The myth of Hades is the myth of the master and lord of the Greek Underworld. The Underworld was a place similar to what was later called ‘hell’. However, Hades wasn’t an evil or perverse being, but simply fulfilled the role of housing the souls of the deceased, preventing them from returning to Earth.
Hades was one of the 12 great gods of Olympus. He was the son of Cronus and Rhea. The myth of Hades claims that he was swallowed by his father at birth since he feared that one of his children would become an adult and dethrone him, as he himself had done with his father.
Nevertheless, another of the sons, Zeus, managed to circumvent this practice and became an adult. He then rescued his brothers, among whom was Hades.
The two, along with Poseidon, waged a bloody war against the Titans for world domination. They won and cast lots to divide the creation. Zeus was given the sky, Poseidon the seas, and Hades, the Underworld.
” The darkest places of hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
-Dante Alighieri –
The Greek underworld
According to the myth of Hades, the Underworld was his great kingdom and domain. For the Greeks, it was a misty and gloomy place that was below the ground and served as an abode for the dead. Once they entered there, they could never get out.
In the underworld, there were several sections. The Elysian Fields were the place where those who had led a heroic or extremely virtuous existence went to live. The Asphodel Meadows served as an abode for ordinary souls. There was also Tartarus, a deep abyss which was a place of great suffering and where the Titans, eternal enemies of the gods, ended up.
The underworld was reached by crossing the Acheron river. The ferryman in charge of making the crossing was called Charon and he charged a coin for his services. For that reason, the living left a coin in their tombs. If the deceased had no one to pay for them, they had to stay on the shore for a century. On the other side of the river was the three-headed dog, Cerberus, guardian of the Underworld.
The myth of Hades
The myth of Hades tells that the Cyclopes, fierce creatures who fought with the gods against the Titans, had forged a helmet for Hades which they gave to him. This helmet gave him a unique gift: he could make himself invisible. This is why the underworld is invisible to mortals.
Hades was a quiet god, who rarely interfered with the lives of men. One day, from his kingdom, he once caught sight of a young maiden. She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen and he immediately fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. The young woman was called Persephone and was the daughter of his sister, Demeter. One day, the girl was cutting flowers, and suddenly, the figure of Hades in his marvelous chariot sprouted from the same earth.
Hades kidnapped Persephone and took her with him to the Underworld. The girl’s mother began to desperately search for her daughter and, since she had no news of her, took revenge on everyone by making a permanent winter.
Zeus, worried about the situation, managed to get Hades to agree to be with her for only four months of the year. The rest of the time the young woman could be with her mother. Thus, the four-month winter was born.
The adventures of Hades
The myth of Hades indicates that he wasn’t a promiscuous god like his brothers, but he did have some adventures. One of them was a dalliance with the nymph, Minthe. She lived on the banks of a river and Hades wanted to take her by force.
Persephone, and her mother, Demeter, realized the situation and beat the nymph until she disintegrated. Repentant, Hades collected the remains and created a new plant: mint. Another nymph, Leuce, was Hades’ lover for a long time until she died. From her body, Hades created another plant, the white willow.
As can be seen, the myth of Hades and the existence of the underworld inspired the Judeo-Christian idea of hell. The Greeks introduced the idea that a judgment was made after death which determined the place where the soul of each deceased should dwell. This concept was also the origin of the judgment of the living and the dead that exists in various religions.
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