Death Has a Face

No one truly knows what happens after a person dies, this is one area science cannot investigate or solve. It is a cycle of life. It happens to humans, animals and flora yet why do we dread it? The not knowing is what drives most fears and death is an unknown entity. I believe there is more to this corporeal state and once we shed this mortal coil, we move onto another plane of life. Or perhaps we come back in another lifetime to complete unfinished business. I quite like this idea. Still have plenty to do. What I love about Greek Mythology is the storytellers’ attempt to explain what they couldn’t understand and Hades epitomised this desire to finding out what happens.

Hades by Agostino Carraci Museo Estense, Modena Italy
Hades by Agostino Carraci 1592
Museo Estense, Modena Italy

The etymology of the word ‘Hades’ is twofold: it refers to a place and the god. It literally means ‘unseen’ which ties in with the element of not knowing what happens after we pass on. Hades was the eldest son of the Titans Kronos and Rhea, and along with his siblings devoured by their father.

Following the war with the Titans, which the Olympian Gods won, Hades and his younger brothers, Zeus and Poseidon drew lots for realms to rule. Each received an object, a symbol of their dominion: Zeus, a thunderbolt or spear according to some myths; Poseidon, the trident; and Hades, a helmet that made the wearer invisible. The same helmet Perseos wore to escape the Gorgones after killing Medousa.

Orpheos in the Underworld by Henryk Siemiradzki circa 1881
Orpheos in the Underworld
by Henryk Siemiradzki
circa 1880

As Hades ruled the dead, he forbade any to leave and if anyone attempted to breakout or someone tried to steal one of the dead back, he threatened them. Heroes Herakles, Odysseus, Aeneas and Theseus were the only ones who entered the underworld and managed to escape. One of my favourite myths regarding bringing someone back from the dead is about Orpheos who endeavoured to rescue his wife. She was bitten by a snake and in his grief sang sad odes which touched the hearts of the gods. They offered a way for him to save Eurydice. With his music he hoped to appeal to the softer nature of Hades and Persephone. They agreed with one stipulation: he walked in front of her and never looked back until he reached the surface. Unfortunately, he did look back and Eurydice was dragged back to the land of the dead.

Another enduring myth was when Hades raped or kidnapped, depending on the storyteller, Persephone. Her mother Demeter roamed the earth searching for her daughter and during this time the land suffered.

Hades, the place, included the Elysian Fields and Tartaros. The Elysian Fields was the final resting place of the souls who were virtuous and was beautiful with an idyllic life; Tartaros on the other hand was reserved for those who did terrible deeds. Condemned for eternity where the punishment fit the crime. In the case of Ixion, who was the first human to kill another. He pushed his father-in-law into a pit of burning coals so he didn’t have to pay something like a dowry for his bride. He spent eternity tied to a flaming wheel.

Charon, the ferryman, aided the deceased as he took them across the river Acheron. Each body would have a coin to pay for the crossing. On the other side protecting Hade’s world was Cerberus, the three-head dog. Much like the Ancient Egyptian myth of the dead, the souls were judged by brothers Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aeacus. Here they may be sent to the Fields of Asphodel if neither worthy nor evil to wander for eternity, or sent to Tartaros or to Elysium.

Hades wasn’t popular amongst the gods and the people reluctant to swear an oath in his name for fear of retribution. I do feel sorry for Hades, for he was reviled for what he epitomised.

For more information on Hades go to 

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  1. Mikels Skele

    And yet, despite the joys and contentment of Elysium, Achilles tells Odysseus he would rather be a common thete on earth than a king in Elysium. Why is this lesson so universally ignored?


  2. Paul Gauchi

    A great summary of Hades. I too feel sorry for Hades, the eldest son he should been given Zeus’ job but the lots or fate was not with him. Of all the stories of Hades I like the Orpheos story the best. It showed that dispite what people might think of Hades, he has a heart and he showed compassion for Orpheos’ plight. More than some people may show today.
    Thanks You for this post. 🙂


    • cav12

      There’s definitely more to Hades than the harsh aspects of his personality. I agree he was hard done by too, being the eldest, he should have had first option.
      Thanks for your comment Paul 😀


    • cav12

      I think Zeus manipulated the situation, probably used the fact he rescued them to get the top job.
      It’s a good analogy though isn’t it? A reflection of the ups and downs of life.


  3. Aquileana

    The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice have been always one of my favorite
    As to Ixion’s case I didn’t know the reason behind the fact that he was condemned for eternity tied to a flaming wheel.
    Great spotlight about Hades’s geography and his “habitants”.
    I will add this link to my post on Charon,

    Best wishes, Aquileana 🙂


    • cav12

      Thank you Aquileana! What a great honour.
      I thought Ixion’s punishment was quite fitting. Don’t mess with the gods! ;D


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