Who is the Greek God Hades? Monster or Misunderstood
Since we are nearing Halloween i thought we should take a look at a character synonymous with death. Who is the Greek God Hades? His name has become the term for Hell. He is well associated with death. But is he really such a bad guy? Is he the embodiment of death and darkness?
An Introduction is in order
For those of you who are not familiar with Greek Mythology you may not know who Hades even is. Hades was depicted as a dark-bearded, regal god. He was depicted as either Aidoneus, enthroned in the underworld, holding a bird-tipped scepter, or as Pluton, the giver of wealth, pouring fertility from a cornucopia. The Romans named him Dis, or Pluto, the Latin form of his Greek title Pluton, “the Lord of Riches.” We will look at the path to his rule.
Hades was one of the sons of Cronus. He along with his siblings fought a war with the Titans for control of the world. After being swallowed by their father and rescued by Zeus. Which could not have been pleasant. Zeus would lead an insurgency against his father, and in the war that followed, the Titanomachy, Hades would play a prominent role. It was during the war that Hades was presented with a Helmet of Darkness by the Cyclopes, this helmet would make the wearer invisible. It was he who brought the war to a close, for Hades would sneak into the encampment of the Titans and destroy their weapons and ammunition.
For playing his part he was allowed to participate in the drawing of lots. Since the realm now needed to be divided and ruled. During this exchange Zeus became ruler of Heaven and Earth. Poseidon became ruler of Earth’s Waters. Hades received the underworld.
In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the word Hades is used for Sheol, denoting a dark region of the dead. Tartarus, originally denoting an abyss far below Hades and the place of punishment in the lower world, later lost its distinctness and became almost a synonym for Hades.
Hades plays a prominent role in a couple of very famous myths. Probably one of the most famous is the story of Persephone.
After setting eyes upon the beautiful Goddess Persephone, Hades set about to make her his bride. He lured her near the entryway of Tartarus. The story then says he abducted her. Greatly angering her mother Demeter. Who petitioned Zeus for her release. To prevent them stealing his bride he offered her Pomegranate seeds. Since anyone who partakes of food in Tartarus is bound to it.
Therefor Zeus is forced to make a compromise. Six months of the year Persephone will live with her mother Demeter. The other six in Tartarus with Hades. This is how we have the cycles of Spring and Winter. Since Demeter is the Goddess of harvest and crops.
Another popular story concerning Hades is one of Theseus and Pirithous who would travel together to the Underworld when Pirithous decided that he wanted Persephone to be his wife. Hades though was well aware of the plans of the pair, and when they sat down to eat with the god, Hades would ensnare them both within stone chairs. Theseus would eventually be released by Hercules, but Pirithous would remain imprisoned for eternity.
Hercules came into the Underworld as one of his labors. He had been tasked with stealing or kidnapping Cerberus. Hades loyal dog who guarded the underworld. Said to have three heads. Rather than simply steal the dog however he asks hades for permission. Hades fairly agrees as long as Cerberus is not harmed in the attempt.
His Point of View
Now that we have seen the stories. Let’s take a look at them from his possible view point. Since we were not there and are not him we have to assume.
Your parents have just been overthrown and you played a pivotal role in securing the win. You are hoping for great power. What a mixed blessing to receive the Underworld. It is power. But at what cost? No one wants to go to the Underworld.
Being in the dark underworld for years pales your skin making you look sickly. With no visitors you get lonely. None of the Gods are going to come down unless they need something. You have become something of a pariah.
Perhaps a bride to keep you company. You petition the God Zeus for a bride. He offers up Persephone but says she won’t go willingly. Again no one wants to go to the Underworld. You devise a way to get her. Then Zeus caves to Demeter and attempts to take her away. You offer Persephone some Pomegranate seeds knowing they will link her to Tartarus. She willing accepts. Surely she knew what eating something meant. She was a Goddess after all. So now you should have your bride. However, Zeus proclaims you are to share her. Not really fair but hey at least you have company half the year.
Then the other Gods start sending people down into your domain to take things. Some like Theseus and Pirithous even try stealing your bride. At least Hercules is decent enough to talk to you like a respectable person. You have built a reputation amongst mortals as a fair and just God after all.
You rarely leave your domain. How can you? There is too much going on down here. People trying to sneak in and steal back their wives. You were fair to Orpheus when he came for his. You allowed him to take Eurydice back on the condition he did not glance back. It’s kind of like the instruction compelled him to do so. Losing his bride for the remainder of his life until he died. Not your fault he can’t take instruction.
People can and do make up all sorts of stories about you. They fear death and assume incorrectly that you are the cause. They picture you in hell torturing the dead. When in fact it is not your job to kill anyone, nor to torture. That is the Job of Death and The Furies. All you do is meditate and keep a vigil. Try to keep things fair and honest. And your made out to be some villain.
The most recent misunderstanding of Hades is definitely the Remake of the movie Clash of the Titans. The original was bad enough. There aren’t even any Titans involved. Poor name choice. But at least it stuck to the mythology for the most part.
The remake? Completely off the tracks.
The birth of Perseus
The story starts when the Oracle of Delphi warns Acrisius, King of Argos, that his own grandson would kill him. Fearing that this prophecy would come true, he locks his only daughter, Danae, into an underground bronze chamber, to keep her away from all men. However, Zeus saw the girl and fell in love with her. He then took the form of a golden rain to get into the bronze chamber and seduce Danae. From this union, Danae gave birth to a son whom she named Perseus.
When king Acrisius heard the baby crying and realized he had a grandson, his first thought was to kill the unfortunate boy and his mother. But he couldn’t do as he feared he would cause the anger of Zeus. So he cast his daughter and grandson into a wooden chest and set them into the wild sea to get drowned.
However, Zeus saw the desperate woman and asked Poseidon to calm the sea water. Indeed, the sea calmed down and after a few days, Danae and his newborn son landed on the island of Serifos. There Dictys, a fisherman and brother of the island’s king, found them and took them to his home, where they would be safe.
Perseus grew up into a fine young man under the care of the kind fisherman Dictys. In the meanwhile, King Polydectes began to be inflamed by passion for Danae, who was still a charming lady although many years had passed since her youth. Danae, however, did not wish this marriage. Polydectes thought that the presence of Perseus was an obstacle for Danae and that is why she didn’t wish to get married. So he decided to set up a plan to get rid of this annoying youth.
He challenged Perseus to dare a difficult task, to kill the fearsome Gorgon Medusa and bring back her head. Gorgon Medusa was a terrible monster with snakes in her head and she could turn into stone everyone that looked her face. By killing Medusa, Perseus would prove his braveness, as fits to the son of Zeus. Polydectes was sure that Perseus would not survive this dangerous task. Source: www.greeka.com
What Polydectes had not known was that Perseus was beloved by the gods. To help him, god Hermes gave him a curved sword and a pair of winged sandals (other versions of the myth say that Hermes did not give Perseus a pair of winged sandals but a white winged horse) while Athena gave him a mirror of polished bronze and a cap from Hades that could make invisible anyone who would wear it. With these divine aids, Perseus started his long journey to the cave of Medusa, somewhere in Africa.
He indeed found lying in her deep cave. Since he was wearing the winged sandals, he could fly around her and since he was wearing the magical cap of Hades, he was invisible. In order to avoid looking Medusa directly to her face and thereby being turned into a stone, Perseus approached Medusa looking at her reflection in the mirror and cut off her head with the sword of Hermes. So easily then, the brave and intelligent Perseus managed to complete this difficult task!
As he was flying over Africa in his return home, Perseus encountered Atlas the Titan, a mythical giant, who challenged him. In their confrontation, Perseus used Medusa’s head to turn the Titan into stone. Perseus continued his journey home and, as he passed the kingdom of Ethiopia, he came upon the beautiful and helpless maiden Andromeda, chained to the rocks waiting to be devoured by a sea monster.
The beautiful Andromeda was the daughter of the Ethiopian king Cepheus and queen Cassiopeia. One day, the vain queen had bragged that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids, the sea nymphs. The sea nymphs fell angry to hear that and complained to Poseidon, the god of the sea. A furious Poseidon unleashed the sea monster Cetus to frequently ravage the coast and devastate the land of Ethiopia in order to avenge the insult to his wards, the Nereids. The desperate king Cepheus appealed Zeus, who suggested the sacrifice of Andromeda as the only way to appease the wrathful Poseidon.
Thus it was that our hero Perseus found himself face to face with the beautiful Andromeda chained helplessly onto the rocks, awaiting her doom. Perseus immediately fell in love with the lovely maiden and promptly killed Cetus the beast, who had been licking his lips at the prospect of having a delicious meal.
Perseus took Andromeda to her father Cepheus and asked for her hand in marriage. This infuriated Andromeda’s uncle Phineus, to whom the maiden was already promised. During the ensuing quarrel, Perseus turned Phineus into a stone by showing him the head of the Gorgon Medusa. Source: www.greeka.com
Andromeda’s parents anger the gods by stating she is more beautiful than Aphrodite. Hades appears to issue a solution to the angry Gods. Andromeda can be sacrificed to the Kraken or the town can all be destroyed. Along comes our hero Perseus to save the day. He sets out on an adventure to find a way to slay the Kraken. Meeting with the Stygian witches he learns that to slay the Kraken he can use the gaze of Medusa. He sets out to slay the Gorgon, using her head to slay the Kraken and save the day.
All of this because Hades is unhappy with his lot in life and wants more mortals to fear him. He believes fear is more powerful than prayer. Wishing to overthrow the Gods on Olympus he seeks to gain the power of Mortals fear while depriving the Gods of mortals prayer.
How Hades got wrapped up in a story that originally had nothing to do with him just to make modern movie magic is unknown. Also for those of you who have seen the movie and don’t know much on Greek Mythology Io is not a beautiful maiden who helps Perseus. She was turned into a Cow by Hera out of jealousy.
So what do you think? Was Hades a monstrous God who set out to kill and torture humans. Devious and malicious in nature? Some dark soul who wanted for more power and revenge against the other gods for his lot in life?
Or was he a fair and just ruler of the dead. Looking out for balance in the universe. We can’t all live forever. It would be havoc. Someone has to make sure the dead go where they are supposed to and stay there. Someone needs to protect the Underworld from tricks of the other gods. And by the way. The Kraken lives in the Ocean. Realm of Poseidon, not the Underworld. So what do you think? Please comment below.