What is Tartarus in Greek Mythology?
In Greek mythology, Tartarus was a primordial deity, just like Chaos and Gaia, Mother Earth. Tartarus was the infernal regions of ancient Greek mythology, the deepest region of the world, the lower of the two parts of the underworld, where the gods locked up their enemies. Tartarus is also described as a deep abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked and as the prison for the Titans.
There seems to be quite an interest in many of the primordial deities that existed in ancient Greece, and one of the most requested seems to be Tartarus.
As of all of the primordial deities, there has always been this debate about whether they were actual physical beings or manifestations and personifications of ideas and places. One exactly Tartarus that came to exist is something that changes depending on the source that you’re using.
Hesiod himself believes that Tartarus was a third primordial deity following Chaos and Gaea. He also believes that Tartarus was the father of the monster Typhon.
In the ancient Norfolk tales, Tartarus was considered a deity and a place located in the underworld. He was also considered the first ad to have existed, and it was then from him that light and the cosmos were born.
Difference Between Tartarus and Hades, the Underworld
Tartarus, the place, can be found deep under the earth, even deeper than Hades.
Tartarus and the underworld are confused as the same place, but Tartarus can almost be described as the abyss below the underworld, which does, in fact, emerge of Hades in certain places.
The easiest way to distinguish between Tartarus and Hades is that Hades is the place of the Dead, where they go to rest or be punished once Aeacus, Minos and Rhadamanthus have judged them.
According to Plato, these three judges decides the fate of those in Hades, also deciding which of them would be sent to Tartarus.
Over the years, Tartarus would serve as a place for those who committed unspeakable acts against the gods or humanity—Tartarus essentially became a prison.
The earliest account of this being when Cronus rose to power as the king of the Titans. He immediately imprisoned the Hecatoncheires and the Cyclopes within Tartarus because he felt they could possibly ever throw him.
Cronus would then place a dragon outside the entrance of Tartarus to act as a guard, but Zeus would later kill this dragon when he travelled to Tartarus to free its prisoners and ask for their assistance during the war.
Ironically enough, Tartarus would then serve as a prison for many Titans when Zeus and his fellow Olympians would eventually emerge victoriously.
Kings Thrown to Tartarus in Ancient Greece
With the people of ancient Greece unable to punish their Kings, that task would fall to the gods and goddesses who would intervene, sending the guilty to Tartarus.
These fallen Kings included Tantalus, who killed his son and later served him to the gods during a feast; King Ixion, who pushed his father-in-law into a bed of burning coal and then attempted to rape Zeus’s wife Hera; and of course, King Sisyphus, who was known for killing guests and travellers, breaking the cardinal rule of hospitality.
We can simplify Tartarus to a dungeon or prison for those who are too powerful to have conventional methods of punishment forced upon them.
In Conclusion — How do I see Tartarus?
My interpretation of Tartarus is as the fiery pit below the underworld. I’ve never really seen Tartarus as a physical deity, just as I’ve never really imagined Gaia to have been a woman, more so symbolic of the earth and mother nature.
I see Tartarus, not as the deity of the pit or the prison, but the prison itself.
Much like the rest of the primordial beings, there is no real correct answer as most of it just comes down to personal interpretation. Some people view Tartarus as the deepest region in the world, the prison of the Damned and others see him as a deity that represents the region itself, but in the end, they refer to the same thing—a deep dark abyss that few will ever return from.
Tartarus is an interesting point of discussion and one that I’d like to hear your thoughts on. Do you consider him to be a deity or a place or perhaps both of them?
Image Sources: Brian Doers