|King of the underworld
God of the Dead and Riches
|Symbol||Cerberus, Drinking horn, scepter, Cypress, Narcissus, key|
|Parents||Cronus and Rhea|
|Siblings||Poseidon, Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Zeus, Chiron|
|Children||Macaria, Melinoe and Zagreus|
|Roman equivalent||Dis Pater, Orcus|
Hades (//; from Ancient Greek Ἅιδης/ᾍδης) was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. Eventually, the god's name came to designate the abode of the dead. In Greek mythology, Hades is the oldest male child of Cronus and Rhea considering the order of birth from the mother, or the youngest, considering the regurgitation by the father. The latter view is attested in Poseidon's speech in the Iliad. According to myth, he and his brothers Zeus and Poseidon defeated the Titans and claimed rulership over the cosmos, ruling the underworld, air, and sea, respectively; the solid earth, long the province of Gaia, was available to all three concurrently.
Later, the Greeks started referring to the god as Plouton (see below), which the Romans Latinized as Pluto. The Romans would associate Hades/Pluto with their own chthonic gods, Dis Pater and Orcus. The corresponding Etruscan god was Aita. He is often pictured with the three-headed dog Cerberus. In the later mythological tradition, though not in antiquity, he is associated with the Helm of Darkness and the bident.
Names and epithets
As with almost every name for the gods, the origin of Hades's name is obscure. The name as it came to be known in classical times was Ἅιδης, Hāidēs. Later the iota became silent. Originally it was *Awides which has been claimed to mean "unseen". This changed into Ἀΐδης, Aïdēs (and afterwards Āïdēs), with the dropping of the digamma. This Ionic and epic form of the name is the one used in epic poetry.
Plato's Cratylus speculates extensively upon the etymology, with the character of Socrates asserting that the god's name is not from aeides (unseen) as was commonly thought at the time, but rather from "his knowledge (eidenai) of all noble things". Others have interpreted it as "the one who presides over meeting up" (in the sense that he is the lord of the place everyone comes to inhabit at the end of his life).
Poetic variations of the name include Ἀϊδωνεύς, Aïdōneus, and *Ἄϊς, Aïs (a nominative case by conjecture), from which the inflected forms Ἄϊδος, Āïdos, Ἄϊδι, Āïdi, and Ἄϊδα, Āïda, (gen., dat. and acc. cases, respectively) are commonly seen in poetry.
Perhaps from fear of pronouncing his name, c. 5th century BCE the Greeks started referring to Hades as Pluto (Πλούτων, Ploutōn), with a root meaning "wealthy", considering that from the abode below (i.e., the soil) come riches (e.g., fertile crops, metals and so on). More elaborated names of the same genre were Πλουτοδότης, Ploutodotēs, or Πλουτοδοτήρ, Ploutodotēr, meaning "giver of wealth".
Epithets of Hades include Agesander (Ἀγήσανδρος) and Agesilaos (Ἀγεσίλαος), both from ago (ἄγω, "lead", "carry" or "fetch") and anēr (ἀνήρ, "man") or laos (λαός, "men" or "people"), describing Hades as the god who carries away all. Nicander uses the form Hegesilaus (Ἡγεσίλαος).
God of the underworld
|Famous Tartarus inmates|
In Greek mythology, Hades the god of the underworld, was a son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. He had three sisters, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera, as well as two brothers, Zeus, the youngest of the three, and Poseidon, collectively comprising the original six Olympian gods. Upon reaching adulthood, Zeus managed to force his father to disgorge his siblings. After their release the six younger gods, along with allies they managed to gather, challenged the elder gods for power in the Titanomachy, a divine war. The war lasted for ten years and ended with the victory of the younger gods. Following their victory, according to a single famous passage in the Iliad (xv.187–93), Hades and his two brothers, Poseidon and Zeus, drew lots for realms to rule. Zeus got the sky, Poseidon got the seas, and Hades received the underworld, the unseen realm to which the souls of the dead go upon leaving the world as well as any and all things beneath the earth.
Hades obtained his wife and queen, Persephone, through trickery and violent abduction. The myth, particularly as represented in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, connected the Eleusinian Mysteries with the Olympian pantheon. Helios told the grieving Demeter that Hades was not unworthy as a consort for Persephone:
"Aidoneus, the Ruler of Many, is no unfitting husband among the deathless gods for your child, being your own brother and born of the same stock: also, for honor, he has that third share which he received when division was made at the first, and is appointed lord of those among whom he dwells."
- — Homeric Hymn to Demeter
Despite modern connotations of death as evil, Hades was actually more altruistically inclined in mythology. Hades was often portrayed as passive rather than evil; his role was often maintaining relative balance.
Hades ruled the dead, assisted by others over whom he had complete authority. He strictly forbade his subjects to leave his domain and would become quite enraged when anyone tried to leave, or if someone tried to steal the souls from his realm. His wrath was equally terrible for anyone who tried to cheat death or otherwise crossed him, as Sisyphus and Pirithous found out to their sorrow.
Besides Heracles, the only other living people who ventured to the Underworld were all heroes: Odysseus, Aeneas (accompanied by the Sibyl), Orpheus, Theseus with Pirithous, and, in a late romance, Psyche. None of them were pleased with what they witnessed in the realm of the dead. In particular, the Greek war hero Achilles, whom Odysseus conjured with a blood libation, said:
"O shining Odysseus, never try to console me for dying.
I would rather follow the plow as thrall to another
man, one with no land allotted to him and not much to live on,
than be a king over all the perished dead."
Hades, god of the dead, was a fearsome figure to those still living; in no hurry to meet him, they were reluctant to swear oaths in his name, and averted their faces when sacrificing to him. Since to many, simply to say the word "Hades" was frightening, euphemisms were pressed into use. Since precious minerals come from under the earth (i.e., the "underworld" ruled by Hades), he was considered to have control of these as well, and was referred to as Πλούτων (Plouton, related to the word for "wealth"), Latinized as Pluto. Sophocles explained referring to Hades as "the rich one" with these words: "the gloomy Hades enriches himself with our sighs and our tears." In addition, he was called Clymenus ("notorious"), Polydegmon ("who receives many"), and perhaps Eubuleus ("good counsel" or "well-intentioned"), all of them euphemisms for a name that was unsafe to pronounce, which evolved into epithets.
Feared and loathed, Hades embodied the inexorable finality of death: "Why do we loathe Hades more than any god, if not because he is so adamantine and unyielding?" The rhetorical question is Agamemnon's. He was not, however, an evil god, for although he was stern, cruel, and unpitying, he was still just. Hades ruled the Underworld and was therefore most often associated with death and feared by men, but he was not Death itself — the actual embodiment of Death was Thanatos.
When the Greeks propitiated Hades, they banged their hands on the ground to be sure he would hear them. Black animals, such as sheep, were sacrificed to him, and the very vehemence of the rejection of human sacrifice expressed in myth suggests an unspoken memory of some distant past. The blood from all chthonic sacrifices including those to propitiate Hades dripped into a pit or cleft in the ground. The person who offered the sacrifice had to avert his face.
One ancient source says that he possessed the Cap of invisibility. His chariot, drawn by four black horses, made for a fearsome and impressive sight. His other ordinary attributes were the narcissus and cypress plants, the Key of Hades and Cerberus, the three-headed dog.
The philosopher Heraclitus, unifying opposites, declared that Hades and Dionysus, the very essence of indestructible life (zoë), are the same god. Among other evidence Karl Kerenyi notes that the grieving goddess Demeter refused to drink wine, which is the gift of Dionysus, after Persephone's abduction, because of this association, and suggests that Hades may in fact have been a "cover name" for the underworld Dionysus. He suggests that this dual identity may have been familiar to those who came into contact with the Mysteries. One of the epithets of Dionysus was "Chthonios", meaning "the subterranean".
Persephone did not submit to Hades willingly, but was abducted by him while picking flowers in the fields of Nysa. In protest of his act, Demeter cast a curse on the land and there was a great famine; though, one by one, the gods came to request she lift it, lest mankind perish, she asserted that the earth would remain barren until she saw her daughter again. Finally, Zeus intervened; via Hermes, he requested that Hades return Persephone. Hades complied,
"But he on his part secretly gave her sweet pomegranate seed to eat, taking care for himself that she might not remain continually with grave, dark-robed Demeter."
Demeter questioned Persephone on her return to light and air:
"...but if you have tasted food, you must go back
again beneath the secret places of the earth, there to dwell a third part of the seasons every year: yet for the two parts youshall be with me and the other deathless gods."
This bound her to Hades and the Underworld, much to the dismay of Demeter. It is not clear whether Persephone was accomplice to the ploy. Zeus proposed a compromise, to which all parties agreed: of the year, Persephone would spend one third with her husband.
Theseus and Pirithous
Theseus and Pirithous pledged to kidnap and marry daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen and together they kidnapped her and decided to hold onto her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose Persephone. They left Helen with Theseus' mother, Aethra and traveled to the Underworld. Hades knew of their plan to capture his wife, so he pretended to offer them hospitality and set a feast; as soon as the pair sat down, snakes coiled around their feet and held them there. Theseus was eventually rescued by Heracles but Pirithous remained trapped as punishment for daring to seek the wife of a god for his own.
Heracles' final labour was to capture Cerberus. First, Heracles went to Eleusis to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. He did this to absolve himself of guilt for killing the centaurs and to learn how to enter and exit the underworld alive. He found the entrance to the underworld at Taenarum. Athena and Hermes helped him through and back from Hades. Heracles asked Hades for permission to take Cerberus. Hades agreed as long as Heracles didn't harm Cerberus. When Heracles dragged the dog out of Hades, he passed through the cavern Acherusia.
Realm of Hades
In older Greek myths, the realm of Hades is the misty and gloomy abode of the dead (also called Erebus), where all mortals go. Very few mortals could leave Hades once they entered. The exceptions, Heracles and Theseus, are heroic. Even Odysseus in his Nekyia (Odyssey, xi) calls up the spirits of the departed, rather than descend to them. Later Greek philosophy introduced the idea that all mortals are judged after death and are either rewarded or cursed.
There were several sections of the realm of Hades, including Elysium, the Asphodel Meadows, and Tartarus. Greek mythographers were not perfectly consistent about the geography of the afterlife. A contrasting myth of the afterlife concerns the Garden of the Hesperides, often identified with the Isles of the Blessed, where the blessed heroes may dwell.
In Roman mythology, the entrance to the Underworld located at Avernus, a crater near Cumae, was the route Aeneas used to descend to the realm of the dead. By synecdoche, "Avernus" could be substituted for the underworld as a whole. The di inferi were a collective of underworld divinities.
For Hellenes, the deceased entered the underworld by crossing the Acheron, ferried across by Charon (kair'-on), who charged an obolus, a small coin for passage placed in the mouth of the deceased by pious relatives. Paupers and the friendless gathered for a hundred years on the near shore according to Book VI of Vergil's Aeneid. Greeks offered propitiatory libations to prevent the deceased from returning to the upper world to "haunt" those who had not given them a proper burial. The far side of the river was guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog defeated by Heracles (Roman Hercules). Passing beyond Cerberus, the shades of the departed entered the land of the dead to be judged.
The five rivers of the realm of Hades, and their symbolic meanings, are Acheron (the river of sorrow, or woe), Cocytus (lamentation), Phlegethon (fire), Lethe (oblivion), and Styx (hate), the river upon which even the gods swore and in which Achilles was dipped to render him invincible. The Styx forms the boundary between the upper and lower worlds. See also Eridanos.
The first region of Hades comprises the Fields of Asphodel, described in Odyssey xi, where the shades of heroes wander despondently among lesser spirits, who twitter around them like bats. Only libations of blood offered to them in the world of the living can reawaken in them for a time the sensations of humanity.
Beyond lay Erebus, which could be taken for a euphonym of Hades, whose own name was dread. There were two pools, that of Lethe, where the common souls flocked to erase all memory, and the pool of Mnemosyne ("memory"), where the initiates of the Mysteries drank instead. In the forecourt of the palace of Hades and Persephone sit the three judges of the Underworld: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus. There at the trivium sacred to Hecate, where three roads meet, souls are judged, returned to the Fields of Asphodel if they are neither virtuous nor evil, sent by the road to Tartarus if they are impious or evil, or sent to Elysium (Islands of the Blessed) with the "blameless" heroes.
In the Sibylline oracles, a curious hodgepodge of Greco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian elements, Hades again appears as the abode of the dead, and by way of folk etymology, it even derives Hades from the name Adam (the first man), saying it is because he was the first to enter there.
Charon the ferryman
Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology
Hades in popular culture
- * Tripp, Edward, Crowell's Handbook of Classical Mythology, Ty Crowell Co; First edition (June 1970). ISBN 069022608X , "Hades", p. 256
- See Ancient Greek phonology
- Mike Dixon-Kennedy, following Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks (1951:230), in Encyclopedia of Greco-Roman Mythology, 1998:143: "his name means 'the unseen', a direct contrast to his brother Zeus, who was originally seen to represent the brightness of day"; Vyacheslav V. Ivanov, "Old Novgorodian Nevide, Russian nevidal’: Greek ἀίδηλος," citing Robert S. P. Beekes, "Hades and Elysion" in J. Jasanoff, et al., eds., Mír Curad: Studies in Honor of Calvert Watkins, 1998. Beekes shows that Thieme’s derivation from *som wid- is semantically untenable; see also R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 34.
- Bailly, Anatole; Dictionnaire Grec Français, 26th ed. (1963) (entry: "Ἅιδης")
- L. West, Martin, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (2007), p. 394.
- Bailly, Anatole; Dictionnaire Grec Français, 26th ed. (1963) (entry: "*Ἄϊς")
- Bailly, Anatole; Dictionnaire Grec Français, 26th ed. (1963) (entry: "Πλούτων")
- Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, 806, note. Translated by Smyth, Herbert Weir (1922) in Loeb Classical Library, Volume 145.
- Schmitz, Leonhard (1867). "Agesander (1)". In Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 1. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 68.
- Liddell, Henry; Robert Scott (1996). A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. s.v. ISBN 0-19-864226-1.
- Callimachus, Hymn. in Pallad. 130, with Friedrich Spanheim's note
- Hesychius of Alexandria s.v.
- Aeschyl. ap. Athen. iii. p. 99
- Nicander, ap. Athen. xv. p. 684
- Walter Burkert, in The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, 1992, (pp 90ff) compares this single reference with the Mesopotamian Atra-Hasis: "the basic structure of both texts is astonishingly similar." The drawing of lots is not the usual account; Hesiod (Theogony, 883) declares that Zeus overthrew his father and was acclaimed king by the other gods. "There is hardly another passage in Homer which comes so close to being a translation of an Akkadian epic," Burkert concludes (p. 91).
- Poseidon speaks: "For when we threw the lots I received the grey sea as my abode, Hades drew the murky darkness, Zeus, however, drew the wide sky of brightness and clouds; the earth is common to all, and spacious Olympus." Iliad 15.187
- The name Eubouleos is more often seen as an epithet for Dionysus or Zeus.
- Iliad, ix
- "Hades never knows what is happening in the world above, or in Olympus, except for fragmentary information which comes to him when mortals strike their hands upon the earth and invoke him with oaths and curses" (Robert Graves, The Greek Myths 1960: §31.e).
- Kerenyi, Gods of the Greeks 1951:231.
- Heraclitus, encountering the festival of the Phallophoria, in which phalli were paraded about, remarked in a surviving fragment: "If they did not order the procession in honor of the god and address the phallus song to him, this would be the most shameless behavior. But Hades is the same as Dionysos, for whom they rave and act like bacchantes" (quoted in Karl Kerenyi, Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life [Princeton University Press, 1976] pp239f.).
- Kerenyi 1967, p. 40.
- Kerenyi 1976, p. 240
- Kerenyi, C. (1967). Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01915-0; Kerenyi 1976). Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life. Princeton University Press.
- The Rape of Persephone Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples, Italy
- Guirand, Felix, Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, (Batchworth Press Limited) 1959: 190.
- Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 370ff.
- Guirand, Felix, Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology', (Batchworth Press Limited), 1959: 175.
- Guirand, Felix, Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Batchworth Press Limited, 1959: 176.
- Homeric Hymn to Demeter
- Aeneid, book 6.
- Sibylline Oracles I, 101–3
- Not on the eyes; all literary sources specify the mouth. Callimachus, Hecale fragment 278 in R. Pfeiffer's text Callimachus (Oxford UP, 1949), vol.2, p. 262; now ordered as fragment 99 by A.S.D. Hollis, in his edition, Callimachus: Hecale (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1990), pp. 284f., from the Suidas, English translation online, specifying the mouth, also Etymologicum Graecum ("Danakes"). See also Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, entry on "Charon" online for placement in the mouth, though archaeology disproves Smith's statement that every corpse was given a coin; see article on Charon's obol.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hades.|
- Maps of the Underworld (Greek mythology)
- The God Hades
- Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades by Flavius Josephus
- Theoi Project, Hades references in classical literature and ancient art
- Greek Mythology Link, Hades