In Greek mythology and folklore, there are stories about various deities and mythical creatures. One of these deities was called Hades and he was said to be the lord of the dead and the king of the underworld.
He was the oldest male offspring of Rhea and Cronus. Cronus was the leader of the first generation of Titans. They were the descents of Uranus, the sky, and Gaia, the earth.
Hades had two brothers, Zeus and Poseidon. All three of them fought against Cronus and claimed authority over the cosmos. While Hades received the underworld to rule, Poseidon ruled the sea and land and Zeus became the ruler of the sky. The province of Gaia was open to all three at the same time.
Hades means the unseen one and ruled over the dead who became inhabitants of the underworld. He is said to have possessed a helmet that could make him invisible.
The Ancient Greeks believed that once a person dies he leaves his physical body and the shadow of the dead person travels to the underworld in order to be judged. This shadowy place below the earth was also called Hades.
Hades is often depicted with a dog possessing three heads called Cerberus. Hades is also referred to as the god of riches or wealth. Later on, the Romans called him Pluto which is a pluralized form of Plouton.
He was married to Persephone who was the daughter of Demeter, the deity of food and harvest. Demeter did not approve of the marriage of Hades and Persephone which is why Hades had to abduct Persephone and take her to the underworld.
Hades had three children, namely, Macaria, Melinoe, and Zagreus, and is known as the best leader of the underworld.
However, Hades was not the god of death and neither was he one of the judges of the underworld. He simply protected his dominion and never let any inhabitant leave.
Hades is depicted either with a scepter or with a cornucopia and was described by Homer and Hesiod as pitiless, loathsome, and monstrous.
War of the Titans
In Greek Mythology, Hades was worshipped as the deity of the underworld or home of the dead. He was one of 6 children of Rhea and Cronus.
Hades had three sisters and two brothers and all of them had been swallowed whole by Cronus as soon as they were born.
A prophecy revealed to Cronus that his own sons will defeat him as he had done with his father. To prevent this prophecy from coming true Cronus decided to eat all of his children.
However, Rhea had given Cronus a rock bundled in clothes in place of Zeus. He was hidden in a cave with dancers who clapped loudly whenever the baby cried.
When Zeus grew up, he gave an emetic to his father and forced him to pour out the 5 children from his stomach in reverse order. First the stone was gorged out and then his five siblings.
Afterward with the help of Cyclops and Hecatonchires, Zeus and his siblings fought the War of the Titans.
The conflict lasted for 10 years but ultimately the younger gods had defeated the older gods and confined them to Tartarus.
The three brothers divided the realms of their father’s leadership after the victory. Zeus ruled the skies, Poseidon ruled the sea and the solid land, whereas Hades received the underworld.
Hades did not feel satisfied by what he had received but since he had little choice, he moved to his new realm. Hades was the only deity in Greek Mythology who is said to have never resided on Mount Olympus.
Marriage with Persephone
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus, the chief of gods, and Demeter, the goddess of food and harvest. Hades had madly fallen in love with Persephone and desired her hand in marriage.
Zeus knew that Demeter would never agree to the union of her daughter and the king of the underworld, hence Zeus allowed Hades to take Persephone to the underworld against her will.
Demeter, the goddess of food also presided over the sacred law and the cycle of life and death, therefore, when she learned about the abduction of her daughter, she cast a curse on earth and a great famine took over the lands.
Many gods came to request Demeter to take her curse back but Demeter refused to yield until she met her daughter again.
Seeing Demeter in distress and the lands grow barren, Zeus decided to send his son, Hermes, to bring Persephone back from the underworld.
When Hades heard the message from Hermes, he allowed Persephone to go back to her mother but not without forcing her to eat pomegranate seeds.
Later Persephone learned that eating anything from the underworld would bind her fate with Hades and the underworld.
This made Demeter angry, however, Zeus had made a compromise before where it was decided that Persephone will remain in the underworld for only one season of the year and come back during spring.
This season that Persephone spends in the underworld is the time of winter and gloom for people on earth. She is often depicted as the goddess of spring.
In mythology, the marriage of Hades and Persephone saw several challenges. The mythical king of Athens, Theseus, and the king of the Lapiths of Larissa called Pirithous planned to abduct and marry the daughters of Zeus.
First, the best friends kidnapped Helen and kept her with Theseus’ mother Aethra. Then they both traveled to the underworld to bring Persephone for Pirithous.
Hades found out about their plan before and pretended to throw a feast in the honor of his guests. When both the kings sat down on the stone chairs, snakes coiled around their legs and bound them to their seats.
Heracles, the son of Zeus and Alcmene came to rescue Theseus, however, Pirithous was eternally trapped in the underworld for trying to kidnap the wife of a god for himself.
Persephone turned the nymph of Minthe, related to the river Cocytus into a mint plant in a fit of jealousy when she learnt about Hades’ affections for her.
The Realm of Hades
The Greek myths describe the realm of Hades as the home of the dead, it is where all people go when they die.
It is described as misty, dark, and gloomy with shadows of human beings wandering around disheartened.
It is said that only Heracles and Theseus were able to come out of the underworld, everyone else who dared to enter never returned.
The Greek philosophy explains the underworld as the place where all mortals go after death and are judged for their actions on earth. They were rewarded or punished accordingly.
The realm of Hades had 6 rivers and they all had symbolic meanings. The river of sorrow and woe was called Acheron, the river of lamentation was called Cocytus, the river of fire was Phlegethon, the river of oblivion was Lethe, the river of dread was Erebos and the river of hate was called Styx.
The river of Styx was the most important as one had to cross it after death in order to enter the underworld. It is named after the goddess Styx and circled around the underworld 7 times.
The river Styx snaked through the upper and lower worlds which is why even the gods swore upon it. Hades’ three-headed dog, Cerberus guarded the far side of the river Styx.
The entrance to the realm of Hades was lined by Grief, Anxiety, disease, Old Age, Fear, Hunger, Need, Death, Sleep and Guilty Joys lived. On the other side were War, Revenge, and Discord.
Many mythical creatures roamed near the doors like the Centaurs, Scylla, Briareus, Gorgons, Geryon, Chimera, and Harpies. In the middle was an Elm tree which had false Dreams hung under every leaf.
All souls carried a coin under their tongue when they entered Hades because Charon ferried them across the river for a charge. Charon is described as very dirty and unkempt.
His eyes are like jets of fire, he has a bushy beard on his chin and a dirty old cloak on his back. Charon agrees to carry all souls except the ones who have not been respectfully buried.
On the other side of the river near the gates sits Cerberus the hound of Hades and beyond him are the Judges of the underworld. They decide whether to send the soul to the Isles of the Blessed or to Tartarus.
The three judges were Rhadamanthys, Minos, and Aiakos. They were mortals and sons of Zeus but because they established law and order on earth, they were turned into the demi-god ministers in the realm of Hades.
Tartarus is the place where Zeus sent the Titans and his father Cronus after defeating them in the war of the Titans.
Tartarus was not in the realm of Hades directly, it is described as being as far from Hades as the earth is from the sky. It is described as very dark and if you looked above you could see the roots of the earth growing.
The Asphodel Meadows was a place for those souls that belonged nowhere else. These were souls that had been indifferent and did not commit any great crimes. But because they had not achieved any recognition or greatness, they could not be sent to the Elysian fields.
The Mourning Fields was a place that housed those souls that had been defeated by unrequited love. They were bound there because they wasted their lives on loving those who never loved them back.
The Elysian Fields was a place for people who lived righteous lives. The souls in Elysian Fields had no hard labor and lived an easy life. Rhadamanthus, one of the three judges, ruled the Elysian Fields.
The Isles of the blessed were islands within the Elysian fields. They were meant for demigods and heroes to live in an eternal paradise.
Symbolism and Legend
Hades is portrayed as sitting on an ebony throne. In one hand he holds a specter and in the other, he has a two pronged fork. His vehicle is shown as a black chariot with pitch-black horses.
He is depicted as accompanied by his three-headed dog Cerberus who was the offspring of the monsters Echidna and Typhon.
He is sometimes shown as a mature man holding a libation vase or a cornucopia which is a conical vessel containing flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
The Greeks were frightened of him and did not wish to think about him because they feared attracting his attention. Therefore, various epithets were born to refer to the god of the underworld.
Because he controlled all the minerals under the surface of the earth, he was called ‘the rich one’ or Pluto. Black animals were sacrificed for him and the blood was allowed to seep into the earth so that it could reach Hades.
Hades is depicted as very altruistic and known to be fair with all his subjects. He is portrayed to be passive and concerned with maintaining balance.
However, he was unyielding to prayers and exerted strict control over everyone in his dominion. He never left the underworld and commanded his three-headed dog, Cerberus, to never let any inhabitant escape.
He did not care about what happened in the other worlds and mainly concerned himself with the workings of the underworld.
The House of Hades was known to be full of guests and many deities came to visit him including Heracles, Odysseus, and Orpheus.
Because Hades represented death, he was feared by human beings. His presence repelled gods as well. In most of the depictions he is shown as a young man and often Persephone appears with him.