God of the Month: Hades

Hades

Hades is the Greek God of the Underworld. Eventually, his name would come to describe the Underworld. He is in charge of funeral rites and defends the dead’s right to burial. Hades also had a multitude of the most precious metals and soil from the Earth, earning him the title “God of Wealth” in addition to the Underworld. Grains were also what made the wealth of the Earth, so he is also known as a god of fertility, and was eventually called Plouton. His Roman name, Pluto, is a derivative of that name.

Hades is the eldest son of Cronus and Rhea, and the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. Hades was eaten by Cronus when he was born, as were his brothers, and his sister Demeter. Zeus managed to get the Titan to release them from his insides, and together the brothers managed to drive the Titans out of the heavens and locked them away at Tartaros. After Hades and his brothers defeated the Titans and took ownership of the world, they divided the cosmos into three parts. Zeus took the skies, Poseidon the sea, and Hades was in charge of the Underworld. Greek stories differ over the exact placement of the Underworld within the Cosmos. The two most well known pieces of Ancient Greek literature have two different descriptions. The Iliad describes the Underworld as in between spaces of the Earth, while The Odyssey claims that one must cross the ocean to get there. This ocean most likely meant the rivers Styx, Lethe, Acheron, Phlegethon, and Cocytus.

Hades supervised the dead in his realm, but he did not actually make the judgments, instead leaving a group of demi-gods in charge. He also left the Furies in charge of torturing the guilty rather than do that himself. He preferred to just be an overlord. He had a three-headed dog named Cerberus who guarded his realm, and the ferryman, Charron, was one of his attendees. Hades was a stern god and was not moved by either prayer or sacrifice. He is the King of the Dead, but not Death itself (named Thanatos). Men and other gods feared Hades, and he was not welcome outside of the Underworld. He also did not let anyone leave the Underworld except in certain circumstances. Many of the Ancient Greeks were afraid to say his name, as they believed uttering it could cause them to die sooner.

Hades’ wife is Persephone, Demeter’s and Zeus’ daughter, whom he kidnapped and brought to the Underworld. He abducted her with Zeus’ permission, because he knew Demeter would fight it. Demeter retaliated by making the Earth barren until her daughter was returned to her. Zeus finally forced Hades to relent and sent Hermes to take Persephone back, but since Persephone had eaten of fruit in the Underworld, she was bound to stay with Hades for at least part of the year, and so she remained his Queen.

A friend of Theseus’, named Pirithous, also desired Persephone, and the two friends tried to abduct her as well. Hades intercepted them and forced them to sit in the Chair of Forgetfulness, which causes it’s occupant to forget everything. They were held either by the rock connecting to their flesh, or by a coil of snakes depending on the version of the story. Some believe they were also tortured by the erinyes. Hercules eventually rescued Theseus, but Pirithous was kept as punishment for trying to abduct the Queen.

Hades is usually depicted as a regal man with a dark beard. Hades has a cap or helmet (depending on which version of his stories you read) that would render the wearer invisible. His throne is made of ebony, and he carries a scepter. His weapon of choice is a pitchfork that he uses to cause earthquakes, similar to Poseidon’s trident. No matter his depiction, it is easy to see why the Greeks feared this God so much, and why several ideas of his Underworld may have survived and been adapted to the Christian Hell after Christianity gained power in southern Europe.

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-Shannon Tricia

shannontricia.wordpress.com

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