Rivers are magical, liminal places. Prehistoric man, in awe of their transportational qualities, threw in swords and other valuables as votive offerings to fluvial deities. The Greeks provided their dead with coins as fare for Charon, who ferried them across the river Styx to the Underworld. Rivers and their liquid, ever-changing names and meanings, are the backbone of Finnegan’s Wake, James Joyce’s last – and least readable – book.
Rivers both connect and divide. Not just the sublunar and the supernatural, also the real and the real. They’re mankind’s first highways, linking up all points on either shore along the navigable stretch between estuary and source. But rivers are also nature’s ready-made borders, seized upon by surveyors and mapmakers as obvious dividing markers (1) for the land they irrigate.