of the judges (of both the gods & the human dead) in the Underworld, &, unlike more abstract entities such as Tartarus or Pontus, is an actual full-fledged character with a distinct personality who expresses desires and possesses goals in the mythology. Where does she herself fit into said legal framework? – Adinkra Aug 23 at 17:20
  • @Adinkra The help center explicitly says that hypothetical "What if" questions are off-topic. If there are no actual myths where this happens, then no answer can be considered correct. – Spencer Aug 24 at 4:24
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    Hmmm... Technically it specifies against subjective, open-ended hypothetical Questions. But I suppose "open-ended", & how useful a particular inquiry is in its own context, are open to interpretation. I think I understand Fuzzy Squid's angle here (which I don't see as subjective), hence my offered interpretation, but that's merely my opinion. As I've pointed out, though, there are similar Questions on the site, likewise with no obvious direct example from an event occurring in a myth but with conclusions towards which one could reason, based on other events or principles therein. – Adinkra Aug 24 at 7:34
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Hypothetically

Hypothetically speaking if the goddess Styx were to fail in her oath she would have to drink from the river Styx. The water in this river is deadly to humans, black as the night and to gods it means madness. Her rights as a god would be revoked and be brought to Tartaros laid flat and not breathing for a great year (not so great for her).


In Hesiod's Theogony:

And there [in Haides] is housed a goddess loathed even by the immortals : dreaded Styx, eldest daughter of Okeanos (Oceanus), who flows back on himself, and apart from the gods she lives in her famous palace which is overroofed with towering rocks, and the whole circuit is undergirded with silver columns, and pushes heaven; and seldom does . . . Iris (the Rainbow), come her way with a message across the sea's wide ridges, those times when dispute and quarelling start among the immortals, and some one of those who have their homes on Olympos is lying, and Zeus sends Iris to carry the many-storied water that the gods swear their great oath on, thence, in a golden pitcher, that cold water that drizzles down from a steep sky-climbing cliffside, and it is one horn of the Okeanos stream, and travels off that holy river a great course through night's blackness under the wide-wayed earth and this water is a tenth part of all, for in nine loops of silver-swirling waters, around the earth and the sea's wide ridges he tumbles into salt water, but this stream, greatly vexing the gods, runs off the precipice. And whoever of the gods, who keep the summits of snowy Olympos, pours of this water, and swears on it, and is forsworn, is laid flat, and does not breathe, until a year is completed; nor is this god let come near ambrosia and nectar to eat, but with no voice in him, and no breath, he is laid out flat, on a made bed, and the evil coma covers him. But when, in the course of a great year, he is over his sickness, there follows on in succession another trial, yet harsher: for nine years he is cut off from all part of the everlasting gods, nor has anything to do with their counsels, their festivals for nine years entire, but in the tenth he once more mingles in the assemblies of the gods who have their homes on Olympos. Such an oath did the gods make of the imperishable, primevil water of Styx; and it jets down through jagged country." Hesiod, Theogony 775 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.)

Presumably this would happen to the goddess Styx if she were to hypothetically curse herself.

There is a question on this site called What would happen if you made contradictory vows on the River Styx? I suggest reading the answer of @Adinkra for extra info on the consequences of swearing an oath on the river Styx.

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I think it reasonable to conclude that indeed Styx could swear by her own name. The basic criterion making one eligible to swear this oath is for the swearer to be one of the gods, which she definitely is.

The Ceremony

Hesiod's Theogony suggests that she would also be required to participate in a libation ceremony in which she pours her own water out as an offering, apparently to herself but also to fellow inhabitants of the Underworld who are older than herself. Homer's Iliad suggests that these would be her uncle Kronos [Cronus] and the other Titans imprisoned in Tartaros [Tartarus], who are worshipped by the Olympians similarly to how certain humans venerate their ancestors.

Hesiod never explicitly says that the swearing god must drink Styx water during the libation but it is typical of such an offering (as it is of other types of sacrifice as well), especially in Ancient Greece, for the devotee to partake of a portion of what is offered. This⁠—drinking her own water⁠—would be, to me, the only particularly weird thing that Styx would have to do in order to swear the dread oath containing her own name (assuming that it's actually so mandatory to begin with).

The Words

Examples of Styx oath formulae sworn by certain deities in mythography, suggest, however, that the Olympians held the names of the most ancient members of their kind, the primaeval divinities who formed portions of the structure of the universe, to be just as sacred as that of the Underworld River of Abomination.

In sources as old as the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Homeric Hymns, we encounter things like Hera swearing to Zeus, in the same oath, not only by Styx, "the greatest, most formidable oath among the blessed gods," but also by Gaia (Earth), Ouranos [Uranus] (Heaven/ Sky) and by Zeus' own head! (See Iliad 15.36.)

In the Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo 84, the goddess Leto, while making a promise to the island of Delos, uses Hera's Iliad formula verbatim:

Now let Gaia be my witness, and the wide Ouranos above us, and the down-flowing waters of Styx...

And it isn't only the gods who actually lived on Mt Olympos [Olympus] who used this oath. In Odyssey 5.182, the sea-nymph Kalypso [Calypso], makes an oath to Odysseus in what gives us yet another instance of the formula we've seen being used by Hera and Leto in other Homeric literature: by Earth, Heaven, and the waters of Hate.

In much later mythography, Nonnus' Dionysiaca⁠—which, where it can, likes to allude to (or imitate) the Iliad⁠—has Aphrodite causing Poseidon and Dionysos [Dionysus] to swear "by Kronides [Zeus] and Gaia, by Aither [Aether] and the floods of Styx" (42.526-528).

The formula has essentially been duplicated, with the name of Kronides standing in for Zeus's head (from Iliad 15), and Aither replacing Ouranos. Aither, the clear, pure air above the clouds, which only the gods could breathe safely, is a primordial deity who, though associated with the Sky, is older than Ouranos (or thus he seems to appear to be in the Theogony). Meanwhile in Homeric poetry Gaia's name always comes first, but here Nonnus has given priority to Zeus.

Logistics of Importance

Conceivably, if Styx needed to swear a solemn oath, she could simply invoke Earth, Sky (or Aether) and Zeus, leaving her own name out. Nevertheless it is not absurd for a deity to invoke her/his own name in such a ceremony. Or at least it is not completely unheard of; and the best example for this that I can think of comes from the Bible, in which a similar principle as that expressed in the aforementioned Greek texts applies.

The idea is to call upon the highest, most revered or most powerful witness to acknowledge one's oath, as an indication that one unequivocally means to keep his word. In Hebrews 6.13-14, God invokes himself to witness the promise He makes to Abraham: "since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself" (which in turn is a reference to Genesis 22.16 & Exodus 32.13).

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