Heracles (Hercules) against Achelous fighting for Deianeira, Attic Red Figure Stamnos, probably Oltos Painter, 5th century BC, British Museum, Image , Closer Look , Info .

Heracles and Achelous, Louvre G 365

In Greek Mythology, Achelous (Greek: Αχελώος), was the patron deity of the river by the same name, which is the largest river of Greece, and thus the chief of all river deities, every river having its own river spirit. His name translates as "he who washes away care". He was the eldest child of Oceanus and Tethys. Achelous was a suitor for Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus king of Calydon, but was defeated by Heracles, who wed her himself. Sophocles pictures a mortal woman's terror at being courted by a chthonic river god:

'My suitor was the river Achelóüs,
who took three forms to ask me of my father:
a rambling bull once, then a writhing snake
of gleaming colors, then again a man
with ox-like face: and from his beard's dark shadows
stream upon stream of water tumbled down.
Such was my suitor.
' (Sophocles, Trachiniae)

Acheloosmask on a roman Mosaic in the City of Zeugma (now Iraq)

The sacred bull the serpent and the Minotaur are all creatures associated with the Earth Goddess Gaia. Achelous was also portrayed as a gray-haired old man with horns. He was also considered a storm-god. He was sometimes the father of the Sirens by Terpsichore.

Achelous Necklace

When Achelous was defeated, Heracles took one of his horns, and Achelous had to trade the goat horn of Amalthea to get it back. Heracles gave it to the Naiads, who transformed it into the cornucopia.

Metamorphoses Bk IX: 1-88 Hercules and Achelous, Solis

Heracles present the horn of Achelous to Zeus and Hera

He was sometimes the father of the Sirens by Terpsichore.

The mouth of the Acheloos river was the spot where Alcmaeon finally found peace from the Erinyes. Achelous offered him Callirhoe, his daughter, in marriage if Alcmaeon would retrieve the clothing and jewelry his mother, Eriphyle, had been wearing when she sent her husband, Amphiaraus to his death. Alcmaeon had to retrieve the clothes from King Phegeus, who sent his sons to kill Alcmaeon.

Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII, 547, IX, 1, and X, 87.

In another mythic context, the Achelous was said to be formed by the tears of Niobe, who fled to Mt. Sipylon after the deaths of her husband and children.

At the mouth of the Achelous River lie the Echinades Islands. According to myth, the Echinades Islands were once five nymphs. Unfortunately for them, they forgot to honor Achelous in their festivities, and the god was so angry about this slight that he turned them into the islands.

Other Paintings

Hercules victory over Achelous, Jakob Jordaens

Hercules and Achelous, Cornelis Cornelisz (Cornelis van Haarlem)(1562-1638), 192 x 244 cm, 1590. Gemälde Gallerie Kulturforum, Berlin

Bulfinch : Achelous and Hercules


  • Andrews, Tamra. A Dictionary of Nature Myths, 1998. ISBN # 0-19-513677-2
  • March, Jenny. Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology, 2001. ISBN # 0-304-35788-X

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