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Hades, Chthonic Deities, and

the Afterlife

Hesiod’s Tartaros
„ A primal power, Tartaros becomes the “deep
deep Underworld”
Underworld later used as a
prison for the Titans
„ Hesiod describes the entrance to the underworld and its guard
‰ “There are shining gates and a bronze threshold with never-ending roots,
unmoveable and natural; beyond and far from all the gods live the Titans,
past gloomy Chaos” (Hes. Theog. 811-814)
‰ “And a terrible dog is on guard in front…on those going in he fawns with his
tail and both ears, but does not let them go back out and, waiting, eats
whomever he catches going out the doors” (Hes. Theog. 769-773)
„ Styx and the breaking of oaths
‰ “Whoever pours libation and breaks his oath, of the immortals who hold the
peaks of snowy Olympos, lies unbreathing until the year’s end…an evil
coma covers him…for nine years he is parted from the gods who always
are, and never joins in council and feasts, for nine full years” (Hes. Theog.

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Hesiod’s Kosmos

Gaia (the Earth)

Hades the God

„ Origin: a chthonic deity whose fertility role is later
downplayed in view of his role as lord of the dead
„ Parentage: Son of Kronos and Rhea
„ Function: god of the underworld, wealth (ploutos)
‰ Received the Underworld after the division of the universe by
Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades
„ Attributes: keys, Cerberus, helmet, black sheep, chariot, cypress
tree, pomegranate seed
„ Spouse: Persephone
„ Epithets: Aidoneus “Unseen one,” and Zeus Katachthonios,
(“Zeus under the ground,” because his reign there was absolute)
‰ his names were rarely pronounced

„ Roman: Pluto, Dis

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Hades, Lord of the


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Traditional Elements of Hades’ Realm

„ Hades the place (Orcus “the place that confines” for the
‰ Tartarus (or Erebus) ⇔ Elysian Fields (Islands or Fields of the
„ Three judges: Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Aeacus
‰ As the idea of theodicy (justice of the gods) develops, the
Underworld becomes a place of reward and punishment
„ Rivers: Styx (river of hate), Acheron (woe), Lethē (forgetfulness),
Cocytus (wailing), and Phlegethon (fire)
„ Charon and his fare
„ Hermes Psychopompus (sender or conductor of souls)
„ Cerberus (Kerberos, the three-headed guard dog)

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Charon in his boat,

ferrying souls across
the Styx

Roman marble relief from a sarcophagus, 3rd

CE, Vatican

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Hercules Fighting Cerberus

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Other Inhabitants of the Underworld

„ Furies (Erinyes) - avengers of crime, especially

murder and blood guilt
‰ Eumenides “kindly ones” – a euphemism stressing the
positive aspect of the Furies, after they have been
„ Hecate (Hekate, associated with female power,
„ Persephone (wife of Hades, more in lecture on
Demeter and the “Rape” of Persephone)

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The Afterlife?
„ Soma: Body
„ Nous: mind
„ Pneuma: literally “breath”
„ Psyche: life-force while alive
‰ also “shade,” the pale reflection of one’s soma and the echo of
nous after death
„ Bios: “means of life,” livelihood
„ In early Greek thought the “shade” or psyche was a shadow of
one’s appearance and an echo of one’s personality that
continued in some vague fashion in the underworld
„ Cf. spirit + body = soul

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Canon of Mythological Sinners

„ Tityus
‰ Crime: attempted to rape the goddess Leto
‰ Punishment: vultures eternally tearing at his liver (cf. Prometheus)
„ Ixion
‰ Crime: attempted to have sex with Hera (the cloud Nephele)
‰ Punishment: tied to a wheel that was constantly spinning
„ Tantalus
‰ Crime: stole nectar and ambrosia from the gods and served his son Pelops the gods
for dinner
‰ Punishment: forced to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree, forever
„ Sisyphus
‰ Crime: cheated death by tricking Persephone into temporarily letting him leave the
underworld, then refused to return
‰ Punishment: continually rolls a rock up a hill
„ Danaids
‰ Crime: killed their husbands on their wedding night
‰ Punishment: vainly trying to carry water in sieve-like containers

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Acheloos Painter (6th BCE). Detail of black figure vase.

The Myth of Sisyphus

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Euripides’ Alcestis
„ Earliest extant play of Euripides, produced in 438 B.C., winning second
„ Characters
‰ Apollo
‰ Death
‰ Admetus of Pherae, king of Thessaly
‰ Alcestis, wife of Admetus
‰ Pheres, Admetus’ father
‰ Herakles
‰ Chorus of citizens of Pherae
„ A tragedy with a happy ending!
‰ A pseudo-comedy?
‰ In place of a satyr play?
‰ What is Admetus’ hamartia?

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Greek Views on Death

„ Chorus: “Admetus surely must be grieving over this when such a wife must
be taken away from him” (Eur. Alces. 199-200 = Grene, 275)

„ Herakles: “Death is an obligation which we all must pay. There is not one
man living who can truly say if he will be alive or dead on the next day…Go
on, enjoy yourself, drink, call the life you live today your own, but only
that, the rest belongs to chance” (Eur. Alces. 782-89 = Grene, 298)

„ Chorus: “Therefore you must understand death is an obligation claimed

from us all” (Eur. Alces. 418-19 = Grene, 283)

„ Admetus: “Friends, I believe my wife is happier than I although I know she

does not seem to be. For her, there will be no more pain to touch her
ever again. She has her glory and is free from such distress” (Eur.
Alces. 935-37 = Grene, 303-4)
‰ cf. Alma 12:40 “And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are
righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state
of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all
care, and sorrow.”

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Death Rituals

„ “I ordain a public mourning for my wife, to be observed with

shaving of the head and with black robes. The horses that
you drive in chariots and those you ride single shall have their
manes cut short with steel, and there shall be no sound of
flutes within the city, no sound of lyres, until twelve moons
have filled and gone” (Eur. Alces. 426-431 = Grene, 283)
„ Pheres: “Accept these gifts to deck her body, bury them with
her. Oh yes, she well deserves honor in death” (Eur. Alces. 618-
19 = Grene, 292)

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Hamartia and Redemption

„ Pheres
‰ “I am a free Thessalian noble…are you forgetting that? You go too far with your
high-handedness. You volley brash words at me, and fail to hit me, and then run
away” (Eur. Alces. 677–80 = Grene, 294)
‰ “Then, you wretch, you dare to call me coward, when you let your woman outdare
you, and die for her magnificent young man? . . . I tell you, as you cherish your
own life, all other people cherish theirs!” (Eur. Alces. 696–704 = Grene, 294)

„ If this were a normal tragedy, would this be Admetus’ hamartia?

‰ Cursing both his parents . . .

„ Admetus
‰ “And if I had driven from my city and my house the guest and friend who came to
me, would you have approved me more? Wrong. My misery would still have been as
great, and I should be inhospitable too, and there would be one more misfortune
added to those I have, if my house is called unfriendly to its friends” (Eur. Alces.
553–58 = Grene, 290)
‰ Does Admetus’ hospitality (xenia) to Herakles make up for his acceptance of
Alcestis’ offer?

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