|“||No soul returns from my kingdom.||„|
|~ Hades to Orpheus.|
Hades is the god of wealth and king of the Underworld in Greek mythology. He is synonymous with death, doom and fate, although he is not the actual god of death. He is the older brother of Zeus, god of the sky and Poseidon god of the sea. Though today we might associate him more as a necessary factor and a part of life, the ancient Greeks used him as an epitome of fear and dreaded him so much his name was rarely spoken aloud.
Even then, however, he was rarely considered outright evil, and both Orphic hymns and Pythagorean shamanism refer to him as being as holy as Zeus. For the most part, Hellenic religion rarely if ever had truly evil beings. Nevertheless, Hades' legacy precedes him, and even back in the days of ancient Greece, he was not a popular god.
Hades is most often portrayed as borderline emotionless and stoic. Hades was concerned with laws and order above almost all else and as such had a strong control over his temper with virtually no ego, especially compared to most of his siblings. Hades is nihilistic and seemed to view living mortals as deaths waiting to happen, while this leads to the impression that Hades had no empathy for the living it also meant he saw killing mortals as pointless since each one would die one day anyway.
All Olympians were said to be unable to break a promise if sworn to it, but Hades was always honest, concerned mainly with remaining unbiased in light of the scope of his job. Hades' temper was only ever tested when promises to him were endanger of being broken this meant that attempting to withhold his wife from him, invade his realm or undermining his rule of the Underworld were virtually the only things one could do to earn his wrath. Zeus and Poseidon were said to fight like cat and dog, constantly trying to one up the other, but both knew better than to attempt such measures of ego against Hades.
Hades is seen as the most intelligent and crafty of his siblings and one of the most intelligent Greek Gods second only to his niece Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. Hades is seen as antisocial to most other gods, the exceptions being his wife Persephone and Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods, who supplicated himself to Hades in order to remain on his good side. Hades sent cruel souls to Tartarus and kind ones to Elysium, less as a punishment/reward and more as a sorting issue, viewing violent souls as being unable to function in a peaceful eternity and peaceful souls as being unable to function in a violent one. The souls Hades did directly punish were either mortals who intentionally crossed a god or those who committed suicide.
Hades had a strong hatred of suicide, viewing them as mortals too weak willed to live a full-life and attempting to receive eternal peace early, as punishment for killing oneself, Hades refused to see the souls of suicides for one-hundred years, during this time they roamed as shades on the banks of the river Cocytus consumed by their own sorrow and loneliness.
Hades had few to no worshipers but rather than objecting to his lack of mortal followers, stories indicate Hades exploited the situation to take advantage of the fear of crossing him. On-the-whole Hades is actually portrayed as one of the most reasonable of the Gods, but as his job was to reap mortal souls the ancient Greeks still viewed him as also being the one god who was specifically planning each of their deaths from the day they were born and thus THE great antagonist of their lives.
Hades, like all his siblings except Zeus, was cursed from the moment when they were eaten alive by his father Kronos, Titan of time, when he was born because Kronos feared the prophecy that said that one of his own children would dethrone him and banish him just as he had done to his father Uranus, the Sky.
Zeus escaped the fate of his siblings due to the desperate interference of his mother Rhea who finally worked up the courage to spirit her final child away. Once Zeus returned as an adult he freed Hades and all his siblings, some myths state by cutting Kronos' stomach open, others state his first wife Metis poisoned Kronos and made him vomit up Hades and the other gods.
Once freed Hades and all Zeus' other siblings helped defeat Kronos and his titans, sealed them away and began work on crafting the world again from the titans' rule. Zeus Hades and Poseidon divvied up the world, earth was to be neutral ground and Zeus took the heavens for himself so he gave the seas to Poseidon and the Underworld was left to Hades.
There is a myth that predates the famous story of Persephone but goes to set the stage for it: Zeus had just wooed his sister Hera goddess of marriage and Poseidon demanded that he be allowed to marry a sister as well. Zeus, who knew Poseidon was the envious type after the territories were divvied up, granted him permission to take one of their sisters as a wife which meant that Hades would need one as well. Poseidon had eyes for the eldest of the siblings Hestia goddess of the Hearth which left Hades Demeter, goddess of farming and agriculture.
While Poseidon went to win over Hestia, Zeus brought Hades to work things out with Demeter. Poseidon encountered an unforeseen problem with his choice, Hestia had decided she would prefer to remain a virgin goddess for all eternity. Poseidon quickly returned to Zeus mid-mediation to tell him of the problem, but Zeus admired his eldest sister too much to take issue with her decision and told Poseidon he would just need to accept it. Poseidon was not the compromising, type especially when it came to comparing himself to Zeus, so demanded claim to Demeter's hand instead. To placate Poseidon Zeus finally gave in but refused to engage her to Poseidon himself, stating Poseidon would need to win over Demeter just as he had done to Hera, Poseidon agreed and yet another myth involving Poseidon's attempts to romance Demeter began.
To get back at Poseidon for treating marriage as a trophy, Zeus secretly slept with Demeter and intended Poseidon to be stuck with his child to teach him a lesson; The expected daughter/son would become Hades' wife/husband as recompense for the change in negotiations. Hades agreed to the terms and with his territory, future spouse and autonomy from Zeus having finally been sorted out, he descended into the Underworld - content to wait for the day when his fiance came of age to be sent to him.
Myth of Persephone
Poseidon's interests in Demeter waned long before he found out she was pregnant and when her daughter Persephone was born, Demeter was left to raise her as a single mother. For many years Hades established order in the afterlife never forgetting Zeus' promise to him that one day Persephone would be sent to him. Persephone became an adolescent and she was not pledged to him, but Hades waited, Persephone became a teenager but was not pledged to him so Hades waited.
By the time Persephone was a young woman Hades had grown tired of waiting for the engagement and left the underworld to take her himself. Zeus had learned to put off telling his siblings news they might find unpleasant and had put off telling Demeter about the arrangement for so long he had almost forgotten, so nether Demeter nor Persephone was expecting Hades.
One day, while Persephone was gathering flowers in the field, a hole suddenly opened up. Hades road out on a golden chariot drawn by black phantom steeds, grabbed Persephone and took her down into the depths. Once in the the Underworld Hades showed Persephone his kingdom attempting to woo her. Persephone was expectedly afraid and depressed, the Underworld seeming distant and nightmarish compared to her mother's sunny fields. Hades continued to romance Persephone though, giving her gold, jewels, and pledging his love to her. When Persephone saw Hades had nothing but romantic intents for her her fear faded and over time she fell in love with her new husband.
On earth Demeter could not find Persephone and was becoming frantic. She abandoned her duties as tender of plants and crops and soon Greece experienced its first autumn as the days became short and cold and soil became infertile. Demeter asked Zeus where Persephone was but Zeus feigned ignorance, fearing his procrastination of Persephone's engagement would put him at blame to his sister. Demeter visited the Oracle of Delphi to commune with Apollo, though Zeus was less than truthful, Apollo would not lie to his Oracle at Delphi and told her Persephone was in the Underworld and the Oracle in turn told Demeter.
Demeter stormed up to Olympus and demanded Zeus get her daughter back. Zeus begrudgingly sent Hermes to ask Hades for Persephone but Hades would not let Zeus break a deal with him over anything, least of all his wife and sent Hermes back with the message. Demeter became depressed and Greece experienced its first winter as the nights became long, the weather chilly and the earth barren. Zeus saw Demeter's sorrow might starve and kill off all mankind if winter continued and so he sent Hermes to the Underworld again this time not with a request but a demand to release Persephone.
But Hades knew Hermes would be back and so he formed a plan; It was said that once a soul had eaten the food of the dead they were beyond any miracle of the gods and would remain in the Underworld forever and so Hades offered Persephone a pomegranate, once she finished it she would be his for all time. Persephone had heard she was not to eat the food of the dead but her hunger had been growing for months and she had come to trust Hades, so when Hades told her it would not hurt to have a few little seeds of a pomegranate she finally gave in and ate the fruit seeds. When Hermes arrived to take Persephone she confessed she had recently eaten fruit of the Underworld and it seemed Hades' claim was beyond even Zeus' authority.
But Hermes asked Persephone how many seeds she had eaten and Persephone told him it was four so Hermes offered a compromise that Persephone remain in the Underworld for four months of the year and remain with Demeter the rest of the year; Hades agreed, assured Persephone would be returned to him in eight months and he would see her every year regardless of Demeter's thoughts on the matter.
- Post Christian versions of the myth play the story as one of abduction and trickery on the part of Hades but Roman records and Greek plays from B.C.E. all indulge the affair as a formal arrangement between Zeus and Hades having to do with arranged marriage and romancing a partner kept in the dark about her betrothal. However, even in the earler stories, there is an inconsistency as to Persephone eating of the pomegranate. Some stories say she could not keep up the starvation diet, others state she simply did not know of the rule for food of the underworld, still other versions state Persephone intentionally ate the pomegranate seeds to stay with Hades.
Myth of Asclepius
Another myth tells of Hades' involvement with Asclepius, a mortal son of Apollo who was a gifted healer and the world's first doctor. Asclepius was so gifted he was able to give mortals longer lives by curing plagues and showing them how to take care of themselves. Asclepius brought people back from the brink of death many times. Eventually though Asclepius started to bring people back from the dead for hefty sums of money.
It was with this feat that Hades lost his temper and stormed up to Mount Olympus demanding that Asclepius pay the price for openly mocking death. Zeus appeased Hades by personally striking down Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Apollo, enraged at the death of his son, killed the younger generations of Cyclops that forged the bolt. Enraged at Apollo's defiance, Zeus forced him to serve a mortal king for a year as punishment. Asclepius was later deified as the god of healing.
Myth of Sisyphus
One of the few other myths Hades played a major antagonistic part in was the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a cleaver and charismatic king who feared death and made up his mind to find a way to evade Hades. When it came time for Sisyphus to die Hades bestowed Thantos with chains made by Hephaestus that could bind a one's very essence as a precaution.
Sisyphus spotted Thanatos ready to sneak up on him, immediately turned and lavished praise upon Thanatos for the finely crafted chains he carried, Thanatos was initially perplexed at the extroverted flattery but while handling the chains to gasp at the beauty, Sisyphus used a quick slight of hand to trap Thanatos instead. After Hades found death was no longer in play, due to Thanatos being bound, he arrived to free Thanatos and drag Sisyphus to the Underworld himself.
While Thanatos was still bound Sisyphus had told his wife not to bury him with fare. Sisyphus told Persephone of how Hades had snatched him up before he even had the time to get a funeral and his wife and forgotten his last rites. Persephone sent Sisyphus' ghost back to ask for his last rites but Sisyphus instead remained in the world of the living as an undead, content to live forever in undeath rather then go to the Underworld.
Thanatos refused to approach Sisyphus again, so Hades told Sisyphus that for every day he lived one of his people would die - in an attempt to socially pressure him to do the right thing or be marked a pariah for it; However Sisyphus was beyond divine shame. For a long time Sisyphus escaped death by offering one of his people in return and, being a beloved king, his people were willing to offer themselves to Hades on his behalf.
Exhausted from Sisyphus' scheming, one day Hades called for the soul of Sisyphus' wife as offering. Sisyphus was terrified of living without her and so he finally conceded. His wife gave him his last rites and Sisyphus went to the Underworld.
Hades was so angry at Sisyphus for holding the natural order hostage that he arranged a special punishment for him. Hades put Sisyphus on the edge the pits of Tartarus but told Sisyphus that his schemes would be overlooked and he had a chance to go to the paradise of Elysium if, and only if he could roll a large boulder up a hill.
Hades said he wished to show Sisyphus that cunning would not avert fate; Sisyphus, apart from being humbled took the proclamation as a dare and quickly agreed and tried to push the boulder up the hill but it fell. Sisyphus slyly pointed out that Hades had not said Sisyphus could only attempt this once and so Sisyphus used the wording as a loophole to try again but again it fell, content that his superior intellect had doped Hades himself into sparing him from Tartarus.
Sisyphus would keep trying to push the boulder up the hill so he would never be brought to be punished in the fiery pits and one day he could get out and go to Elysium.. However, Hades never told him the boulder, like all parts of the Underworld, obeyed his wishes and would always roll down and that was his punishment. Depending on version of the story, Hades had intentionally left his wording ambiguous to bait Sisyphus' ego so that Sisyphus would continues to try to escape Tartarus forever punished by his own ambitions.
Powers and Abilities
Hades is said to have worn a helmet that granted him invisibility and is his iconic item as Zeus has his lightning bolts and Poseidon his trident. Hades had a loyal monster dog named Cerberus who could actually eat the souls of the dead and hunted down any souls that tried to leave the underworld.
Hades was called the god of wealth, and all of the gems and minerals of the underground were his, it is said the very rock obeyed his commands and the Underworld conformed to his will. Hades is noted mostly for the fear he inspired not only in mortals but in most other gods, the ancient Greeks so feared him they often used the term "Rich One" or "The Generous Host" to make reference to him for fear of inviting his attention upon them.
Hades was one of the few gods that knew the Fates personally, and was on good enough terms with them to be given access to their list of death and could at his leisure have any given mortal drop over dead. When it was not a murderer's or rapist's time to die but they had committed such crimes that the souls of their dead victims cried out in vengeance Hades would dispatch the Furies to drive them to madness until they were ether killed or committed suicide. Like many death gods Hades slightest touch was said to instantly kill anyone.
- Necromancy and Ectokinesis: Hades had absolute control over corpses, skeletons and spirits.
- Subterranean Geokinesis: Hades could control the underground, metals and precious stones.
- Umbrakinesis: Hades could control darkness.
- Monster Lordship: Being the God of Underworld, Hades could summon any monster from Tartarus to do his bidding. His favorite monster was the ghost-eating three headed hound, Cerberus, which he considered his pet.
- Thanatokinesis: Hades could induce death on anyone at anytime. His lieutenant, Thanatos, was completely loyal to Hades and guarded the boundaries between Life or Death.
- Helm of Terror: Forged by the Elder Cyclopes, the helmet could make Hades completely imperceptible to senses, even to Gods and Titans. It also radiated so much fear, it could kill any lesser being out of insanity.
- Omniscience: Hades was constantly aware of acts committed by mortals allowing him to keep track of virtues and sins for any given mortal's final judgment. It was said he could see into the very souls of the gods themselves as well.
- High-Intellect: Hades is made out to be one of the smartest of the gods and certainly the smartest of his siblings. His talent in tricking mortals, knack for ironic punishments, and bureaucratic stewardship of the Underworld are testament to this.
- Limitless Wealth: Since all precious minerals were mined from underground veins it was thought such treasures were Hades' blessings hidden away for those willing to work to find them and he was said to possess infinite amounts of such staples of wealth.
- Immortality Subversion: In the myth of Asclepius and the introduction to the play about Apollo's sentence as a mortal, Hades is shown to be ready to restore the balance of life and death by dragging a god, Apollo, into the Underworld. Simply put, Hades does not need honor the notion of immortality and can forcibly drag an immortal into the Underworld Hades can force the spirit of the immortal into hell.
- Hades is a central figure, though not an outright villain, of the myth and play about Orpheus and Eurydice. In the myth Orpheus' music, which is moving enough to make the very rocks literally weep is for the most part unmoving to Hades but as the songs become more and more depressing, causing Hades' entire court to weep, Hades eventually sheds a single tear that comes out as molten lead.
- Hades is encountered by Heracles in his final labor to bring in Cerberus back to king Eurystheus for Hera, Hera's plan to pit Heracles against Hades backfired when Heracles sat down and asked permission for Cerberus rather than taking him, prompting Hades to give Heracles a sporting chance. After the labor was complete Hades payed a visit to Hera and made it clear there would be consequences, for her directly, if she ever sent anyone to his realm again.
- Zeus flaunted his authority of the other gods often. Poseidon constantly feuded with other gods for power and Zeus in particular. Hera was usually domineering and vindictive with her power as Queen of Olympus. But for all of that the one thing that Zeus, Poseidon, Hera and nearly all of the other gods agreed upon in their massive family feuds was not to pick a fight with Hades.
- Contrary to popular belief Hades was not a satanic figure though with the Underworld being an underground kingdom of souls it is usually associated with Hell and so Hades is often seen as a devilish figure such as Disney's take on Hades, Hades from Once Upon s Time or Hades in Kid Icarus. Most of these versions are not completely accurate to the original version however, although the Camp Half-Blood version at least is not too far from his "classic" counterpart.
- TV Tropes even has its own page on Hades' constant demonization in modern fiction.
- If looked from a certain angle, Hades is not actually an evil being. With exception of kidnapping Persephone, Hades' actions were all answers to provocations:
- Asclepius was bringing souls away from the Underworld, and it was Hades' duty to keep the dead souls in there, he had the right to demand punishment for Asclepius' deeds.
- Sisyphus managed to hold the natural order hostage and it was Hades' duty to release it again.
- Pirithous attempted to kidnap Hades' wife, and for that he was kept as a prisoner in the Underworld. In some versions of the myth, he is not actually tortured.
- Hades' nickname "The Generous Host" is reference to him always having room in the Underworld for one more soul.
- One of Hades' only groups of frequent worshipers were a small group called the Cult of Elysium, the group made a pilgrimage from Greece to a small island of Eleusis, believed to house a cave that lead to the underwolrd, every year during the winter festivals. The fate of the cult has been lost to legend and folklore but it died out. Scholars have speculated the group eventually became a suicide cult but this conflicts with the theology as Hades was said to despise suicides.
- Hades was never included among the major Gods of Olympus. Mythologist Morgan J. Roberts states "It may be that the Olympians, all of whom possessed human prejudices and character flaws, were as put off by Hades as were the mortals who feared him.". In today's popular culture, many treatments of mythology feature him as a villain who resents his separation from the other Gods and becomes evil as a result.