Hades was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. In Greek mythology, Hades is the oldest male child of Cronus and Rhea. According to myth, he and his brothers Zeus and Poseidon defeated the Titans and claimed rulership over the cosmos, ruling the underworld, air, and sea, respectively; the solid earth, long the province of Gaia, was available to all three concurrently. He was also the Roman god Pluto.
Hades had three sisters, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera, as well as two brothers, Zeus, the youngest of the three, and Poseidon, collectively comprising the original six Olympian gods. Upon reaching adulthood, Zeus managed to force his father to disgorge his siblings. After their release the six younger gods, along with allies they managed to gather, challenged the elder gods for power in the Titanomachy, a divine war.
The war lasted ten years and ended with the victory of the younger gods. Following their victory, according to a single famous passage in the Iliad (xv.187-93), Hades and his two brothers, Poseidon and Zeus, drew lots for realms to rule. Zeus got the sky, Poseidon got the seas, and Hades received the underworld, the unseen realm to which the souls of the dead go upon leaving the world as well as any and all things beneath the earth.
Hades obtained his wife and queen, Persephone, through trickery and violent abduction. The myth, particularly as represented in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, connected the Eleusinian Mysteries with the Olympian pantheon. or a while Hades ruled the underworld together with Persephone, whom he had abducted from the upperworld, but Zeus ordered him to release Persephone back into the care of her mother Demeter. However, before she left he gave her a pomegranate and when she ate of it, it bound her to the underworld forever.
Hades sits on a throne made of ebony, and carries a scepter. He also has a helmet, given to him by the Cyclopes, which can make him invisible. Hades rules the dead, assisted by various (demonic) helpers, such as Thanatos and Hypnos, the ferryman Charon, and the hound Cerberus. Many heroes from Greek mythology have descended into the underworld, either to question the shades or trying to free them. Although Hades does not allow his subjects to leave his domain, on several occasions he has granted permission, such as when Orpheus requested the return of his beloved Eurydice.
Hades possesses the riches of the earth, and is thus referred to as 'the Rich One'. Possibly also because -- as Sophocles writes -- 'the gloomy Hades enriches himself with our sighs and our tears'. Of all the gods, Hades is the one who is liked the least and even the gods themselves have an aversion of him. People avoided speaking his name lest they attracted his unwanted attention. With their faces averted they sacrificed black sheep, whose blood they let drip into pits, and when they prayed to him, they would bang their hands on the ground. The narcissus and the cypress are sacred to him.
Other names include Clymenus ('notorious'), Eubuleus ('well-guessing') and Polydegmon ('who receives many').
Despite modern connotations of death as evil, Hades was actually more altruistically inclined in mythology. Hades was often portrayed as passive rather than evil; his role was often maintaining relative balance. Hades ruled the dead, assisted by others over whom he had complete authority.
Hades is the standard translation for Sheol in the Septuagint, Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, and other Jewish works written in Greek.
In the Greek version of an obscure Judaeo-Christian work known as 3 Baruch (never considered canonical by any known group), "Hades" is described as a dark, serpent-like monster or dragon who drinks a cubit of water from the sea every day, and is 200 plethra (20,200 English feet, or nearly four miles) in length.
Like other first-century Jews literate in Greek, early Christians used the Greek word Hades to translate the Hebrew word Sheol. Thus, in Acts 2:27, the Hebrew phrase in Psalm 16:10 appears in the form: "you will not abandon my soul to Hades." Death and Hades are repeatedly associated in the Book of Revelation.
The New Testament uses the Greek word Hades to refer to the temporary abode of the dead (e.g. Acts 2:31; Revelation 20:13). Only one passage describes hades as a place of torment, the story of Lazarus and Dives (Luke 16:19-31). Here, Jesus depicts a wicked man suffering fiery torment in hades, which is contrasted with the bosom of Abraham, and explains that it is impossible to cross over from one location to the other. Some scholars believe that this parable reflects the intertestamental Jewish view of hades (or sheol) as containing separate divisions for the wicked and righteous. In Revelation 20:13-14 hades is itself thrown into the "lake of fire" after being emptied of the dead.
In Latin, Hades could be translated as Purgatorium (Purgatory in English use) after about 1200 A.D., but no modern English translations relates Hades to Purgatory.
Hades is rarely represented in classical arts, save in depictions of the Rape of Persephone. Hades is also mentioned in The Odyssey, when Odysseus visits the underworld as part of his journey. However, in this instance it is Hades the place, not the god. Persephone was the consort of Hades, and the archaic queen of the Underworld in her own right, before the Hellene Olympians were established, was Persephone, represented by the Greeks as daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Persephone did not submit to Hades willingly, but was abducted by him while picking flowers with her friends. Persephone's mother missed her and without her daughter by her side she cast a curse on the land and there was a great famine. Hades tricked Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds:
Demeter questioned Persephone on her return to light and air:
Thus every year Hades fights his way back to the land of the living with Persephone in his chariot. Famine (autumn and winter) occurs during the months that Persephone is gone and Demeter grieves in her absence. It is believed that the last half of the word Persephone comes from a word meaning 'to show' and evokes an idea of light. Whether the first half derives from a word meaning 'to destroy' - in which case Persephone would be 'she who destroys the light'.
Hades imprisoned Theseus and Pirithous, who had pledged to marry daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen and together they kidnapped her and decided to hold onto her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose Persephone. They left Helen with Theseus' mother, Aethra and traveled to the underworld. Hades pretended to offer them hospitality and set a feast; as soon as the pair sat down, snakes coiled around their feet and held them there. Theseus was eventually rescued by Heracles.
Hercules' final labour was to capture Cerberus. First, Hercules went to Eleusis to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. He did this to absolve himself of guilt for killing the centaurs and to learn how to enter and exit the underworld alive. He found the entrance to the underworld at Tanaerum. Athena and Hermes helped him through and back from Hades. Hercules asked Hades for permission to take Cerberus. Hades agreed as long as Hercules didn't harm him, though in some versions, Hercules shot Hades with an arrow. When Hercules dragged the dog out of Hades, he passed through the cavern Acherusia.
Hades showed mercy only once: Because the music of Orpheus was so hauntingly good, he allowed Orpheus to bring his wife, Eurydice, back to the land of the living as long as she walked behind him and he never tried to look at her face until they got to the surface. Orpheus agreed but, yielding to the temptation to glance backwards, failed and lost Eurydice again, to be reunited with her only after his death.
According to Ovid, Hades pursued and would have won the nymph Minthe, associated with the river Cocytus, had not Persephone turned Minthe into the plant called mint. Similarly the nymph Leuce, who was also ravished by him, was metamorphosed by Hades into a white poplar tree after her death. Another version is that she was metamorphosed by Persephone into a white poplar tree while standing by the pool of Memory.
Hades, "the son of Cronos, He who has many names" was the "Host of Many" in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The most feared of the Olympians had euphemistic names as well as attributive epithets.
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