Hades

Hades

  Hades, Greek God
of the Underworld

Hades, Ruler of the Sleeping and the Dead,
Known by Many Names,
The Invisible One or The Unseen,
Good Counselor,
And Hades, Zeus of the Underworld, the Greek god known
also as the Roman god Pluto.

Hades

Hades, Greek God of The Underworld

Hades, like his brothers and sisters, was swallowed at birth by his father, the Titan ruler Cronus, to prevent the fulfillment of a prophecy that one of his offspring would grow up to replace him on the throne. Years later his younger brother Zeus (who had been hidden away by their mother to prevent him from also being swallowed) made Cronus vomit up his siblings, and then led them in a battle to overthrow the Titans.

Knowing they would need armor, weapons, and troops to win the war, the three brothers, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, traveled to the Underworld to release the Cyclopes from their captivity.

Hades

The Cyclopes were a tribe of one-eyed giants who were fine metal smiths. Cronus had imprisoned them in Tartarus, a region in the Underworld that functioned both as a prison and as a place of exile and punishment, rather like our modern vision of hell. The Cyclopes, grateful for their release, crafted gifts for the brothers - thunderbolts for Zeus, a trident (three pronged spear) for Poseidon, and a magic helmet that rendered the wearer invisible for Hades.

The war was long and bloody, and Hades fought ferociously on the battlefront and proved himself a valiant warrior. The younger generation finally won when Hades, wearing his helmet of invisibility crept up on Cronus, Poseidon pinned him down with his trident, and Zeus rendered him unconscious by striking him with a thunderbolt.

greek god Hades

Once the battle with the Titans was over, the brothers drew lots to determine which regions each of them would rule. Poseidon won the oceans, Zeus the sky (which made him the supreme ruler over all the gods and goddesses as well), and Hades drew the Underworld.

This seemed to suit Hades just fine. The Greek god Hades, ruler of the Underworld, spent little time with his Olympian siblings, preferring instead to withdraw to his own space and to mind his own business, so to speak.

And surely his divine responsibility was large -- the management of the Underworld, an underground kingdom wherein lived the spirits of those who had died, those who slept and dreamed, and others who, for whatever reason, had been banished from the earth. With his dark, somewhat morbid nature, the Greek god Hades was undoubtedly well-suited to his career. Nonetheless, at times he was bound to be lonely.

greek god Hades

And so he decided that he needed a wife, and the adolescent goddess Persephone unwittingly attracted his eye. One can hardly blame Hades because the Underworld probably needed some “brightening up”, and the young Persephone's radiance would certainly liven up the place.

Hades, however, did not bother to woo the young Persephone. After asking for (and receiving) the approval of her father Zeus for Persephone's hand in marriage, Hades simply abducted her one bright sunny day when she stooped to pluck a narcissus from a field of wildflowers growing near her home. The meadow was suddenly rent open, and Hades simply reached out and snatched Persephone away, taking her to his underworld kingdom and making her his Queen.

greek god Hades story

Persephone remained lonely for her mother and the life she'd known on earth. Meanwhile her mother, the goddess Demeter, began an intensive search for Persephone. After learning how Zeus had betrayed their daughter, and consumed by grief and sorrow, Demeter refused to allow the crops to grow until Persephone was returned to her. Mankind was facing a dreadful famine. Zeus finally relented and sent the god Hermes to bring Persephone back to her mother.

Part of Persephone missed her mother horribly, but another part had grown rather fond of the god Hades. And Persephone was rather enjoying her role as Queen, even if it was in the Underworld.

While preparing to return to the earth with Hermes, Persephone accepted a pomegranate offered to her by Hades. She knew full well that anyone who had eaten while in the underworld would not be allowed to return, even a goddess -- but Persephone went ahead and ate seven of the seeds. Her choice prevented her from ever being fully restored to Demeter, but did open up the possibility of a compromise.

Hermes was able to negotiate an agreement between Hades and Demeter. Persephone would be allowed to stay with Hades in the underworld for four months each year (winter) and would return to the earth and her mother the remaining months. Each year as Persephone left to join her husband in the Underworld, Greek mythology tells us that the goddess Demeter would begin to grieve, bringing on the cold, barren winters. But a few months later Persephone would return, bringing spring with her.

Like most of the other gods, Hades wasn’t especially monogamous. And like the other gods’ wives, Persephone wasn’t usually very sympathetic and tended to vent her anger on his lovers instead of her husband.

When Persephone discovered Hades’ affair with the beautiful wood nymph Mintha, she simply trod her underfoot, turning her into the plant that we now call Mint.

More than any of the Greek gods, Hades seemed to respect women and was willing to participate in a marriage of equals, sharing his decision-making powers with his wife. The two of them functioned well as a team.

Given his lengthy absences from world affairs and his famous helmet of invisibility, it is understandable that Hades was called the “Unseen One” and the “Invisible One”. Hades is often depicted wearing the helmet, holding a cornucopia (horn of plenty) full of precious metals and jewels . . . not surprising since they are to be found underground, that is, in the realm of Hades.

Before proceeding with the myths of Hades, it would be a good idea to paint a clearer picture of his kingdom . . . it wasn’t all bad! Of course there was the aforementioned Tartarus, a place of profound misery where political prisoners and the most outrageous criminals were sent to endure unending punishments.

By some accounts the Underworld also contained the Elysian Fields, where those who were notably heroic or noble would go for their reward after death. But, for the most part, the Underworld was a place where anyone’s shade, or soul, could go after death.

The price of admission was one coin (of any denomination) to pay Charon, the ferryman, to take the shade across the River Styx that separated the earth from the Underworld. This led to the practice of placing a coin under the tongue or on the eyelids of the recently deceased . . . a way to be sure that the departed could pay the ferryman. Otherwise, without the coin, the spirit would have to restlessly wander the earth for more than a hundred years. Those whose shades entered the Underworld could rest there forever, or choose to be reborn, hopefully perfecting their lives so they could qualify for admission to the Elysian Fields after their next death. Everyone got three lives.

Hades appears to have had three major responsibilities in running the day-to-day operation of the Underworld. The first was to prevent escapes, or returns to the earth, by the dead. In this he was assisted by a ferocious three-headed dog named Cerberus, who actually belonged to the goddess-sorcerer Hecate who had her home in the Underworld.

Since the rule was that once you entered the Underworld you were not allowed to leave, very few ever visited the kingdom (or cared to). Two notable exceptions to that rule were Zeus’ messenger Hermes and the goddess Hecate, who lived in the Underworld, but often left to walk around on the earth visiting the shades who had to wander the earth, bringing them comfort. She was often accompanied by her dog Cerberus on these visits. The other permanent guests who had responsibilities both in the Underworld and on earth, and therefore could come and go freely, were: Thanatos (Death), Hypnos( Sleep), and Morpheus (Dreams).

Others visited only by special invitation. Psyche was allowed to enter the Underworld to pick up a jar of beauty ointment from Persephone for her mother-in-law Aphrodite. Another visitor, Orpheus, who was grieving the death of his wife Eurydice, played and sang so movingly for Hades and Persephone that, touched by his performance, Hades agreed to let Orpheus take his wife back with him to the land of the living. He set only one condition - that Orpheus could not look at her until they reached the sunlight of the earth. Unfortunately Orpheus couldn’t resist the impulse, and the shade of Eurydice returned instantly to live with the dead. Hades refused to allow Orpheus a second chance.

The only visitor who ever entered without Hades’ permission was the great hero Heracles (Hercules) who had been sent to rescue Theseus as a test, the Twelfth Labor of Heracles. Theseus’ best friend had become infatuated with Hades’ wife and had persuaded Theseus to him kidnap her and bring her back to earth so he could marry her. Hades became suspicious and invited them to dinner. The two, naturally, agreed thinking this would be the perfect opportunity to whisk Persephone away. But Hades was prepared for them and had the forge god Hephaestus make him some magical “Chairs of Forgetfulness”. The two set down to dine and promptly forgot what they had come to do.

At any rate, Heracles, managed to rescues Theseus away from Hades, dragging Cerberus to the surface and wounding Hades as they struggled.

Another responsibility of Hades was meting out punishment. While Hades was naturally fearsome to behold because of his association with death, and was not a particularly merciful god, he was perceived as being just and fair.

Finding just the “right” punishment to fit the crime was not a job that most would have envied, but Hades did it well, coming up with countless creative sentences that enliven Greek mythology. Perhaps the most famous was the punishment of Sisyphus.

Zeus was enamored with the daughter of a river god and was romancing her in a wooded valley when he father started looking for her and ran into King Sisyphus who told him that Zeus had fallen in love with his daughter and was in the process of abducting her. The enraged father found them walking in the woods and, brandishing a large club, raced toward the unarmed Zeus (who had hung his thunderbolts in a nearby tree while he courted). The startled Zeus quickly turned himself into a rock, confusing the father, and this allowed Zeus time to retrieve his weapons and “shoot” him in the leg with a thunderbolt.

Even though he’d escaped, Zeus felt humiliated and was furious with the king and his big mouth! Zeus ordered Hades to capture and imprison the king and to administer the severest of punishments possible.

So Hades went to fetch Sisyphus. The king not only refused to go quietly but also tricked Hades into handcuffing himself, then kept Hades in captivity for over a month, walking him around the palace on a leash and making fun of him. Needless to say, the somber and dignified Hades was not at all amused!

Ares, the god of war, currently bored with the endless petty wars of the Greeks decided to rescue Hades and came to his assistance, threatening to decapitate Sisyphus if he didn’t release him and turn himself in as Hades’ prisoner.

The rescue was successful, but the wily Sisyphus had another trick up his sleeve. Once they had arrived in the Underworld, Sisyphus pleaded his case in front of the Queen, arguing that he could not be retain in the Underworld because he was not yet dead, nor had he ever paid the ferryman. Persephone allowed him to leave, but with instructions to return the next day, suitably dead and with a coin under his tongue to start his sentence.

Sisyphus laughed all the way home, thinking that there was no way that he would go back . . . but the next day Hermes showed up on his doorstep announcing that Fates had decreed that it was his time to die….and Hermes escorted him into the Underworld to face his fate.

Once they reached the Underworld, Hades’ Judges of the Dead pronounced his sentence -to push a heavy rock over the top of the mountain in Tartarus and each time the rocks rolls back (which it always did, of course) to start all over again. Hades added an extra touch and had the rock shaped just like the one Zeus had transformed himself into, just in case Sisyphus missed the point!

Like most of the other gods, Hades wasn’t especially monogamous. And like the other gods’ wives, Persephone wasn’t usually very understanding and tended to vent her anger on his lovers instead of her husband. When Persephone discovered Hades’ affair with the beautiful wood nymph Mintha, she simply trod her underfoot, turning her into the plant that we now call Mint.

More than any of the gods, Hades seemed to respect women and was willing to participate in a marriage of equals, sharing his decision-making powers with his wife. The two of them functioned well as a team.

In his role as “Good Counselor”, Hades was responsible for helping those who had died to make a successful transition into the afterlife, introducing them to the riches of a life lived subjectively and internally, away from the distractions of the external world. Hades teaches us to be quiet at times, listening carefully to the inner voices that direct us to the hidden riches buried deeply within the soul.

The Symbols of the Greek God Hades

  • Helmet or cap
  • the planet Pluto
  • Jewels, gems
  • Gold and silver
  • Cerberus (Three-headed dog)
  • Treasure Chest
  • Mint
  • Black horses
  • Shadows
  • Underground water

Which god are you?  Hades?
Or one of the other
Greek gods?

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