It has been ages since I started my series looking at some of the Greek gods, but the second installment is finally here (for all three of you who have been awaiting it ). Since you probably don’t remember, last time we looked at the Titans and all the craziness surrounding their mythology. Today I am going to begin exploring the the three sons of Cronus and Rhea.
Following the war where the Olympian gods overthrew the Titans, the three brothers – Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus – drew lots to determine which realms they each got to rule. It was through this process that Hades was given dominion of the underworld, which included the land of the dead as well as all that was beneath the earth.
Since Hades was the ruler of the underworld and the dead it is unsurprising that most people feared him. In fact, many were afraid to utter his name and came up with euphemisms to represent him (no, He Who Must Not Be Named and You Know Who were not among them). A big part of Hades job was to maintain balance. This meant that, although he was just, he was unyielding and often cruel. This is probably a big part of why he is frequently cast as the villain in modern tales of the Greek gods, such as Clash of the Titans and even the animated Disney film Hercules.
Even though Hades lived down among the dead he was still a male and he still wanted to get some. Well, there was this beautiful female god that he fell in love with (I use the word love here loosely). Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, and Demeter was pretty protective of her and kept her away from the other gods. Zeus decided he was going to help a brother out, and he told Hades that if he wanted Persephone he would have to capture her and carry her off to the underworld. So that is exactly what Hades did.
When Demeter discovered what had happened she was not a happy camper and in her grief she caused the earth to stop producing. Eventually enough people complain – both humans and gods – that Zeus is forced to interfere again and tells Hades that he must return Persephone to the lands above. Hades agrees to his brothers request, but not without a little intrigue first. Before she leaves, Hades offers Persephone a pomegranate and she consumes some of its seeds. You see, there was a rule set up by the Fates that anyone who eats or drinks the food of the underworld must spend eternity there. Oops. Persephone was still allowed to leave, but because of those seeds she was forced to spend one month per seed in the underworld every year. Every year during those months the earth would grow dry in mourning and cease producing sustenance for people (in other words, the winter/dry season).
It is pretty clear that Hades kept his duty of guarding the dead very seriously. Once someone entered his domain he did not like for that person to leave again. Of course that didn’t stop people from trying. One of the more well known tales is that of Orpheus. The woman he was to marry was killed from the bite of a snake and he decided to travel down to the underworld and plead for her return. He was able to make it past Cheron the ferryman and Cerberus the three-headed guard dog thanks to his talented musical skills. He made his plea to Hades and Persephone, and Persephone took pity on him, so Hades agreed that he could have his betrothed back as long as he made it out of the underworld without looking back. When Orpheus was almost free he grew nervous that Hades had been lying and looked over his shoulder. He had one last glimpse of his beloved before she was pulled back into the underworld.
There are many, many more stories surrounding Hades and the realm that he guarded – much too many to include in this blog – but I hope that this was able to give you a decent introduction to the god of the underworld.
Are there any stories about Hades that you are particularly fond of? Do you think that he is a villain or just a god doing the job he was given? Any other thoughts on Hades or the underworld? Let me know in the comments.