Hades (also known as Aides) is Zeus' brother and
ruler of the Underworld and
the dead. He was also called Pluto - God of Wealth - because the precious metals
buried deep in the earth were in his kingdom.
Another reason that the people called him
Pluto is because they did not like to pronounce the dreaded name of
Hades or Aides.
The name Pluto was used by both the Greeks
and the Romans, and it translates into Latin as Dis - "Rich". The Romans
also substituted Orcus and Tartarus as synonymous to Pluto.
Although he was an Olympian, he spent most
of the time in his dark castle in the Underworld. This Lord of Hell, who
was formidable in battle, proved his ferociousness in the famous battle
of the Olympians versus the Titans, which established the rule of Zeus.
Because of his dark and morbid personality
he was not especially liked by neither the gods nor the mortals. His
character is described as "fierce and inexorable", and by far of all the
gods he was most hated by mortals. He was not however an evil god, for
although he was stern, cruel and unpitying, still he was just.
Hades ruled the Underworld and therefore
most often associated with death and was feared by men, but he was not
Death itself - The actual embodiment of Death was another god, Thanatos.
(Thanatos was the Greek personification of
death who dwells in the lower world. In Homer's Iliad he appears as the
brother of Hypnos ("sleep").
The Greek writer Hesiod makes these two spirits the sons of Nyx, but
they had no father. In the theater Thanatos was sometimes introduced as
a character. His attributes are an inversed torch, wreath, or
(Hypnos is the personification of sleep in
Greek mythology. He is the son of Nyx and Erebus, and the twin of
Thanatos ("death"). Both he and his brother live in the underworld. He
gave Endymion the power of sleeping with open eyes so he could see his
beloved, the moon goddess Selene. Hypnos is portrayed as a naked young
man with wings attached to his temples, or as a bearded man with wings
attached to his shoulders.)
Hades ruled the dead, assisted by demons
over whom he had complete authority. He strictly forbade his subjects to
leave his domain and would become quite enraged when anyone tried to
leave, or if someone tried to steal his prey from him.
Very few people ever visited the Underworld
and were permitted to leave - In Homer's Iliad, we are told that
Heracles (Hercules) was forbidden by Hades to enter his kingdom, but the
great Greek hero wounded Hades with an arrow and attained victory.
Besides Heracles, a warrior named Er, Achilles,
Odysseus, Aeneas, and Theseus are among those who descended to Hades
while they were still living. None of them was especially pleased with
what they witnessed in the realm of the dead. In particular the Trojan
War hero Achilles, whom Odysseus met in Hades (although some believe
that Achilles dwells in the Isles of the Blest), said:
"Do not speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should
choose to serve as the hireling of another, rather than to be lord over
the dead that have perished."
(Achilles' soul to Odysseus, Homer, Odyssey)
The wife of Hades, and queen of the
Underworld, was Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter (She was also
called Kore, Greek for 'daughter'). Persephone did not marry Hades
willingly, but was abducted by him one day while picking flowers with
her friends. Even Zeus was powerless to get her out of the Underworld
when her mother Demeter asked him to act on her behalf.
Eventually a deal was made, with the
messenger god Hermes acting as the mediator - Persephone would spend
half the year with her mother, the goddess of the harvest. The Greeks
believed that while Persephone was with Hades, her mother missed her so
much that she withdrew her gifts from the world and winter came. In the
spring, when Persephone rejoined her mother, Demeter would make things
According to some, Persephone eventually
became as cruel as her husband.
Hades' weapon was a two-pronged fork, which
he used to shatter anything that was in his way or not to his liking,
much like Poseidon did with his trident. This ensign of his power was a
staff with which he drove the shades of the dead into the lower world.
Like his brother Zeus and other ancient
gods, Hades wasn't the most faithful of husbands. He pursued and loved
the nymph Mintho and to punish her for this, his jealous wife Persephone
turned Mintho into the plant called mint. Likewise, the nymph Leuce, who
was also ravished by him, was metamorphosed by Hades into a white poplar
tree after her death.
In works of art, Hades resembles his
brothers, Zeus and Poseidon, except that his hair falls over his
forehead, and his appearance is portrayed as dark and gloomy. The god of
the Underworld, whose name mortals dared not utter, was one scary dude!
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