Hades in Greek Mythology — God of the Underworld, Lord of the Dead

Hades in Greek Mythology

Who is Hades in Greek Mythology?

HADES (whose name means “the unseen”) was the Greek god of the underworld, the realm of the dead. He was the son of CRONUS and RHEA and the brother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. He forcibly married Persephone, Demeter’s daughter.

At the division of the universe after the overthrow of their father, Zeus took the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld; the earth was shared among them. Another name for Hades was Polydegmon (“receiver of many guests”) on account of the multitudes who had died and come to his kingdom.

The ghosts of the dead were escorted by HERMES, the messenger god, to the boatman Charon who ferried across the Styx, an underground river, on those ghosts who could pay the fare. Cerberus, the three-headed dog, guarded the entrance to the underworld and prevented anyone from returning to the world of the living.

Hades, the Ruler of the Underworld

Hades, the Ruler of the Underworld

“The collector of souls surrounded by screams,
The guardian of Hell precisely it seems,
Consumes the bad, devoured by wrath,
Strong vile powers don’t enter his path,
Lives for the pain embraces his crown,
Watch out for the king that lay underground.”

Shortly after the Olympians defeated their father, Cronus, the reign of the Titans came to an end ushering the new rule of the Olympians. Hades and his brothers, Zeus and Poseidon, decided that they would divide their new kingdom’s control amongst each other, with Zeus ruling the sky, Poseidon the ocean, and Hades having the rule of the underworld.

It is the ruler of the underworld, Hades, that we’ll be focusing on today.

We know that the Titan Cronus was Hades’ father, and his mother was a Titan Rhea. Hades was the oldest of the three male Olympians, and he was the fourth born of the original six Olympians. The domain that belongs to Hades is now what we’ve come to refer to as the underworld, but it was also commonly referred to as ‘Hades’ in the name of its ruler.

The Underworld

The Underworld in Hades

The underworld is believed to be hidden deep beneath the earth and was considered to be surrounded by five rivers, Acheron, the river of woe; Cocytus, the river of lamentation; the Phlegethon, river of fire; Styx, the river of unbreakable oath; and Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.

Past the five rivers is a diamond gate, guarded by the three-headed hound, Cerberus. Deep within the underworld, there is a vast Palace that belongs to Hades. His palace was said to have rooms made entirely of silver and gold, decorated with all sorts of precious metals and jewels since Hades had access to all the riches under the earth. Persephone described these chambers as a dazzling wealth of brilliance even to rival that of Mount Olympus.

One can only reach the palace if Hades wishes them to. Those who are not welcome can walk an eternity without ever reaching it. Upon death, one soul would be led by Hermes to the entrance of the underworld. Once there, there was a ferry that would carry them across the river Styx—in another variant of Greek mythology; the river Acheron was said to be the passage for the ferry.

There was only one ferry run by the boatman known as Charon. He only took those across who could pay the fare. In order to prepare for the payment, coins would be placed in the lips of the Dead when they were buried. Those who could not afford the fare were trapped between the underworld and the realm of the living.

Once the ride had come to an end, the souls were allowed to pass through the gates by Cerberus, who would only ever enable souls to enter, never to leave. They would then appear before the three judges, Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus, who would decide their sentence’s severity based on their actions in their previous life.

Those considered to have lived a good, honest life would be sent to the Elysium field. The others were sentenced to be tormented for eternity.

It was known that Hades preferred to spend his time in the underworld. Though he was traditionally depicted as one of the twelve Olympians, he only ever ventured to Mount Olympus to commune with the gods in matters of great concern.

Despite the underworld being he’s territory, Hades was not considered to be the god of death. That was an honour that belongs to an entirely different god named Thanatos. Like his other two brothers, Hades was a greedy god and took a keen interest in growing his kingdom. He took pride in the subjects he collected, taken a liking to those whose actions caused death, which could be why the Orinis were treated as honoured guests within his kingdom.

Hades in Greek Believes

The people of ancient Greece feared Hades so much that they believed even saying his name would result in death coming quicker. This led to Hades being referred to by the Greeks as Pluton or Pluto by the Romans. Hades then became the god of wealth because of the precious metals that will be mined from deep within the earth. This also included the wealth of fertile soil that would nourish the seeds and grains.

Hades was often depicted as a dark bearded, stern and stoic, unyielding ruler who adamantly defended the dead’s right to burial. He was often seen on his black throne, wearing a helmet given to him by the Cyclops during the War of the Titans, granting the wearer invisibility.

Hades’ Weapon

Hades and his bident

The weapon that is most commonly associated with Hades was his Bident. This two-prong staff resembles a pitchfork, capable of shattering anything in his path and not to be confused with the three-pronged Trident of Poseidon.

Although not directly a weapon of Hades, Cerberus is a frequent companion and often referred to as the Hound of Hades.

Despite his immense power, Hades was regarded as the least powerful of the three brothers, with Poseidon being the second most potent and Zeus the most powerful.

Hades and Persephone

The Myth of Hades and Persephone

We mentioned Persephone at the start of this article; she was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, and she would eventually become the wife of Hades. But in order to make her his wife, Hades had to manipulate and trick her—this is a story we have covered in this article here; so, feel free to check it out here: The Myth Of Hades And Persephone — The Greek Story Of The Seasons.

Hades and Heracles (Hercules)

Hades and Heracles (Hercules)

With Hades being such a predominant figure in Greek mythology, he features in hundreds of stories. Most of these stories would involve individuals attempting to enter the underworld. One of the most well-known was in the 12 labours of Heracles.

Heracles was given the task by King Eurystheus of venturing into the underworld and bringing him back with him Cerberus to prove his fearlessness and strength. Upon arriving in the underworld, Heracles asked Hades for his permission to take back Cerberus. Hades was impressed by the respect and courage shown by Heracles to ask him such a thing.

The only condition Hades set was that Cerberus was not to be harmed—this meant that Heracles would have to wrestle the beasts with his bare hands. Heracles eventually managed to bring back Cerberus to show King Eurystheus; he was even able to return the Hound to the underworld unharmed.

Hades, Orpheus and Eurydice

Hades, Orpheus and Eurydice

Another similar tale is that of Orpheus, who travelled to the underworld in search of his wife, Eurydice.

Orpheus was a renowned musician, and upon arriving, he’s musical skills impressed Hades so much that he allowed him to leave with his wife, on the condition that until they reach the surface, he was not allowed to look back at his wife. Orpheus agreed, but as a test, Hades had given him the wrong soul!

Orpheus, so eager to glance at his wife once again, looked back, breaking his promise and losing his wife for a second time

Conclusion

These stories quite clearly indicate that Hades was not an evil god. When individuals came to him in their time of need, he chose not to turn them away but instead, he gave them the chance to earn what they desire. It seems that he is not against helping those in need, but only if they can prove themselves worthy.

The most recent depictions of Hades in movies and games often show him as evil, the villain of the story, and sometimes he appears more like a demon than a man. I guess we can attribute this to Hades been a dark and morbid character.

Whether you like Hades or not, there is no denying that he is one of the most interesting gods in Greek mythology.

Is Hades a god that you’re fond of? Is he a God that you haven’t heard much about? or Is he a god that you do not like?

I feel that Hades is one of the misunderstood gods. There isn’t much to suggest that Hades was evil, but thanks to many movies and games, he now has his reputation as a villain. In comparison to some of the other things done by other gods, Hades does seem to be one of the fairest and just gods in Greek mythology.

Images Sources: EmmanuelMadailArt

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