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Hades, Greek God of the Underworld: Mythology & Overview

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  • 0:00 Hades and the Titans
  • 1:04 The Underworld
  • 1:48 Persephone
  • 2:48 The Giver of Wealth
  • 3:13 Hades and the Hero Herakles
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Trenton Mabey

Trenton has a master's degree in global history and has developed college Asian history courses.

Hades is the Greek god of the underworld, the realm of the dead. Explore the myths about Hades, his abduction of Persephone, and the fate of those that defied him.

Hades and the Titans

In ancient Greek mythology, Hades is the god of the underworld. Among other interpretations, the name Hades has been thought to mean the 'Unseen One.' Hades is the first born son of the Titan Kronos and brother to the Olympian gods Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter. Their father, Kronos, feared that one of his children would overthrow him, so he swallowed each one as they were born. His wife Rhea substituted a rock for their youngest child, the god Zeus. Zeus caused the downfall of Kronos and freed his siblings through a drink that made Kronos regurgitate them. Hades joined with his siblings after being freed and defeated the Titans.

During the war with the Titans, the three brothers freed the Cyclops and received gifts from their new allies. Zeus received the thunderbolt, Poseidon the trident, and Hades a helmet of invisibility. After the defeat of the Titans, the three brothers drew lots to see who would rule the three major realms; the sky, the sea, and the underworld. Hades' lot was to rule in the underworld.

The Underworld

The underworld is also referred to as Hades, bearing the same name as its lord. The Greek underworld was a place of darkness, swamps, and black rivers. It is linked to the land of the living by caves and underground rivers. Several myths relate the tales of heroes who visit the underworld. Hades is sometimes referred to as the god of the dead, but he does not cause death like the Grim Reaper. Hades is the caretaker of the souls, keeping them from returning to the land of the living. Souls of the dead were ferried across the River Styx, which surrounded the underworld, by the boatman Charon. Hades is not featured in many of the Greek myths due to his mysterious nature, the feared power of the underworld, and his role as the lord of the dead.

Persephone

One of the major myths featuring Hades involves the abduction of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. One day, Persephone is out gathering flowers when Hades arrives in his golden chariot drawn by four black horses and carries her off to his realm in the underworld, making her his queen.

Demeter is the goddess of the soil and crops. In her grief over losing her daughter to Hades, she refuses to allow grain to grow on the earth. Zeus intervenes at this point, sending Hermes, the messenger god, to negotiate the release of Persephone. Hades agrees to let her return to Mount Olympus, but gives her six pomegranate seeds to eat before leaving, tying her to him and the underworld. It was declared by Zeus that Persephone would spend part of the year with Hades in the underworld and the rest of the year with her mother on Mount Olympus. Demeter grieves during the time Persephone is with Hades, and no crops grow. This myth helps to explain the division of the year into seasons, with winter being the season Persephone spends in the underworld.

The Giver of Wealth

Another aspect to Hades' character was that of the giver of wealth, also known as Plouton, which would later become the Roman name Pluto. The earth gives fertility to the plants from the soil (which is rooted in the underworld) and the precious metals dug from the earth. It makes sense, therefore, that Hades also has been known as the giver of wealth. The horn of plenty has symbolized this relationship in its artistry.

Hades and the Hero Herakles

Hades figures into the twelve labors of Herakles (Hercules). The final labor asks Herakles to retrieve Hades' three-headed dog, Cerberus, from the underworld. Hercules travels to the underworld and entreats Hades to let him take Cerberus to the land of the living. Hades agrees—if Herakles can capture the dog without using weapons. Herakles is able to subdue Cerberus and takes him to the land of the living, completing his labors. He then releases Cerberus back to the underworld.

Hades and the Hero Theseus

Theseus and Pirithous were both determined to wed daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen, and Pirithous chose Persephone. The two friends traveled to the underworld where they accepted the hospitality of Hades. Sitting down to a table, the two friends are entwined by snakes and held fast. Theseus is eventually freed by Herakles, but Pirithous remained in the underworld for all time.

Lesson Summary

In ancient Greek mythology, Hades, is the god of the underworld. Hades is the first born son of the Titan Kronos and brother to the Olympian gods Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter.

The Greek underworld was a place of darkness, swamps, and black rivers. It is linked to the land of the living by caves and underground rivers. Several myths relate the tales of heroes who visit the underworld. Hades is the caretaker of the souls, keeping them from returning to the land of the living.

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