Ancient Greek Mythology: Hades

Producer: Jacopo Caraglio

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.

185 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed this article. I feel like Hades is misunderstood, and seen as this evil being. When he just was misunderstood and got the bad end of the stick. I do like how you included Persephone in here as well. I also liked how you made the difference between Hell and the underworld. Great job!

  2. This is a great article showing a more in depth side of such a feared god. I have always figured that Hades was misunderstood in terms of how horrific he was. I am a big fan of Greek mythology so I appreciate that that you choose to write about a god through is widely know is often not talked about.

  3. This is a really neat article, George. I am big on Greek Mythology, and anything related to it is surely going to get me hooked. You did a good job talking about Hades and his story, and what the ancient Greek people believed about him all of those years ago. You had really good explanation, and you had rather good word choice and grammar. I wish the article was longer, but otherwise well done.

  4. I love Greek mythology and its polytheistic beliefs. All the knowledge that I have from this topic comes from the movies of Percy Jackson. I have always found really interesting the story between Hades and the kidnapping of Persephone. I also liked that you explained how people believe that Hades was a bad god and, even though he was the most feared one of all of them, he was not the god of the underworld, although people think that it’s the same as hell.

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