Now that I have told you about Poseidon – God of the Sea and other waters, of earthquakes, and horses, it is time to take a look at Hades – the God of the Underworld.
Hades is the oldest son of Kronos and Rhea. Hades, which in ancient Greek means “the unseen,” is the name for both the God of the Underworld and the Kingdom of Death. He has three older sisters, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera, as well as two younger brothers, Poseidon and Zeus. Together, the six siblings make up half of the Olympian god family.
Hades’ attribute is a helmet that makes its wearer invisible. The Cyclops made the helmet. On special occasions, Hades lends his helmet out, for example, to Perseus. Hades sits on a throne of ivory. At his feet, the dog Cerberus lies. Four black horses pull his black wagon.
Because of his dark personality and his relentless character, Hades is loved neither by gods nor by humans. Hades, however, is not a wicked god, because even though he is perceived as cruel, he is always righteous and incorruptible. As a ruler of the underworld, he is associated with many deaths, but he is not death – and not at all Satan or the devil, but only serves as ruler over the dead. Thanatos (the son of Nyx (Night) and Erebus and twin of Hypnos (Sleep)) is the personification of death itself.
Hades has shown pity once. Because Orpheus played so indescribably beautifully and sadly after his wife, Eurydice’s death, he was allowed to retrieve her back to earth. She just had to follow in the heels of Orpheus, who was not allowed to turn around until they had returned to the surface of the earth. Unfortunately, Orpheus could not help throwing a quick glance at his beloved, which was why she had to return to Hades – but they reunited again after his death.
When the Greeks prayed to Hades, they turned their face to the ground to make him hear them. They sacrificed black animals to Hades, for example, sheep, and in the old days, people have probably made human sacrifices in his honor too. The blood of the victim dripped into a hole in the ground so that it would reach Hades himself. The person who made the ritual always turned his face away, as he was not allowed to see the king of the underworld.
For the deceased to reach Hades, he or she must pass several rivers: Cocytus (River of Grief), Pyriphlegethon (River of Fire), Acheron (River of the Whale), and last but not least Styx (River of Hate), by which the gods swears an unbreakable oath. Hermes brings you to the river Styx, but to go the last distance to the underworld, you will be transported by the ferryman Charon. However, Charon must be paid for the crossing. Otherwise, you must return to your grave. Therefore, one must place a coin (Obolos) under the tongue of the deceased before he or she is buried or burned. Once you have passed the river Styx and reached Hades, it is impossible to return, as the way back is blocked by the watchdog Cerberus, the dog with three heads and a tail of a serpent. The dog is friendly when you arrive, but if you try to return, it becomes aggressive. Besides Heracles who as one of his many tasks, was to steal Cerberus, the only people who have returned from Hades are the heroes Odysseus, Aeneas, Orpheus, and Theseus. The life in Hades is a shadowy life, and the dead drink water from the river of oblivion, Lethe, and lose their consciousness and walks senselessly around.
Hades and Persephone
Hades’ wife is Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Persephone did not want to go to Hades’ kingdom but was abducted by him; one day she was picking flowers with some girlfriends. Hades fools Persephone into eating six seeds from a pomegranate, so she no longer has the opportunity to leave the underworld, not even with the help of the mighty Zeus. Zeus had given Hades his consent to have Persephone but had not told it to her mother, Demeter. Demeter, who is the goddess of the harvest, felt miserable over the loss of her beloved daughter and looked for her everywhere. For nine days, the unhappy Demeter flew around on earth with torches in her hands without finding her daughter. Eventually, she flew up to the sun god Helios, who tells her what has happened. He tries to comfort Demeter with the fact that Hades is a significant king, brother to Zeus, and that her daughter is now queen of the underworld, but Demeter is not comforted. In anger against Zeus, she leaves Olympus and walks around on earth. For a whole year, a single straw does not sprout, and the seed that is thrown into the ground rots away. There is famine on earth, humanity is dying, and there are no longer any sacrifices to the gods. Zeus sends several of the gods to Demeter to persuade her to return to Olympus, but Demeter is relentless. Earth must not bear fruit until Demeter is reunited with her daughter.
Eventually, Zeus has to send Hermes to Hades and have him release Persephone, but Hades is reluctant. Only when Persephone cries for permission to visit her mother he allows it. To make sure Persephone returns to him, he gives her six seeds from the pomegranate; It will enable Persephone to stay at Olympus six months a year. The other six months – one for each pomegranate seed – she must spend as queen in the kingdom of death. So every year, when winter is over, Hades drives his queen up to Mount Olympus in his cart. Persephone is a symbol of the grain that lies in the soil until it one-day sprouts. So if you have sometimes wondered about the changes of the seasons, then here is the explanation.
Hades is a much more faithful husband than his brothers are. On one occasion, however, he falls in love with the nymph Mintha, who is the daughter of the Cocytus River, which runs in the underworld. When the jealous Persephone finds out that Hades has an affair with the nymph Mintha, she transforms Mintha into the plant called mint.
Next time I will tell the tale of Demeter – Goddess of Harvest
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