Speak of Greek mythology and the first thing that comes to your mind is likely to be the trio of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Hades, the Greek god of the dead and divine lord of the underworld, also happens to be the eldest of the three.
In Greek mythology, Hades was the Olympian god who was bestowed titles like the God of the Dead, God of the Netherworld, Lord of the Underworld, and also, the Dispenser of Earthly Riches. An entity that’s feared and loathed is seldom worshiped by people. Hades though, defied this norm. On one hand, Hades was portrayed as fearsome and cruel, and on the other, he was portrayed as just and fair. While there is no dearth of interesting characters in Greek mythology, whether any of them would even come close to Hades is a question that can be pondered upon.
Facts about the Greek God Hades
Hades was born to Cronus, the leader of the Titans, who ruled during the legendary Golden Age, and his wife Rhea, on the island of Crete. He had two brothers―Zeus and Poseidon―and three sisters―Demeter, Hestia, and Hera.
When Gaia and Ouranos prophesied that Cronus would be overcome by one of his sons, just like he did to his father, he devoured his five children. Only Zeus, his youngest son, escaped this wrath with his mother’s help. He then went on to become a powerful warrior and forced Cronus to disgorge his siblings. Hades is Cronus’ eldest son by birth, but youngest considering the order in which he and his siblings were disgorged.
Eventually, the trio of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades raged a war against the Titans, and defeated them. It was precisely this moment when the three brothers chose their realms; Zeus became the God of the Sky, Poseidon, the God of the Sea, and Hades, the God of the Underworld.
Hades rode a black chariot, which was pulled by four magnificent black horses. Narcissus and Cypress plants were sacred to him. The gates of his realm were guarded by his three-headed dog, Cerberus, the son of Typhon, who was assigned the task of ensuring that no one escaped the realm of Hades.
The underworld was named after Hades himself. It was divided into two regions: Erebus, the upper region, and Tartarus, the lower region. The Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus after the War of Titans or Titanomachy. It had five symbolic rivers –
~ Acheron (The River of Sadness)
~ Cocytus (The River of Lamentation)
~ Lethe (The River of Forgetfulness)
~ Phlegethon (The River of Fire)
~ Styx (The River of Hate)
River Styx formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. The task of ferrying souls of newly deceased people across the river was carried out by Charon, the ferryman of Hades. It was this belief that gave birth to the ancient tradition of placing a coin in the mouth of the dead; the coin served as the fare for being ferried across.
The Helm of Darkness (a.k.a. Helm of Hades) was a helmet with wings attached to it, which made Hades invisible. He got it as a gift from Cyclopes, when he and his brothers―Zeus and Poseidon―freed the one-eyed giants from Tartarus. While Hades got his cap of invisibility, Zeus got the thunderbolt and Poseidon, the trident. Hades used the Helm of Darkness efficiently during the War of Titans, wherein he became invisible, entered the camp of the Titans, and destroyed their weapons.
Entranced by Persephone, the daughter of Demeter―the Greek Goddess of Fertility―and Zeus, Hades abducted her and took her to the netherworld. When Demeter came to know about the abduction of her daughter, she cast a curse on the land and rendered it barren. She refused to budge until her daughter was returned by Hades, thus bringing about a drought on land.
Hades did send Persephone back to her world when Zeus intervened, but not before enticing her into eating a pomegranate which bound her to the underworld forever. In the end, it was decided that Persephone would spend a part of the year with Hades in the underworld and the rest in her world, with her mother. Even though she was tricked into this marital alliance, Persephone shared a peaceful relationship with Hades and became the queen of the underworld.
Orpheus was perhaps the only person who came close enough to enticing Hades into doing something that he never did – allow any of his subjects to leave his realm. Orpheus was known for his ability to charm any living being with his music. When his wife, Eurydice was killed due to a snakebite, he went to the underworld to bring her back. Hades was so touched by his music that he agreed to send Eurydice back, but warned Orpheus to return to his world without looking behind to check whether she was following him. Orpheus though, thought that Hades had tricked him and turned back, and thus lost the only opportunity to get his wife back.
Such was the fear of Hades that the people would even refrain from calling his name. But then, he was also the dispenser of earthly riches, and therefore, it was impossible for people to not worship him. In order to solve the dilemma, the Greeks came up with a new name for him, Ploutōn, which was eventually Latinized as Pluto by the Romans.
Being the lord of the underworld, Hades was feared as well as worshiped by one and all; feared because he was the God of the Dead and worshiped because people believed that his realm was the source of precious minerals. Unlike the traditional ritual of sacrificing white animals to gods, people used to sacrifice black animals to Hades. As all the riches of the Earth were believed to be in his possession, he was also called ‘the rich one.’