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Hades Epithets: Agesander & Agesilaos

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Many Greek gods had epithets, however, the' epithets of the Greek god Hades were unique. In this lesson, we'll check out two of Hades' common epithets, and see how and why the Greeks used these names.

The Names of Hades

Greek mythology is filled with deities of incredible power. Zeus could kill you with lightning, Poseidon could drown you at sea, but somehow none of them ever quite seemed as intimidating as Hades, god of the underworld. In the Christian world, a fear of Hades is largely due to a merging between him and the Devil. To the ancient Greeks, though, Hades wasn't evil. He was cold and stern, but also just and fair. Of course, that doesn't mean they weren't afraid of him. They were - so afraid, in fact, that they didn't want to say the dread god's name. Instead, they used epithets.

Hades was the Greek god of the underworld
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Most of the Greek gods had epithets associated with them, which were sort of like nicknames or titles associating a god with a specific power. The epithets helped the Greeks invoke a deity for a specific power, for example ensuring that Poseidon knew you wanted safe passage across the sea and not help in taming your horses. That's how most epithets worked.

This wasn't the case with Hades. He didn't have different names because people prayed to him for help with a wide array of things. Hades wasn't a god you wanted to pray to, invoke, or even generally make aware of your presence. Anyway, it was said Hades didn't care about prayers or offerings, and saying his name was seen as dreadfully unlucky - even unsafe. In such circumstances, using an epithet was a wise idea.

Even the name Hades itself may have been something of an epithet. The god was allegedly unnamed, an anonymous force who people called the 'invisible one'. That's what Hades may have originally meant.

Hades Agesilaos

Of Hades' epithets, two really stand out. The first is Hades Agesilaos (pronounced a-ghee-SEE-lohs). This epithet is difficult to translate directly, but refers to Hades as attracting or calling all people to his underworld empire. It also identifies him as the leader of all people.

What this epithet implies is that all mortals must eventually enter Hades' kingdom. In the Greek world, death balanced out life, keeping the cosmos in harmony. So, Hades had an important job in calling everyone into his empire and keeping them there so the cosmos could stay in good working order.

Hades is often shown on his throne, a reminder of his authority
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In this regard, the epithet of Hades Agesilaos is a pretty big deal. It recognizes Hades as the inescapable and final leader of all mortals. This actually gives him a level of authority that challenges even Zeus. In fact, Hades was sometimes called the Zeus of the Departed, Zeus of the Underworld or simply the Other Zeus. Thus, the epithet Hades Agesilaos was not only a recognition of humanity's mortality, but of the absolute authority that Hades held in the cosmos.

Hades Agesander

A related epithet was Hades Agesander (pronounced a-ghee-SAND-er). This epithet loosely translates to 'he who carries away all'. Once again we see a reference to that idea that Hades attracts or calls everyone into his realm.

However, there is an important difference between the concept of calling people into the underworld and carrying them away. The epithet of Agesander is actually a direct reference to one of the most important myths involving Hades: the abduction of Persephone.

The abduction of Persephone was the most famous myth involving Hades in ancient Greece
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