Ancient Greek Mythology: Hades

Producer: Jacopo Caraglio
Pluto standing naked holding a fork with both hands, Cerberus the three headed dog sits behind him | By Jacopo Caraglio | 1526 Engraving | Courtesy of The British Museum

More often than not, ancient Greek mythology (religion) served to explain a series of legends. Different from modern religions such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, ancient Greek religion was an anthropomorphic polytheism, meaning that ancient Greeks believed in a multitude of individual divine figures that took on human forms and emotions.1 Furthermore, ancient Greek mythology lacked much of the asceticism and mystical enthusiasm that is more commonly seen in modern religions. Most of the highly developed anthropomorphic and comparative rationalism of the ancient Greek religious thought can be accredited to Homer with the aid of his Iliad and Odyssey.2

The people of the ancient Greek civilization were often in a state of weakness under the power of nature; therefore, they relied heavily on the divine individuals of Olympus. Why? They believed that the forces of nature were under the control of their gods. In short, the relationship between humans and divine beings was that of a retribution justice.3 If humans did anything to offend the gods, then those gods would strike back in some sort of fashion to restore justice.4 Therefore, humans were constantly looking to please the gods in fear of their wrath.

Out of the ancient Greek mythology came the god of the dead and the underworld, Hades. Hades had five other siblings: Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia, and they were all children of Cronus and Rhea.5 After defeating their parents (the Titans), Hades drew lots with Zeus and Poseidon to gain their respective domains. Hades was commonly thought to be a cold god, but he was never considered to be an evil divine figure. Furthermore, it is important to note that his realm, the underworld, should not be associated with the hell of Christianity.6 However, Hades was for the most part feared by all. Another name for the ancient Greek god was Ploutos and later adopted by the Romans as Pluto.7

Print made by: Antoine Jean Duclos, Gravelot
A representation of Hades, with the three judges Minos, Rhadamanthus and Aeacus sitting before the doors leading to Elysium at left, and Tartarus at right; Cerberus lies on the right | Print by Antoine Jean Duclos, Gravelot | Courtesy of the British Museum

The god of the underworld was the husband of Persephone (Zeus’s and Demeter’s daughter). Although she was Hades’ wife, she only lived with him during the winter time.8 Persephone was the divine goddess of agriculture and fertility. Therefore, the ancient Greeks accredited the change in nature (winter) to Persephone moving to the underworld. Persephone was unable to stay with Hades at all times due to interference from her mother Demeter. Zeus, however, was okay with the marriage of Hades and Persephone. Therefore, in order to set up the marriage, Zeus had to trick Persephone, so she could be abducted by Hades.9 However, Demeter interfered, and that is why Persephone spends half of the year with Demeter and the other half with Hades.

Furthermore, it is important to note the Greek perspective of the afterlife. Perspectives about the afterlife varied from each other based on their region in Greece as well as their time period in Greek history. The consensus was that the underworld was neither heaven nor hell.10 The sense that exists within Christianity, for example, was not present during the time of the ancient Greeks. Although Tartarus was present as a location within the underworld, the Greeks would not compare it to the equivalent of Christian hell. The way the Greeks saw it, the underworld was a place that everyone ended up after death.11 However, there were a few, including the philosopher Epicurus, that believed that the underworld did not exist at all. He believed that when the body died, the soul died with the body as well.12 A good portion of Greeks refused to believe such a pessimistic perspective of the afterlife. However, even the Greek traditional perspective of the underworld was not as popular despite many Greeks believing in it.

  1.  Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016 s.v., “Greek Religion and Mythology.”
  2. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016 s.v., “Greek Religion and Mythology.”
  3. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016 s.v., “Greek Religion and Mythology.”
  4. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016 s.v., “Greek Religion and Mythology.”
  5.  Salem Press Encyclopedia, January, 2015,  “Hades (deity),” by Joseph, Michael, DMin.
  6. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January, 2015,  “Hades (deity),” by Joseph, Michael, DMin.
  7. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January, 2015,  “Hades (deity),” by Joseph, Michael, DMin.
  8. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January, 2015,  “Hades (deity),” by Joseph, Michael, DMin.
  9. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January, 2015,  “Hades (deity),” by Joseph, Michael, DMin.
  10. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, 2007, s.v. “Underworld,” by  Robert B. Kebric.
  11. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, 2007, s.v. “Underworld,” by  Robert B. Kebric.
  12. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, 2007, s.v. “Underworld,” by  Robert B. Kebric.
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99 Comments

  • I’ve always enjoyed learning about Greek mythology just because there’s a god or goddess for different things and they all have unique characters. I had thought that all the Greek people believed in the underworld but I was wrong and it’s good to learn something new. I knew that Persephone was tricked into going to the underworld but I didn’t know that her father was apart of that plan. Hades is the god of death but in my eyes he’s the god of life because in life we all die but it’s a cycle we’re born and we live are lives only to die but there’s always someone to guide you to we’re your going.

  • Hades has always had a connotation of evil, but I liked how the article explained the whole backstory and the Greek’s attitude towards him. It was also interesting to see how ancient Greeks viewed death and the afterlife. In Christianity we view God as infallible but the Greeks saw them with human emotions and flaws, that is an interesting concept.

  • This article provides a more clear insight on the concept of death and the underworld in Greek mythology and how we need to see each and every mythology in its own lens rather than a lens somewhat dipped in christianity (something we’re used to). Hades and the Underworld are always commonly depicted as having some type of relationship with being evil in most forms of creative media like novels and video games and as such the view of these two concepts are always associated with things like the Christian Hell and Hades being an evil god, so being able to see the truth behind these stereotypes was insightful for me as I did associate Hades with being an evil being.

  • This article helped clear up some misconceptions between Christianity and Greek religion such as the Underworld being the equivalent to Hell. What struck me though is that it wasn’t a popular notion even though it was a part of the Greek religion. I could see why people could see Hades as an evil or bad God since he was the equivalent of death. Along with the misconception that the Underworld is Hell, it just really paints Hades as the bad guy even though he fell into that position by coincidence.

  • I think this article clears up a number of misconceptions about Hades and the Underworld with the Greek society. Much of how it is perceived is from the religion of Christianity and that is what gave us the thought of fire and suffering after death. I did not realize that the Greeks had rejected the idea and that there was other Greeks that contested the idea of an underworld. Hades seems like he was the little unpopular brother out of the family who got the raw end of the deal.

  • Overall, I thought the introduction of the character’s backstory was really interesting. What caught my attention was the story of how Hades tricked Persephone to be his wife. Another important aspect was that Persephone was with Hades only during the winter and Greeks mainly correlate this with lack of harvests. This article is intriguing because it doesn’t capture Hades as an evil deity that most people relate to him.

  • Hades is such a well known God in Greek mythology. It’s interesting how far stories such as this coiled into cultures. These stories were people’s way of explaining such complex topics such as religion and the weather. I find it rather odd, how hades is portrayed to be another image of the devil and his domain is hell. However, that’s clearly not the case at all.

  • I’ve always enjoyed reading about greek mythology. But I don’t think I’ve gotten deep into reading about hades. It is interesting how they didn’t think of heaven and hell like Christianity, or consider Hades as the devil. The article was great to read through, and great at explaining the ‘religion’ view of Greek Gods. I always thought the underworld was a comparison of the hell Christian view, as well as Hades being considered as the bad person and related to sin.

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