The Elysian Fields: Definition & Mythology

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  • 0:04 What are the Elysian Fields?
  • 1:04 Greek Afterlife
  • 2:03 Depictions in Myths
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
This lesson will cover a unique location particular to Greek mythology known as the Elysian Fields. We'll discuss what makes the Elysian Fields unique, as well as how the place is depicted in different myths.

What Are the Elysian Fields?

The Elysian Fields was, in Greek mythology, a plane of existence reserved for the souls of the most heroic and virtuous individuals. All other souls resided in the Underworld, with the exception that the most vile were sent to Tartarus.

Often, when we do something good, there is a reward recognizing our good deed. For instance, if you found a wallet lying on the ground and returned it to its owner, the owner may give you a small monetary reward for your good deed. For modern day Christians, the reward for living a good life in general is going to Heaven; for Vikings in Norse mythology it is Valhalla; and for Buddhists it is Nirvana. For ancient Greeks, the best place a mortal or demigod could go would be the Elysian Fields. While the notion of Heaven is a more modern idea, such places were not as black and white in Greek mythology. However, Greeks did have a place where spirits went to when they died, and their deeds while living determined which place their souls went.

Greek Afterlife

What happens to us when we die is a question that has been discussed for ages. Many civilized cultures have a place that spirits go when they die, and the ancient Greeks were no different. There was not a typical Heaven and Hell type dichotomy, however. It wasn't necessarily the case that going 'up' meant Heaven and going 'down' meant Hell. In Greek culture, most spirits went to the Underworld, which was ruled by Hades. There was no implication that spirits that went down to the Underworld were bad. It was just a place where most spirits were housed. It was actually a place underneath the Underworld, a place called Tartarus, where the most vile of spirits went. Tartarus would be the closest to the modern day notion of Hell that we have. 'Good' people could not go 'up', because that would imply that their spirits would be received on Mt. Olympus, and only the gods were allowed there. Instead, the spirits of noble and well-respected heroes were sent to another plane of existence called Elysium or the Elysian Fields.

Depiction of the Elysian Fields by Arthur B. Davies
portraitElysianFields

Depictions in Myths

Greek poets, such as Homer, Pindar, and Hesiod, describe the Elysian Fields as an idyllic (extremely happy, peaceful, and beautiful) place where the souls of honored individuals go to enjoy the rest of their days. Descriptions of the Elysian Fields vary from the abstract to more specific, such as some describing the fields as a location where nature blooms beautifully all around, to a place where heroes can hunt forever.

For example, Pindar, in his Dirges Fragment 129 describes the fields as:

''For them (in Elysium) the sun shineth in his strength...in meadows red with roses, the space before their city is shaded by the incense-tree, and is laden with golden fruits. Some of them delight themselves with horses and with wrestling; others with draughts, and with lures; while beside them bloometh the fair flower of perfect bliss. And o'er that lovely land fragrance is ever shed, while they mingle all manner of incense with the far-shining fire on the altar of the gods.''

And there's Homer's description in his epic poem The Odyssey:

''...to the Elysian plain…where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men.''

And finally Hesiod in his poem Works and Days illustrates the Elysian Fields like this:

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