- 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 wasnt especially
monogamous. And like the other gods wives, Persephone wasnt 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
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 wasnt 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 anyones 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
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
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 couldnt 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 hed 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 didnt release him and turn himself in as Hades
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 wasnt especially
monogamous. And like the other gods wives, Persephone wasnt 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
The Symbols of the Greek God Hades
- Helmet or cap
- the planet Pluto
- Jewels, gems
- Gold and silver
- Cerberus (Three-headed dog)
- Treasure Chest
- Black horses
- Underground water