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Son of Cronus and Rhea and husband of Persephone, is ‘Lord of the dead’ and king of the Underworld, the ‘house of Hades’, where he rules supreme. After Homer, Hades is not only the god of the dead, but also the god of death, even death personified. ‘Hades’ refers normally to the god; in non‐Attic literature, the word can also designate the Underworld. Cold, mouldering, and dingy, Hades is a ‘mirthless place’. The proverbial ‘road to Hades’ is ‘the same for all’. Aeacus, son of Zeus, ‘keeps the keys to Hades’; the same is said of Pluton. The ‘gates of Hades’ are guarded by ‘the terrible hound’, Cerberus, who wags his tail for the new arrivals, but devours those attempting to leave. Without burial, the dead cannot pass through Hades' gates. Once inside, they are shrouded in ‘the darkness of pernicious Hades’.

Like the Erinyes/Eumenides (‘Angry/Kindly Ones’) and Demeter (‘Earth‐mother’), Hades lacked a proper name. He was referred to by descriptive circumlocutions as ‘chthonian (lit. ‘of the earth’) Zeus’, ‘the chthonian god’, ‘king of those below’, ‘Zeus of the departed’ and ‘the other Zeus’, ‘the god below’, or simply ‘lord’. As the Lord of the dead, he was dark and sinister, a god to be feared and kept at a distance. Paradoxically, he was also believed to ‘send up’ good things for mortals from his wealth below.

The two opposite but complementary aspects of his divinity are reflected in a host of positive and negative epithets. Of the latter, Hades, ‘the invisible one’ acc. to ancient etymology, recalls the darkness of his realm. The ‘wolf's cap of Hades’, worn by Athena in the Iliad, makes its wearers invisible. Other negative epithets are ‘hateful’, ‘implacable and adamant’, ‘tearless’ and ‘malignant’. Epithets which euphemistically address his benign and hospitable aspects include ‘Renowned’, ‘Good Counsellor’, ‘the Beautiful‐haired One’, ‘Of Good Repute’, ‘Leader of the People’, ‘Lord over All’, ‘Receiver of Many’, ‘Host to Many’ and Pluton (‘Wealth’). During the 5th cent. bc ‘Pluton’ became Hades' most common name in myth as well as in cult.

Hades was not a recipient of cult. Like Thanatos (‘death’), he was indifferent to prayer or offerings. Apart from the story of his abduction of Persephone, few myths attach to Hades. By giving her the forbidden food of the dead to eat—the pomegranate—he bound Demeter's daughter to return periodically to his realm. Their union was without issue; its infertility mirrors that of the Underworld. When the sons of Cronus divided the universe amongst themselves, Hades was allotted the world of the dead, Zeus obtained the sky, and Poseidon the sea. As ruler of the dead, Hades was always more ready to receive than to let go. Two kindred gods, Demeter and Dionysus, as well as heroes like Heracles, Theseus, and Orpheus, descended alive to Hades and returned to earth. Ordinary mortals went there to stay; Alcestis, Eurydīcē, and Protesilaus, the first Greek ashore at Troy, were among the few allowed to leave. Heracles wrestled with Thanatos and wounded Hades with an arrow.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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