Hades (from Greek ᾍδης, Haidēs, originally Ἅιδης, Haidēs or Ἀΐδης, Aïdēs; of uncertain origin, although it has been ascribed to Greek "unseen", conceptual analogue, the Hebrew word for the abode of the dead, Sheol, also literally meant "unseen") refers to both the ancient Greek Underworld and the God of the Dead. The word originally referred to just the god; ᾍδού, Haidou its genitive, was short for "the house of Hades". Eventually, the nominative, too, came to designate the abode of the dead.
Hades was also known as Pluto (from Greek Πλούτων, Ploutōn), and was known by this name, as well as Dis Pater and Orcus, in Roman mythology; the corresponding Etruscan god was Aita. "Hades" is employed by some Christians as a residing place for souls that have fallen from grace.
Hades, the abode of the dead
There were several sections of Hades, including the Elysian Fields (contrast the Christian Paradise or Heaven), and Tartarus, (compare the Christian Hell). Greek mythographers were not perfectly consistent about the geography of the afterlife.
In Roman mythology, an entrance to the underworld located at Avernus, a crater near Cumae, was the route Aeneas used to descend to the Underworld. By synecdoche, "Avernus" could be substituted for the underworld as a whole. The Inferi Dii were the Roman gods of the underworld.
The deceased entered the underworld by crossing the river Acheron, also called the Styx, ferried across by Charon (kair'-on), who charged an obolus, a small coin for passage, placed under the tongue of the deceased by pious relatives. Paupers and the friendless gathered forever on the near shore. The far side of the river was guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog defeated by Heracles (Roman Hercules). Beyond Cerberus, the shades of the departed entered the land of the dead to be judged.
The five rivers of Hades are Acheron (the river of sorrow), Cocytus (lamentation), Phlegethon (fire), Lethe (forgetfulness) and Styx (hate). See also Eridanos. The Styx forms the boundary between upper and lower worlds.
The first region of Hades comprises the Fields of Asphodel], described in Odyssey xi, where the shades of heroes wander despondently among lesser spirits, who twitter around them like bats. Only libations of blood offered to them in the world of the living can reawaken in them for a time the sensations of humanity (compare vampires).
Beyond lay Erebus, which could be taken for a euphonym of Hades, whose own name was dread. There were two pools, that of Lethe, where the common souls flocked to erase all memory, and the pool of Mnemosyne ("memory"), where the initiates of the Mysteries drank instead. In the forecourt of the palace of Hades and Persephone sit the three judges of the Underworld: Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aeacus. There at the trivium sacred to Hecate, where three roads meets, souls are judged, returned to the Fields of Asphodel if they are neither virtuous nor evil, sent by the road to Tartarus if they are impious or evil, or sent to Elysium with the heroic or blessed.
Hades, the lord of the Underworld
In Greek mythology, Hades (the "unseen"), the god of the underworld, was a son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. He had three older sisters, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera, as well as two younger brothers, Poseidon and Zeus: together they accounted for half of the Olympian gods.
Upon reaching adulthood Zeus managed to force his father to disgorge his siblings. After their release the six younger gods, along with allies they managed to gather, challenged their parents and uncles for power in the Titanomachy, a divine war. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades received weapons from the three Cyclops to help in the war. Zeus the thunderbolt; Hades the helmet of invisibility; and Poseidon the trident. During the night before the first battle Hades put on his helmet and, being invisible, sneaked over to the Titans' camp and destroyed their weapons. The war lasted for ten years and ended with the victory of the younger gods. Following their victory Hades and his two younger brothers, Poseidon and Zeus, drew lots for realms to rule. Zeus got the sky, Poseidon got the seas, and Hades received the underworld, the unseen realm to which the dead go upon leaving the world as well as any and all things beneath the earth.
Despite modern conotations of death as "evil", Hades was actually more altruistically inclined in mythology. Hades was often portrayed as passive rather than evil; his role was often maintaining relative balance.
Hades ruled the dead, assisted by demons over whom he had complete authority. He strictly forbade his subjects to leave his domain and would become quite enraged when anyone tried to leave, or if someone tried to steal the souls from his realm.
Besides Heracles, the only other living persons who ventured to the Underworld were all heroes: Odysseus, Aeneas (accompanied by the Sibyl), Orpheus, and Theseus. None of them was especially pleased with what they witnessed in the realm of the dead. In particular, the Greek war hero Achilles, whom Odysseus met in Hades (although some believe that Achilles dwells in the Isles of the Blest), said:
- "Do not speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should choose to serve as the hireling of another, rather than to be lord over the dead that have perished."
- —Achilles' soul to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 11.488
Hades, god of the dead, was a fearsome figure to those still living; in no hurry to meet him, they were reticent to swear oaths in his name. To many, simply to say the word "Hades" was frightening. So, a euphemism was pressed into use. Since precious minerals come from under the earth (i.e., the "underworld" ruled by Hades), he was considered to have control of these as well, and was referred to as Πλούτων (Plouton, related to the word for "wealth"), hence the Roman name Pluto. Sophocles explained referring to Hades as "the rich one" with these words: "the gloomy Hades enriches himself with our sighs and our tears." In addition, he was called Clymenus ("notorious"), Eubuleus ("well-guessing"), and Polydegmon ("who receives many").
Although he was an Olympian, he spent most of the time in his dark realm. Formidable in battle, he proved his ferocity in the famous Titanomachy, the battle of the Olympians versus the Titans, which established the rule of Zeus.
Because of his dark and morbid personality he was not especially liked by either the gods nor the mortals. Feared and loathed, Hades embodied the inexorable finality of death: "Why do we loathe Hades more than any god, if not because he is so adamantine and unyielding?" The rhetorical question is Agamemnon's (Iliad ix). He was not, however, an evil god, for although he was stern, cruel, and unpitying, he was still just. Hades ruled the Underworld and therefore most often associated with death and was feared by men, but he was not Death itself — the actual embodiment of Death was Thanatos.
When the Greeks propitiated Hades, they banged their hands on the ground to be sure he would hear them. Black animals, such as sheep, were sacrificed to him, and it is believed that at one time even human sacrifices were offered. The blood from sacrifices to Hades dripped into a pit so it could reach him. The person who offered the sacrifice had to turn away his face. Every hundred years festivals were held in his honor, called the Secular Games.
Hades' weapon was a two-pronged fork, which he used to shatter anything that was in his way or not to his liking, much as Poseidon did with his trident. This ensign of his power was a staff with which he drove the shades of the dead into the lower world.
His identifying possessions included a famed helmet, given to him by the Cyclopes, which made anyone who wore it invisible. Hades was known to sometimes loan his helmet of invisibility to both gods and men (such as Perseus). His dark chariot, drawn by four coal-black horses, always made for a fearsome and impressive sight. His other ordinary attributes were the Narcissus and Cypress plants, the Key of Hades and Cerberus, the many-headed dog. He sat on an ebony throne.
Hades is rarely represented in classical arts, save in depictions of the Rape of Persephone. Hades is also mentioned in The Odyssey, when Odysseus visits the underworld as part of his journey. though in this instance, it is Hades the place, not the god.
The consort of Hades, and the archaic queen of the Underworld in her own right, before the Hellene Olympians were established, was Persephone, represented by the Greeks as daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Persephone did not submit to Hades willingly, but was abducted by him while picking flowers with her friends. Hades loved Persphone so deeply that he did not free her from the underworld. Persephone's mother missed her and without her daughter by her side she cast a curse on the land and there was a great famine. Hades tricked Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds, which meant that she would be unable to leave the underworld even with the help of Zeus. Persephone knew of her mother's depression and asked Hades to return her to the land of the living, on the condition that she would stay with him for 6 months;one month for each pomegranate seed she ate. Every year Hades fights his way back to the land of the living with Persephone in his chariot. Famine (winter and fall) occurs during the months that Persephone is gone and Demeter grieves in her absence. It is believed that the last half of the word Persephone comes from a word meaning 'to show' and evokes an idea of light. Whether the first half derives from a word meaning 'to destroy' - in which case Persephone would be 'she who destroys the light'.
Orpheus and Eurydice
Hades showed mercy only once: Because the music of Orpheus was so hauntingly good, he allowed Orpheus to bring his wife, Eurydice, back to the land of the living as long as she walked behind him and he never tried to look at her face until they got to the surface. Orpheus agreed but, yielding to the temptation to glance backwards, failed and lost Eurydice again, to be reunited with her only after his death.
Minthe and Leuce
According to Ovid, Hades pursued and would have won the nymph Minthe, associated with the river Cocytus, had not Persephone turned Minthe into the plant called mint. Similarly the nymph Leuce, who was also ravished by him, was metamorphosed by Hades into a white poplar tree after her death.
Theseus and Pirithous
Hades imprisoned Theseus and Pirithous, who had pledged to marry daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen and together they kidnapped her and decided to hold onto her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose Persephone. They left Helen with Theseus' mother, Aethra and traveled to the underworld. Hades pretended to offer them hospitality and set a feast; as soon as the pair sat down, snakes coiled around their feet and held them there. Theseus was eventually rescued by Heracles.
Heracles' final labour was to capture Cerberus. First, Heracles went to Eleusis to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. He did this to absolve himself of guilt for killing the centaurs and to learn how to enter and exit the underworld alive. He found the entrance to the underworld at Tanaerum. Athena and Hermes helped him through and back from Hades. Heracles asked Hades for permission to take Cerberus. Hades agreed as long as Heracles didn't harm him, though in some versions, Heracles shot Hades with an arrow. When Heracles dragged the dog out of Hades, he passed through the cavern Acherusia.
Epithets and other names
- Chthonian Zeus
- The Rich One
- The Unseen One
- Dis Pater
The Greek New Testament uses hades several times, with various connotations of bodily decay and the power of death, none of them applicable to the Hades of Greek mythology. Some say Luke 16:23 could be referring to the Hades of Greek mythology which states:
Luke 16:23 (New King James Version) - "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."
The common interpretation of this is that Hades is equivalent to the common concept of Hell in this verse. Some view Abraham's Bosom as a separate location (although not the same as purgatory). However, the depth of metaphor used in these verses makes it unclear how literally this should be taken, and thus it may be that the locations mentioned in these verses are largely figurative.
Another occurance of Hades is Acts 2:31:
Acts 2:30 (New King James Version) Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.
This states that Christ was not left in Hades, but instead was raised up from it. This would seem to contradict the common view taken from Luke 16 that Hades is a place where sinners or tormented, since Jesus is elsewhere referred to as sinless. Some take this to mean that Hades is simply a metaphor for the grave, rather than a specific location.
Hades is also mentioned in Revelation 20:13-15. It may also seem like it is talking about the Greek God when it states:
Revelation 20:13 (New King James Version) The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 20:14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 20:15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Noticing that “Death and Hades” are personified in this section. They both “delivered up the dead who were in them.” It is as though Death and Hades swallow people. Also noticing how Death, Hades, and everyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life get thrown into the "lake of fire".
This again casts doubt on the common interpretation of both "Hades" and the "lake of fire" as a literal place of torment. If Hades and the lake of fire are the same, it could not be thrown into itself. Also, the concept of death being placed into a place of torment is a dubious metaphor. If Hades is, as mentioned above, simply the grave, then this verse could be taken as simply a metaphor for the end of death, in line with Revelation 21:3, 4.
The word Hades also appears in Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; Acts 2:27, 31; and Revelation 1:18; 6:8.
In popular culture
The religion of the ancient Greeks did not separate gods into categories of good or evil, but most people today tend to think in terms of "God" and "Devil" archetypes. Because of this, Hades (as the ruler of the underworld) is usually portrayed as a Satanic figure in popular culture.
In the action video game God of War, Hades is one of the Gods that helps Kratos fight Ares. He gives him the ability to summon souls of the dead. In the game he has a very demonic appearance- horns, sharp teeth, and a flaming mouth. The game's manual states he is a greedy god, always hungering for new souls to populate his realm.
In Age Of Mythology, Hades is one of the Gods available. His bonus is to give the player a Shade sometimes if one of their soldiers dies.
In Dungeons & Dragons, Hades is one of the seven lower planes of existence. More commonly referred to as the Gray Wastes, the plane is a place of disease and corruption, with apathy and despair emanating from the very land. While the plane and its inhabitants are dangerous and evil enough by themselves, Hades is especially hazardous because it's the main battlefield in the Blood War.
In Saint Seiya, (Both the Manga and the Anime) Hades is the King of the Underworld. He has an army of 108 Spectres, Seiya and his friends must fight all the Spectres to rescue Athena.
A version of Hades is cast as the villain in Disney's 1997 animated retelling of Hercules with inauthentic improvisations for comic effect; he is voiced by James Woods. This version of Hades also appeared in Squaresoft and Disney Interactive's Kingdom Hearts series as one of the Disney villains working with Maleficent.
In Marvel Comics, Hades is sometimes credited as Pluto. He is viewed as one of the most powerful villains in Marvel and a bane to Marvel's heroes like the X-Men, Avengers, etc. He even has an alias as Mr. Hellman to where he fools Hercules into signing a contract. He has always been one of the evil characters who wants to rule the Universe in his own brand of evil. He is an enemy of many Marvel heroes such as Thor, Hercules, Ms Marvel, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey, Rogue, etc.
In Justice League, Hades appeared as a lover to Queen Hippolyte but none of the myths support this idea. He appears in the Island of Themiscryra when Felix Faust released him from the gates of Tartarus in exchange for the ultimate knowledge. He later reappeared in another episode where Faust tries to take over his kingdom. He is a devious villain with a monster form. He was voiced by John Rhys-Davies.
In the popular video game, Final Fantasy IX, Hades is one of the optional bosses you can face. Located in the water portion of the Crystal World, behind a coagulation of rocks, Hades dishes out heavy attacks and malady-causing spells. Once defeated, he becomes an item synthesizer for you. Here you can purchase the other Pumice Piece and have them fused to create the eidolion Ark.
Also in the video game Final Fantasy VII, Hades is a hidden summon found in the crashed underwater Shinra plane.
In Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Hades first appears as a villain who kidnaps Persephone but becomes friends with his nephew Hercules when the deal between him and Demeter is met. So far this is the only version where Hades' being just is being portrayed. Ares takes the role of "Satan" in this series instead of him who appeared evil in many incarnates like Marvel Comics.
In the anime Saint Seiya which is inspired in greek mythology Seiya and his friends have to save Athena from the army of Hades consisted of 108 spectres wearing sapuris, Hades is guarded by the god twins Hypnos and Thanatos.
In the Percy Jackson-series, Hades takes his traditional role as ruler of the dead, but is also shown as the 'real' father of Atilla the Hun and Hitler. This was probably a joke put in by Rick Riordan due to Hades' evil persona in the books.
- Maps of the Underworld (Greek mythology)
- The God Hades