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Hades

Hades

Hello and welcome to my Mythology & Folktales Blog! I am excited to bring you my first post which will be about the Greek god Hades (Ἁιδης). Hades has made his way into our pop culture to the point where anyone who is a fan of movies, video games, webtoons, or anime knows of the god Hades. He is depicted in many ways, from Disney’s over the top evil villain style in Hercules,

 

the shy and brooding character in the anime Kamigami no Asobi,

 

to the, reluctant to love because he needs to rule over the dead, god like in Lore Olympus and Punderworld.

 

But who is Hades really, according to Ancient Greeks?

Hades, son of Cronos and husband to Persephone, was known as the god of the dead and presided over funeral rites and defended the rights of the dead for due burial. He was not the grim reaper or the god of death, who is known as Thanatos, but the god who makes sure the dead go where they need to go and stay there. He reigns over the Underworld, which Homer called “the House of Hades” and later the name “Hades” also referred to the Underworld itself. He keeps the darkness within his kingdom so that death does not take over the earth. The world in which he reigns is said to be beneath secret places of the earth and that there are various entrances, including through caves and beside deep lakes. As any Percy Jackson fan knows, one entrance is at the Hollywood sign in California.

 

The name “Hades” is thought to either mean “the god who made invisible” or the “all-embracer” or “all-receiver”. This is due to a helmet he had that made him invisible, which is more than likely because of death being this invisible force that takes people, and because few people have ever seen him. The other definition of his name is due to everyone eventually going to the Underworld, and he doesn’t turn anyone away. In ancient times, however, most people did not call him by name due to fear of arousing his anger. Part of me wants to know if anyone ever called him “he who shall not be named”, just like in Harry Potter when they referred to Lord Voldemort. There is no record of people saying that, but they used his other name, “Pluton”, which means “the rich” since many metals come from deep within the earth, aka the Underworld. The name gets skewed when the Romans took over and took many of the Greek gods. In Latin, the god “Dis” or “Dis Pater” was also a god of the fields since plants come from the ground which the ancient people say as being from the Underworld. This was also a sense of wealth like Pluton, and the two gods were identified as each other early in history. This is not to be confused with Plutus, the son of Demeter and Iasion, who was the personification of wealth.

 

Hades wasn’t necessarily depicted as the misunderstood emo that we know him as today. Hesiod mentioned he had a “heart without pity” and was hated by many ancient people. However, he was sometimes invoked, which involved striking the earth with one’s hands and then the sacrifice of a black sheep, either male or female. When the offering was given, the person had to turn away their face. He was called upon in funeral rites and there were mystery cults that involved him. There was a sacred enclosure and temple that was opened only once a year in Elis, and temples in Pylos Triphyliacus, near Mount Menthe, between Tralles and Nysa, at Athens in the grove of the Erinnyes, and at Olympia. Hades was also involved with the Oracle of the Dead in Thesprotia. Hades was typically depicted similar to his brothers, but his hair fell in front of his forehead and he was generally dark and gloomy. So, in other words, maybe he was depicted as emo before it was cool. In general, however, there weren’t many representations of him other than him being dark-bearded, a regal god, and had either a bird-tipped scepter or a bi-scepter. The only major story with him in it, besides just a comment here and there, all of which we will go through, is the story of the Abduction of Persephone.

 

In the origins of the gods, the Titans Rhea and Cronus had six children and, although some say that Zeus was the oldest, the consensus listed the siblings as follows: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and then Zeus. When each of them was born, Cronus feared that they would take over the heavens, so he swallowed them at birth, as they were gods and could not be killed. He swallowed all of them but Zeus. I will go more in detail about how Zeus escaped and how he was raised when I talk about Zeus but know Zeus came back and helped free his siblings. Once they were freed, the battle against the Titans began. After ten years of fighting, Gaia predicted Zeus would win if he freed those who were in Tartarus. He did that and freed the Cyclopes, who blessed them all with gifts. Zeus received his lightning bolt, Poseidon his trident, and, lastly, Hades was given the helmet of invisibility. They then won and bound most of the titans in Tartarus.

Once the battle was over and these gods were now in control, Zeus claimed the reign over the heavens and Poseidon and Hades drew lots for who controlled the sea and the underworld. As we know, Poseidon received the sea and Hades in the Underworld. In Stephen Fry’s Mythos, he states that Hades laughed at Poseidon for getting the sea and that it was the last time Hades ever laughed. I thought that was a little funny. In the Underworld, after some time of souls passing that weren’t going where they should be allowed, Hades appointed Charon to ferry souls across the River Styx, and then appointed the judges Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus. Aeacus judged the souls from Europe and Rhadamanthus judged those in Asia, and lastly Minos was the final judge whose decision was definite.

 

Hades is mentioned in a few hero tales. In a story with Pirithous, he wanted to find himself a suitable wife and decided his best decision was stealing Persephone from Hades for who knows why. So, he and his best friend, Theseus, whom should have been like hey man, maybe this isn’t a good idea, went to the Underworld to seduce and steal Persephone. They, of course, got caught and were sent to eternal torment. Pirithous and Theseus were both stuck to a rock or stone throne of Lethe, depending on the tale.

In Hercules’ tales, when Hercules was performing his last three labors, he had to tame Cerberus. While he was in the Underworld, he ran into Pirithous and Theseus and was able to save Theseus, but the ground began to tremble when he tried to free Pirithous. Hercules moved on and performed different tasks that I will go into more detail when I talk about him in another video, but near the end, when he went back to the gates of the underworld, Hades was waiting for him. Hercules shot Hades in the shoulder with an arrow and Hades took pity on Hercules because he finally felt mortal pain. Hercules then asked for Cerberus and Hades agreed if Hercules could tame him without the use of weapons. Hercules, of course, did that and went on with his tale, while Hades went to Olympus to be healed by Paean the Healer. Hercules also fought Hades during the battle of Pylos. There are different records of why Hades was there, but the consensus was that either Hades was the protector of the Pylians or he was there to harvest souls and got caught in the crossfire. I don’t know about you, but Hades would be the last person I would want to accidentally injure in a battle.

 

In the tale of Orpheus, Orpheus goes to the Underworld to plead for his love, Eurydice, who died a tragic death. He gets far by singing songs and winning the hearts of everyone in the Underworld. To convince Hades and Persephone, he sings a song of love, which moved them both and they agree to let her go. When the song stopped, however, Hades became bitter and adds a caveat—Eurydice must be ten steps behind him, and he can never look back to her until they are out of the Underworld. He does as he is asked and when he nears the gate, he begins to run and once he is ten steps out, he turns to find she hadn’t been able to keep up when he ran and was eleven steps behind him. She does not make it out.

Asclepius was said to have brought many men back to life and when Hades found out, he went to Zeus and Zeus used his lightning bolt to kill him, because clearly there is no actually talking things out in Greek myths.

Hades and Persephone were mad at King Creon of Thebes after he refused to allow burial rights to warriors in war, so they sent a plague on Thebes. The people were told to sacrifice to maidens named Coronides, and they were both made into a pair of comets by the gods.

In regard to Hades’ invisible helmet, Athena was said to use it in the Trojan war to sneak around Ares to aid Diomedes, Hermes used it during his battle against a giant, and in the tales with Perseus, Hermes and Athena gift it to him to fight the gorgon Medusa.

Hades is regarded as an infertile god since he is a god of death and death doesn’t bring life—at least not in this mythology. There are gods and goddesses that are considered his children and I will discuss them and how they are or aren’t actually his children.

To begin, the Erinyes, who were goddesses of earth wrath, are sometimes referred to Hades’ children; however, most accounts describe them as earth born. It is more than likely that since they are connected to wrath, that they were said to be his children because many people back then saw Hades, and death, as a horrible event of wrath.

Zagreus is said to be Hades’ son and is considered his son in the video game I still need to play called Hades, but most accounts say he was born of Persephone and Hades is her husband, but many other accounts say it was Zeus masquerading as Hades because, well, Zeus.

 

Another offspring named Melinoe, who is described to be similar to Hekate, is described as his daughter, but the tales surrounding her talk about how Zeus, once again being Zeus, disguised himself as Hades and slept with Persephone.

Lastly, Makaria, the goddess of blessed death, is said to be Hades’ daughter. It isn’t mentioned who the mother is, nor really the circumstances of how she came about. Personally, I imagine she is more of a creation that wasn’t born of Hades, but the underworld location of Hades, like how someone is born of earth, the sea, and so on. But this is a personal thought just from how people viewed death and how Hades is referred to being infertile.

 

In this last bit, sorry to burst people’s bubble, but I will also discuss the concubines and wife of Hades. Hades was not, in fact, a loyal god like many in modern culture claim him to be, but compared to his brothers, he is pretty loyal. The first concubine was the nymph of Kokytos named Minthe. There are two stories that mention her. The first myth states that Hades fell in love with her and Persephone became jealous and stomped the woman into the garden mint. The second story is that she was Hades’ lover before he kidnapped Persephone and after Hades fell for Persephone and Demeter was looking for her daughter, Minthe said that Hades was going to kick Persephone out and that she was more beautiful than her and Demeter snapped and stomped her into garden mint.

The other concubine was a nymph named Leuce, whom was the daughter of Oceanus. He brought her to the underworld and loved her dearly until she died, which confuses me because she was in the underworld. She becomes a white poplar and stands in Elysium to this day.

Lastly, I will talk a little on the beginning of the abduction of Persephone by Hades to become his wife, and finish it in my next post where I will talk about Persephone. The location of this tale has changed a bit, but the oldest version took place at Eleusis near Athens but was later moved to Sicily. In many of the tales, Hades had gone to Zeus asking for a wife since he was all alone in the Underworld and, well, Zeus and Poseidon got to sleep with everyone (that last part was my interjection, but it was probably why if we are honest). Zeus said, fine I will give you Persephone, my daughter, to be your wife. I always wonder if he gave it any thought or had a wheel of daughter names that he just spun, because he just had so many. Hades agreed to this, but saw how beautiful Persephone was and didn’t think that she would ever love him, in the typical emo boy fashion. So, like any logical person, he decides to kidnap her by leaving a beautiful white narcissus in the middle of a field and as she picked it, the earth opened up, he came in on his golden chariot pulled by his four dark immortal horses and took her to the underworld. We will pick up from there when we discuss Persephone next time!

I hope you enjoyed my first post of my Mythology and Folklore blog! I had a lot of fun putting this together and can’t wait to share Persephone with you all. If you want to support me and what I do, check out my Patreon or support me on Ko-Fi <3.

 

 

Photos:

Sarah R. Kraft

Nataša Ilinčić Illustration

Janaina Medeiros

www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Haides.html

 

References:

Buxton., Richard. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson, 2016.

Fry, Stephen. Heroes: The Greek MYTHS Reimagined. Chronicle Books, 2020.

Fry, Stephen. Mythos: The Greek MYTHS Reimagined. Chronicle Books LLC, 2019.

Fry, Stephen. Troy: The Greek MYTHS Reimagined. Chronicle Books, 2021.

Grimal, Pierre, and Stephen Kershaw. The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Penguin, 1991.

“HAIDES.” HADES (Haides) – Greek God of the Dead, King of the Underworld (Roman Pluto), Theoi, www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Haides.html.

Hamilton, Edith, and Jim Tierney. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. Black Dog Et Leventhal Publishers, 2017.

Hendricks, Rhoda A. Classical Gods and Heroes: Myths as Told by the Ancient Authors. Perennial, 2004.

Schwab, Gustav. Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece. Pantheon Books, 2018.

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