Lethe - a dip into the mythology behind the name of our newly expanded collection
In this blog to celebrate our newest expansion of our Lethe collection we will be going into greater detail to examine the myth which inspired the name of this collection. As mentioned briefly in the previous post where we introduced our skull collection, the Lethe was a river in the Greek underworld which the souls of the dead would drink and forget their earthly lives. As with many mythological rivers Lethe is sometimes personified as a goddess and is often linked with the god of sleep, Hypnos. Lethe being so closely linked to the Greek afterlife, much like the river Styx means that over the centuries and millennia it has become a byword for death itself as can be seen in Goethes Roman Elegies “Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe ice cold wave will lick your escaping foot”.
This link between death, forgetfulness and peace has been echoed as a motif by many literary figures throughout history often seeing death and the forgetting of life’s many troubles and worries as a form of release. An example of this can be seen in Edna St Vincent Millay poem, also titled lethe which describes the river as “the taker-away of pain, the giver- back of beauty”.
The numbing nature of forgetfulness or another translation given to lethe ‘oblivion’ has also meant it has been associated with plants or other substances which have an anaesthetic like effect such as poppies as described by Virgil, Georgics 1. 78 (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"Poppies, steeped in Lethe's slumber.", referring to the flowers soporific qualities. This link was extended into the scientific realm as seen by William T.G Morton naming the ether he used as an anaesthetic as “Leathean”. These examples can be seen as extending the idea of death as a balm, comparing it to sleep.
The use of Lethe as a metaphor for both forgetfulness and death adds an extra level of meaning to the use of skull imagery in our jewellery as it can also be seen as a take on a well know jewellery style which is memento mori – remember you too shall die. It gained popularity after the black plague in the thirteenth century, a reminder that death came to all and that it was the great leveller. We also love the use of symbolism of skulls/ death within tarot to represent transformation, death to the old to welcome the new
The main takeaway of Lethe from both the original mythology and how it has been utilised in more modern literary works as a metaphor for death seems to be that death is forgetting both the good and bad of the mortal world. The metaphor of death as oblivion, where all is forgotten, suggesting peace and rest at the end. That sense of serenity is what we look to inspire with our Lethe collection, a delicate reminder of oblivion.