In Greek mythology, Achelous (English pronunciation: /ækɨˈloʊ.əs/; Greek: Ἀχελῷος Achelōos) was the patron deity of the "silver-swirling" Acheloos River, which is the largest river of Greece, and thus the chief of all river deities, every river having its own river spirit. His name is pre-Greek, its meaning unknown. The Greeks invented etymologies to associate it with Greek word roots (one such popular etymology translates the name as "he who washes away care"). However, these are etymologically unsound and of much later origin than the name itself.
Some Greek sources say that he was the son of Gaia and Oceanus; however, ancient Greeks generally believed with Hesiod that Tethys and Oceanus were the parents of all three thousand river gods. In the Renaissance, the improvisatory mythographer Natalis Comes made for his parents Gaia and Helios, Homer placed Achelous above all, the origin of all the world's fresh water. By Roman times, Homer's reference was interpreted as making Achelous "prince of rivers".
Others derived the legends about Achelous from Egypt, and describe him as a second Nilus. But however this may be, he was from the earliest times considered to be a great divinity throughout Greece, and was invoked in prayers, sacrifices, on taking oaths, &c., and the oracular Zeus at Dodona usually added to each oracle he gave, the command to offer sacrifices to Achelous. This wide extent of the worship of Achelous also accounts for his being regarded as the representative of sweet water in general, that is, as the source of all nourishment.
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:
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