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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181 Responses

  1. I love mythology and lore of any culture or region of the world, but Greek mythology has always been one of my favorites. I read Percy Jackson as a child and was exposed to the ideas of the Greek Gods at a very young age. I also thought it was so fascinating how each God or Goddess was attributed to certain characteristics and had certain powers over different elements. Hades was always one of the most interesting to me because he is such a complex character with so much depth.

  2. This article reminded me of my sister how she would read me stores about greek mythology In our childhood.This article was able to bring to life the story of Hades and Persephone and their life in the underworld.It also brought up different beliefs that create mythology and make Hades story even more drastic.Being a fan of love stories myself Hades definitely doesn’t come to mind first but holds his place in that category.

  3. This article does a good job of showing Greek beliefs as well as giving a background on Hades, God of the Underworld. Also, when describing the relationship of Hades and Persephone the author did a good job of showing how the gods often affected relationships with each other through trickery. Zeus played a part in Hade’s and Persephone’s relationship through trickery the same way that Hera would often trick the mortal offspring of Zeus when he wasn’t faithful, the most famous being Hercules.

  4. Ancient Greek mythology is fun and enticing to read. As Hades was the god of the underworld, he was usually mistaken as the symbol of brutality and cruelty. In fact, he was a benevolent deity, he talked to the people in the underworld to ease their pain, their loneliness. Even though he had kidnapped Persephone, he was very faithful.

  5. Reading about Greek mythology is always interesting, whether it’s the drama between the gods and mortals or the stories that gave explanation to aspects of our world. I appreciated the explanation of the underworld, and how it wasn’t seen as a “hell” but rather simply the place where people went after they died. That being said, it was also explained that Hades was still feared and seen as a “cold” god, so perhaps the Greeks were still afraid of the uncertainty of death.

  6. This article reminds me of Percy Jackson and the olympians. I thought it was cool how you perceived hades as only the god of the underworld and dead and not as the enemy. That is how the greeks saw him, as you pointed out, not as a monster who killed anyone he wanted to. Your article left me wanting more, kind of like a cliff hanger. It pushed me to want to look more into the God of the dead and the different aspects of the underworld and how the compare to catholic beliefs.

  7. The background information on Greek mythology is helpful in understanding how it actually worked. They operated more out of fear than respect because the gods were controlling the “forces of nature”. The god of the underworld, Hades, is a rather divine figure. Prior to reading this article, I had paired the Greek mythology underworld to the hell of Christianity which is a bad association.

  8. Having a prior knowledge of Hades and the Greek mythology, this article describes in great detail the polytheistic beliefs and the affects it had on the peoples lives. It’s so interesting that during this time they believed that their lives were based on multiple God’s and to have a happy life, you must please the Gods and Goddesses. The story of Hades is very interesting because it’s a love story that is very much confusing. Persephone (The Queen of the Underworld) was taken against her will by Hades but Demeter allowed her to live her life in both worlds. In Greek mythology, they believe that everyone ends up in hell but other Scholars tried to say that’s not necessarily true but the Greeks couldn’t believe them.

  9. I admire how this article gives background of polytheistic beliefs, and why the Greek worked in multiple Gods’ favors. The respect they had was somewhat out of fear. The views of the afterlife are specific and in my opinion, very different from other religions. In greek mythology, a belief is that the soul and body are separate from one another.

  10. The story of Hades and Persephone was one of the most well-known Greek mythology. Despite the fact that Persephone was kidnapped by Hades against her will, she eventually grew accustomed to her new role as the Queen of the Underworld. However, thanks to Demeter she had to spend half of the year with her mother and the other half in the underworld. Also the underworld was not associated with the Christian Hell. It is a place to judge the souls that made it across the River of Styx and Acheron guided by the ferryman, Charon. Tartarus was the place equivalent to Hell while the Elysium Fields was similar with Heaven.

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