Greek Myths: The Underworld

Hades's Underworld
By Jacob Sorrels

Narrative First Retold By

Original Version

The underworld is hidden in the earth. It is the kingdom of the dead and ruled over by Hades. Hades is a greedy god who is greatly concerned with increasing his subjects. Those whose calling increase the number of dead are seen favorably. The Erinnyes are welcomed guests. He is exceedingly disinclined to allow any of his subjects leave.

For most, life in the underworld is not particularly unpleasant. It is rather like a miserable dream, full of shadows, without sunlight or hope. A joyless place where the dead slowly fade into nothingness.

Geographically, the underworld is surrounded by a series of rivers: The Acheron (river of woe), The Cocytus (river of lamentation), The Phlegethon (river of fire), The Styx (river of unbreakable oath by which the gods swear), and The Lethe (river of forgetfulness). Once across the rivers an adamantine gate, guarded by Cerberus, forms the entrance to the kingdom. Deep withen the kingdom is Hades vast palace, complete with many guests.

Upon death a soul is lead by Hermes to the entrance of the underworld and the ferry ac ross the Acheron. There is a single ferry run by Charon to take the souls across the river. Only those who can pay the fare, with coins placed on their lips when buried, receive passage. The rest are trapped between two worlds.

The souls then enter through the gates. Cerberus will allow all to enter but, none to leave. The souls then appear before a panel of three judges, Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus, who pass sentence. The very good go to the Elysian Fields. Others are singled out for special treatment. Sisyphus and Tantalus being prime examples of the later.

Interpretation By Jacob Sorrels

One of the most eternal mysteries of human beings is what happens after we die; and the truth is… nobody knows for sure. Many myths of the underworld focus in certain individuals who suffer punishment for their sins. The Underworld is a part of society that is engaged in and organized for the purpose of crime and vice, a region, realm, or dwelling place thought to be below the surface of the earth.

After the war with the Titans, Zeus divided the world between himself and his brothers Poseidon and Hades. Zeus ruled the sky and the living; Poseidon ruled the Seas and all who traveled on it; and Hades ruled the underworld which was the land of the dead. He also has a staff that he uses to guide the souls of the dead into the underworld. Hades basically kidnapped Persephone to be his wife. Though later Demeter was able to secure her return to the world above, through acts of trickery Hades was able to have her stay in his realm for part of the year.

There is no pain in the underworld, but neither is there any pleasure. Hades and Persephone live in a palace, and with them the Erinnyes, Moirae, Thanatos and Hypnos. There also the lands of Tartarus which is created for punishment and Elysium which is created for rewards to which the dead may pass. They may also drink of the waters of Lethe which brings some sort of amnesia.

We can see however that the underworld also represents our greatest fears and desires, that deep self within us that holds ancient images and truths. In this way, it can be alarming and frightening. Surrounding the underworld is the world ocean. This is a symbol of a common pool of creativity, mystery and unconscious. To reach that deep point we must first adventure through the distortion feelings and images of it from our own culture. Often, these images are anything but unbiased, and for many folks are dominated by Christian imagery.

Hades rules as lord over the underworld. But because of what the underworld is, he also becomes humorless and pallid. No wonder he abducted Persephone, to add some coir to his domain!
Hades & Persephone


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