Hades: Greek God of the Underworld

Stern, unyielding, melancholy: Hades. 

Despite being known as that one introverted god that kidnapped his niece to marry her and who has that giant three-headed guard dog, there is more to this mysterious deity than meets the eye. 

Indeed, although seldom mentioned, Hades was a crucial aspect of the preformation of funeral rites for the ancient Greeks and stoically ruled over souls of the departed as their final monarch. 

Who is Hades? 

In Greek mythology, Hades is the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. By the same token, he was the brother of the powerful deities known as Zeus, Poseidon, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera

Along with the rest of his siblings – with the exception of Zeus – Hades was swallowed by their father, who opted for stress-eating his newborns rather than actually talking about his insecurities as a ruler. Once they managed to break free of their imprisonment, the now grown regurgitated children of Cronus and Rhea allied with world-wise Zeus as the universe was thrown into the decade-long intergenerational war between the gods, a conflict known as the Titanomachy.

During the Titanomachy, the Bibliotheca accounts that Hades was gifted a powerful helmet that granted him invisibility from his uncles the Cyclopes, famous smiths and assistants to the patron god of craftsmen, Hephaestus, who have crafted innumerable mythic weapons for multiple heroes spanning across Grecian mythos. 

Once the Titanomachy was won in favor of the children of Cronus’ children and their allies, the rule of the cosmos was divided amongst the three brothers. The epic poet Homer described in Iliad that, by a stroke of luck, Zeus ascended to become the supreme deity of Olympus and the “wide sky,” while Poseidon wielded control of the vast “gray sea.” Meanwhile, Hades was named King of the Underworld, with his realm being “of the mists and the darkness.”

What is Hades the God of? 

Hades is the Greek god of the dead and de facto King of the Underworld. Similarly, he was the god of wealth and riches, particularly the kind that was hidden. 

In Greek mythology, the realm that Hades ruled was entirely subterranean and removed from the other realms that his brothers governed; even though the earth was a welcoming place for all deities, Hades seemed to prefer the solitude of his realm rather than fraternizing with the Olympian gods.

In case you were wondering, Hades is not counted to be one of the twelve Olympians. The title is reserved for gods that live, reside, and rule from the lofty heights of Mount Olympus. Hades’ realm is the Underworld, so he really doesn’t have the time to go to Olympus and mingle with the Olympian gods unless something crazy happens. 

We don’t Talk about Hades

If you are a bit new to the Greek mythos scene, you may have picked up on the fact that people don’t really like talking about Hades. There is a simple reason for this: good, old-fashioned superstition. The same superstition lends to the distinct lack of Hades’ appearance in ancient artworks. 

Notably, quite a bit of the radio silence was rooted in respect, though much of it also had to do with an amount of fear. Stern and a bit of an isolationist, Hades was the god that oversaw the affairs of the deceased and ruled over the vast realm of the Underworld. His close associations with the deceased calls on humankind’s innate fear of death and of the unknown. 

Continuing off of the idea that Hades’ name was seen as a bad omen of sorts, he went by a slew of epithets instead. The epithets would have been interchangeable and familiar to the average ancient Greek. Even Pausanias, a Greek geographer of the 2nd century CE, used numerous names in place of ‘Hades’ when describing some of ancient Greece’s locales in his first-hand travel account, Description of Greece. Therefore, Hades was certainly worshipped, though his name – at least the variation as we know it today – was not usually invoked. 

While Hades has tons of names that he is addressed by, only the most telling will be reviewed.

Zeus of the Underworld

Zeus Katachthonios – translating to “chthonic Zeus” or “Zeus of the Underworld” – is one of the most common ways Hades is addressed. The title is reverential and likens his authority in the Underworld to the power that his brother, Zeus, holds in the Heavens.

The earliest recorded mention of Hades being referred to in such a way is in the Iliad, an epic poem written by Homer. 

Agesilaos

Agesilaos is another name the god of the dead frequently went by, as it designates him as a leader of people. As Agesilaos, Hades’ rule over the realm of the Underworld is acknowledged – and more importantly, accepted tenfold. More than anything, the epithet suggests that all people will eventually pass on to the afterlife and revere Hades as their leader in the Underworld.

A variation of this epithet is Agesander, which defines Hades as being one who “carries away man,” further establishing his connection to inescapable death.

Moiragetes

The epithet Moiragetes is uniquely tied to the belief that Hades is the leader of the Fates: the triple goddesses made up of Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos who held power over a mortal’s lifespan. Hades, as the god of the dead, would have to work alongside the Fates (the Moirai) to ensure that the destiny of one’s life was fulfilled. 

There is great debate surrounding the Fates and who exactly oversees the goddesses, with sources contradictorily stating that they either live on Mount Olympus with Zeus, who shares the epithet of Moiragetes, or that they reside in the Underworld with Hades.

In their Orphic hymn, the Fates are firmly established as being led by Zeus, “all over the earth, beyond the goal of justice, of anxious hope, of primeval law, and of the immeasurable principle of order, in life Fate alone watches.”

In Orphic myth, the Fates were daughters – and therefore under the guide – of a primordial deity, Ananke: the personified goddess of necessity.

Plouton

When identified as Plouton, Hades is being identified as the “Wealthy One” amongst the gods. This is entirely tied to precious metal ore and precious gemstones being beneath the Earth. 

The Orphic hymns relate Plouton as “Chthonic Zeus.” The most significant description given of both Hades and his kingdom is in the poems following lines: “your throne rests on a tenebrous realm, the distant, untiring, windless and impassive Hades, and on dark Acheron that encompasses the roots of the earth. All-Receiver, with death at your command, you are the master of mortals.”

Who is Hades’ Wife?

Hades’ wife is the daughter of Demeter and the Greek fertility goddess of Spring, Persephone. Although his niece, Hades fell in love with Persephone at first sight. The god of the dead was unlike his brothers in the sense that he was thought to be wholly devoted to his wife, with the sole mention of a mistress – a nymph named Minthe – being from before his marriage, who he forsake when he had married Persephone.

Another interesting fact about Persephone is that she is also known by the name Kore in myths, with the names being used interchangeably. Kore means “maiden” and is therefore used to refer to young girls. Whereas Kore can simply be a way of identifying Hades’ wife as Demeter’s treasured daughter, it is a major shift from the later name Persephone, which means “Bringer of Death.” Even in myths and poems, her identity as Persephone is led by “dreaded,” with her Orphic hymn proclaiming: “Oh, Persephone, for you always nourish all and kill them too.”

We stan the range. 

Does Hades have Children?

Hades is known to definitively have at least three children with his wife, Persephone: Makaria the goddess of blessed death; Melinoe, goddess of madness and bringer of night terrors; and Zagreus, a minor hunting deity that is often related to chthonic Dionysus

On that note, some accounts state Hades has as many as seven children, adding in the Erinyes (the Furies) – Alecto, Megaera, Tisiphone – and Plutus, a god of abundance, to the bunch. These other purported children of the King of the Underworld are inconsistently attributed to Hades in myth, especially when compared to the aforementioned three. 

Traditionally, there are other gods listed to be the parents of the Furies, such as Nyx (parthenogenetically); a mating between Gaia and Cronus; or being born from the spilt blood of Uranus during his castration. 

Plutus’ parents are traditionally listed as Demeter and her long-time partner, Iasion. 

Who are Hades’ Companions?

In Greek myth, Hades – as with many big-name gods – was often in the company of a loyal entourage. These companions include the Furies, as they were brutal goddesses of vengeance; the primordial children of Nyx, the Oneiroi (Dreams); Charon, the ferryman that took newly dead across the River Styx; and the three Judges of the Underworld: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus.

The Judges of the Underworld functioned as beings that created the laws of the Underworld and are overall judges of the actions of the departed. The Judges were not enforcers of the laws that they created and hold some amount of power in their own realms.

Outside of his immediate inner-circle, there are countless deities that have taken up residency in the Underworld, including but not limited to Thanatos, the Greek god of death, his twin brother Hypnos, a collection of river goddesses, and Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft and crossroads.

What are Some Myths that Hades is in? 

Hades is in a few notable myths outside of those describing his birth, the Titanomachy, and the division of the cosmos. The ever-looming god of the dead, Hades is mostly known for keeping a distance from his dysfunctional family and minding his own business – most of the time, at least. 

As for those few times the god decided to socialize, we luckily have the myths recorded.

The Abduction of Persephone

Alright, so The Abduction of Persephone is by far the most recurrent myth that Hades is involved in. It says a lot about his character, about the inner-workings of the gods, and how the seasons were organized.

To begin, Hades was sick of the bachelor life. He had seen Persephone one day and was absolutely entranced by her, which led him to reach out to his little bro, Zeus.

Turns out, the relationships the gods have with one another is really not synergistic, especially when the head of it all (yes Zeus, we’re talking about you) sucks at communicating. As it happens, Hades got in contact with Zeus because 1. He was Persephone’s father and 2. He knew Demeter would never willingly give her daughter away. 

Thus, being the King of the Heavens and being Persephone’s dad, Zeus had final say no matter what Demeter’s wishes were. He encouraged Hades to abduct Persephone away to the Underworld when she was vulnerable, seperated from her mother and from her retinue of nymphs. 

Hades’ kidnapping of Demeter’s daughter from the Nysian Plain is detailed in the Homeric hymn “To Demeter,” where it is explained that Persephone: “…was filled with a sense of wonder, and she reached out with both hands…and the earth, full of roads leading every which way, opened up under her…He seized her against her will…and drove away as she wept.” Meanwhile, the Orphic hymn “To Plouton” only touches on the abduction, stating that “you once took pure Demeter’s daughter as your bride when you tore her away from the meadow…”

Persephone’s mother, Demeter, was distraught upon finding out about Persephone’s disappearance. She scoured the earth until the sun deity, Helios, eventually yielded and told the grieving mother what he saw.

Oh, and you better believe Demeter was having none of it. 

In her rage and heartbreak, the goddess of grain was ready to make mankind perish until Persephone was returned to her. The act had an indirect domino effect on all the gods and goddesses within the Greek pantheon, who then became overwhelmed with requests from their mortal subjects. 

And, none were more strained than the King of the Heavens. 

The agricultural collapse and subsequent famine caused by Demeter’s heartbreak pushed Zeus to summon Persephone back, only…she had eaten a pomegranate seed at Hades’ behest. Whoops. The berry from the “honey-sweet” fruit would seal the fate of the goddess of Spring, having her split her immortal life between her mother in the mortal realm and her husband in his gloomy kingdom.

The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice

Hades takes on an antagonistic approach in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. As the god of deceased mortals, Hades spends much of his time ensuring that the dead stay dead and that the cycle of life and of death continues unbroken. However, he has made an exception. 

Orpheus was the son of the Muse of epic poetry, Calliope, the daughter of Mnemosyne, therefore making him an exceptionally gifted musician. He had traveled with the Argonauts and upon returning from his adventures, married his sweetheart, an oak-nymph named Eurydice. Soon after the marriage, the newly wed was killed after she mistakenly stepped on a venomous snake.

Heartbroken, Orpheus descended into the realm of the dead to plead his wife’s case to the stern chthonic king. Once he was permitted an audience, Orpheus played a song so heart-wrenching that Persephone, Hades’ beloved wife, begged her husband to make an exception.

Unsurprisingly, Hades allowed Orpheus to bring Eurydice back to the living world, only if Eurydice followed behind Orpheus on their trek and that he did not look back at her until after they both made it back earth-side. 

Only, Orpheus was giddy, and looked back to smile at Eurydice once he was able to see the light of day. Since Orpheus did not hold up his side of the bargain and looked behind him, his wife was promptly whisked back to the afterlife.

The doomed romance of Orpheus and Eurydice is the inspiration behind the Broadway hit musical, Hadestown.

How was Hades Worshipped?

As a chthonic being – especially one of such caliber – Hades was undeniably worshipped, although in perhaps a more subdued way than we see with other cults. For example, those cult worshippers at Elis had a unique temple dedicated to Hades by name, rather than using a standard epithet. Pausanias even speculates that Hades’ cult at Elis is the only one of its kind, as his travels have led him to minor shrines dedicated to an epithet-or-another, but never a Temple of Hades as found in Elis.  

When examining the followers of Orphism (a religion centered on the works of the legendary bard, Orpheus) Hades would be worshipped alongside Zeus and Dionysus, as the triad became nearly indistinguishable in the religious practice. 

A chthonic deity is usually offered a sacrifice in the form of a black animal, most traditionally a pig or a sheep. This particular approach to a blood sacrifice is known far and wide, and generally accepted: the blood would be left to seep into the Earth to reach the realm of the departed. Jumping off of that idea, the possibility of human sacrifices being conducted in ancient Greece is still heavily debated amongst historians; sure, they are mentioned in myths – Iphigeneia was intended to be a sacrifice for the goddess Artemis during the Trojan War – but substantial evidence has yet been discovered.

What is Hades’ Symbol?

Hades’ primary symbol is a bident, a two-pronged instrument that has lengthy history as both a fishing and hunting tool, a combat weapon, and as a farming implement. 

Not to be mistaken with the three-pronged trident carried by Poseidon, the bident was a more versatile tool that would be used to break up rocky, pact earth to make it more pliable. As Hades exists as the King of the Underworld, him being able to pierce the earth makes some amount of sense. After all, in the Orphic hymn “To Plouton,” the Underworld is noted to be “subterranean,” “thick-shaded,” and as “dark.” 

On another hand, Hades is also occasionally associated with the screech owl. In the story of Persephone’s abduction, a daimon servant of Hades, Ascalaphus, had reported that the kidnapped goddess consumed a pomegranate seed. By notifying the gods of Persephone’s pomegranate partaking, Ascalaphus earned the brunt of Demeter’s rage, and the entity was transformed into a screech owl as punishment.

What is Hades’ Roman Name?

When looking to Roman religion, Hades is closest associated with the Roman god of the dead, Pluto. Overtime, the Greeks also took to calling the deity ‘Pluto’ as the name Hades became associated with the realm he ruled over itself. Pluto appears on Roman curse tablets, being offered numerous sacrifices if the curse was completed to the requestees liking.

Surely an interesting method of worship, curse tablets were primarily addressed to chthonic deities and promptly buried once the request was made. Other chthonic gods mentioned on discovered curse tablets included Hecate, Persephone, Dionysus, Hermes, and Charon.

Hades in Ancient Art and Modern Media

As a powerful deity that oversaw the affairs of the deceased, Hades was feared amongst the ancient Greek populace. Likewise, Hades’ true name was not the only thing that was limited in use: his visage is not commonly seen, save for rare statues, frescoes, and vases. It wasn’t until the resurgence in admiration of classical antiquity during the Renaissance that Hades captured the imagination of new generations of artists, and a countless number of artists thereafter.

Isis-Persephone and Serapis-Hades Statue at Gortyn

Gortyn is an archaeological site on the island of Crete, where a 2nd century CE temple dedicated to a handful of Egyptian deities was discovered. The site became a Roman settlement as early as 68 BCE following Roman invasion and maintained an excellent relationship with Egypt.

The statue of Serapis-Hades, a god of the afterlife rooted in Greco-Roman Egyptian influences, is accompanied by a statue of his consort, Isis-Persephone, and a knee-high statue of Hades’ unmistakable three-headed pet, Cerberus.

Hades 

Released by Supergiant Games LLC at the end of 2018, the video game Hades boasts a rich atmosphere and unique, exciting combat. Paired with character driven storytelling, you will be able to team up with Olympians (you even meet Zeus) as the immortal Prince of the Underworld, Zagreus.

This rogue-like dungeon crawler makes Hades out to be a distant, unloving father, and Zagreus’ whole goal is to reach his birth mother who is presumably on Olympus. In the story, Zagreus was raised by Nyx, the primordial goddess of the darkness of night, and all residents of the Underworld were forbidden from ever speaking Persephone’s name, or else they would feel the wrath of Hades. 

The forbiddance of speaking Persephone’s name reflects the practice of refraining from the use of many chthonic deities’ names, echoing the superstitious territory that comes with Hades’ own identity among the ancient Greeks.

Lore Olympus

A modern interpretation of Greco-Roman mythology, Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe focuses on the story of Hades and Persephone. After initial release in November 2021, the romance comic became a #1 New York Times Bestseller.

In the comic, Hades is a buff blue businessman with white hair and pierced ears. He is the head of Underworld Corporation, managing souls of dead mortals. 

One of the acclaimed Six Traitors of the storyline, the character of Hades is the brother of Poseidon and Zeus, the sons of Rhea and Cronus. Smythe’s interpretation of the classical mythology has incest largely removed, making Hera, Hestia, and Demeter the parthenogenetic daughters of the Titaness Metis.

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans was a 2010 remake of a 1981 film by the same name. Both were inspired by the myth of the demi-god hero, Perseus, with many central plotlines taking place in Argos, the demi-god’s birthplace. 

Unlike the name suggests, there are no actual Titans in the film, and it certainly is not a clash between the Titans that are within classical Greek religion. 

In fact, Hades – played by English actor Ralph Fiennes – is the big bad evil guy of the film. He wants to destroy the Earth (poor Gaia) and mankind, all while trying to usurp Zeus from his throne on Olympus with the help of his ghastly minions. 

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