Hades is one of the three Olympians who divided all creation between themselves. His brothers are Zeus and Poseidon. It is said that Cronos once flung Hades into the depths of Tartarus, and so that was fated to be his kingdom when the three divine brothers drew lots to see where each would rule.

As the ruler of the Underworld, Hades became the God that presided over the afterlife. Using Hades' name directly was thought to be bad luck. It was thought that doing so called the god's attention, and let him learn of the affairs of the living world. Instead he was called "the wealthy one" or "receiver of many guests".

Hades left his kingdom so rarely and became so identified with his kingship that, in time, even the Underworld itself was simply called Hades. Referred to as the "Zeus of the Underworld," Hades' power within his realm was absolute. The other Olympians rarely dared go there, save for Hermes, who was allowed to escort the souls of the departed as part of his role as the Psychopompos.

Geographically, the great river Styx served to mark the boundary between the mortal world and the Underworld. The river flowed directly from Pontus, the Ocean himself. Styx's waters were so potent that the Gods swore oaths upon them, and suffered a host of torments if they dared to break their word.

A host of rivers that sprang from the Styx ran through the Underworld: the Phlegethon, a river of burning fire, Acheron, the river of woe, Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, and Cocylus, the river of lament.

To enter Hades, souls of the dead had to be ferried across the Styx by the ferryman, Charon. However, he charged to take passengers across. That is why Greeks buried their dead with a coin beneath their tongue (to pay the ferryman). Anyone who wasn't attended in this way was left on the riverbank to wait for all eternity.

Hades was the kingdom of the dead. Virtuous dead went on the Elysian Fields (a very different realm that was not under Hades' control). Those who found themselves in the Underworld were lost, wicked, or insufficiently virtuous.

Souls were judged by the shades of the three great kings: Minos, Radamanthus, and Aegeus. These are the spirits that would decide where each spirit would go. Once a person's soul entered Hades, it could never escape save by special dispensation from Hades himself. Those who attempted to leave were menaced by Cerberus.

Failing to reach the Elysian Fields was not the end of a person's judgment. These remaining souls were divided into two groups. Those who weren't wicked were allowed to roam freely in the Asphodel Fields, a stand of black poplars and sterile willows. This area was sacred to Persephone, and it stood on the edge of the kingdom.

There, the shades of the dead gathered in great throngs. These spirits could no longer do harm (or good). They only found pleasure in drinking the blood of black rams and bulls sacrificed to Hades.

The result was much worse for the truly wicked. Their time in Hades became an eternity of tortures designed to prevent them from ever forgetting their crimes. Perhaps the mist famous example was Tantalos, who had greedily stolen nectar and ambrosia from the Gods. In his afterlife he was tortured by hunger and thirst that could never be quenched. Water flowed up to hi lips only to ebb away if he tried to drink, and fruits that grew on the trees above his head would lift away as he tried to reach them.

Sisyphus, who revealed the secrets of the Gods for personal gain, was cursed to forever try to push a boulder up a hillside. At the last moment, the boulder always rolled back, forcing Sisyphus to begin his task again.

Those who denied hospitality to travelers or struck their parents could expect to be tormented by the Erinyes, or Furies. These Goddesses pursued the living and the dead with equal tenacity. Sometimes the Furies would personally deliver the wicked into Hades.

Hades had a power over darkness. His entire realm was cloaked in shadow, and could only be accessed by descending through cracks in the Earth after undergoing purifying rituals. Hades himself wore an enchanted helmet that let him cloak himself from all yes, mortal and immortal. Hades used this during battle to great effect. The only opponent known to ever wound him is Hercules who was such a good archer that he could hit even Hades.


1 comment:

  1. very impressive collection on ancient mythologies.