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The House of Hades

Greek mythology is rich with tales of gods, heroes, and mythical creatures, but few parts are as intriguing and mysterious as the Underworld. Known as Domos Haidou, or "House of...

Greek mythology is rich with tales of gods, heroes, and mythical creatures, but few parts are as intriguing and mysterious as the Underworld. Known as Domos Haidou, or "House of Hades," this realm is a complex kingdom with its own hierarchy and regions. Let's journey into this shadowy domain and uncover its secrets...

So, who is Hades?

The eldest son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, Hades is brother to Zeus (King of the Gods), Poseidon, Hestia, Hera (wife of Zeus) and Demeter (Persephone's mother!). After killinging their parents, Hades, Zeus and Poseidon divided the cosmos: Zeus took the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the Underworld. Hades, whose name has been understood to mean "the unseen one," is a stern but fair ruler, maintaining balance in his domain. He is often depicted as cold and just, caring little for the world above as his primary attention was ensuring none of his subjects ever left his domain. It was not wise to try to cheat or cross Hades, in fact, the greeks rarely mentioned him for fear of attracting his attention!


Journeying to the Underworld

In Greek myth, the Underworld is a damp, misty place hidden within the hollows of the earth at the end of the world. Hesiod describes it as lying beyond the river Oceanos and the Land of Evening, where the sky dome rests upon the earth.

Departed souls can be guided to the Underworld by Hermes, the messenger god and 'Psykhogogos' or 'Psychopompos' (Guide of Souls) who, with his golden wand, was able to lead the dead to their new home. Hermes was also called upon by the dying to assist in their passing. Once at the River Styx, the only way across was via Charon, the ferryman of the dead. He carries souls across the River Styx, the boundary between the living and the dead. Each passenger must pay Charon for this service, traditionally a coin or 'obol' placed on their mouth or on their eyes at burial. Without this fare, a soul is doomed to wander the shores of the Styx for a hundred years.

At the famous gates of Hades stands Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed dog who ensures no soul escapes and can easily sniff out any living souls hiding amongst the dead. Souls may pass Cerberus to enter the Underworld, but may not pass back through to the land of the living.

The Judgement

Arriving in the Underworld, the departed would join the queue to stand in the forecourt of Hades and Persephone palace in front of one of the judges: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus.

Souls were judged and assigned to a suitable afterlife and in some versions cast into a cycle of purgatory and reincarnation. The ghosts of the unburied were allowed to return to the realm above to visit the living in the form of dreams to demand a proper burial.

Mortals, heroes and villains alike were judged by Minos and sentenced to an eternity on one of the inner realms: the Fields of Asphodel for ordinary souls, Tartarus for the wicked, and Elysium for the virtuous.


Ixion Punished in Tartarus - Jules-Élie Delaunay (1828-1891)

Tartarus is the deepest, darkest part of the Underworld, even below Hades itself. It is a place of torment and punishment for the wicked, particularly those who have committed heinous crimes against the gods. Titans and other ancient enemies of the Olympian gods were imprisoned here. Tartarus is often depicted as a vast, gloomy abyss, surrounded by high walls and guarded by ferocious creatures. This abyssal prison is a place of unending torment, where titans and sinners endure their eternal punishments. It is a realm of darkness and suffering, surrounded by high walls and guarded by the monstrous Hecatoncheires.

The Fields of Asphodel

Above Tartarus stretch the somber Fields of Asphodel, a liminal land where the souls of ordinary mortals dwell. This gray expanse, veiled in mist and scattered with ghostly asphodel flowers, is a place of perpetual twilight. Here, souls drift in a state of indifferent existence, their memories of earthly life fading like shadows at dusk. It is a realm neither of torment nor of bliss, but of eternal, melancholic stasis.


The Vision of Aeneas in the Elysian Fields by Sebastiano Conca

In stark contrast to the gloom of Asphodel, Elysium, or the Elysian Fields, is a realm of eternal spring and ethereal beauty. Reserved for heroes and the virtuous, this paradisiacal haven offers a life of endless joy and tranquility. The souls here dwell in perpetual delight, basking in the gentle warmth of an ever-setting sun. Elysium is the reward for the noble, a sanctuary of peace in the heart of the Underworld.

The Isles of the Blessed

The Isles of the Blessed are a special section of Elysium reserved for the most virtuous souls, those who had been reincarnated and achieved Elysium three times. This place is the ultimate reward, offering a perfect, eternal existence for the truly heroic and virtuous. 

The Rivers of the Underworld

There are five rivers that flow through Hades:

  • Acheron: The river of sorrow. If you fell in to these waters, you would be plagued with all your woes and would become too inconsolable to get out.
  • Cocytus: The river of lamentation, which carried the wailing voices those being punished.
  • Phlegethon: The river of fire that lead to the frightening depths of Tartarus. 
  • Lethe: The river of oblivion or lost memory. When choosing to be reborn, a soul would be bathed in this river so that they would forget their past life and become a blank slate again.
  • Styx: The river of hate, forming the boundary between the living and the dead.

Returning from the Underworld

In myths, few mortals return from the Underworld. Heroes like Orpheus, Heracles, and Odysseus managed to escape its grasp, often with the help of divine powers or through extraordinary feats of courage and wit. The journey back is fraught with peril, as the living are not meant to linger in the realm of the dead. Of course, one living soul that did return, and continued to to every 6 months, was Persephone. Read her story here. 

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