Hades: Greek god of the Underworld

In ancient Greek mythology Hades is the god of the dead and ruler of the Underworld. He is the brother of Zeus and Poseidon, also the husband of Persephone, whom he kidnapped from her mother Demeter, while she was collecting flowers. The kingdom of Hades is gloomy and full of shadows, of those simple people and heroes, who lived in Greece, but never managed to be worthy of the astonishing, bright Elysium.

This painting represents Orpheus and Eurydice, leaving Hades and his spouse Persephone.
Orpheus and Eurydice by Peter-Paul-Rubens (1636-1638)

Acheron, Lethe, Styx

Hades, the ruler of the horror-filled underworld is implacable and gloomy. The sun’s rays never penetrate into his realm of the dead. Through bottomless abysses, full of darkness and fear, lies the way from the surface of the earth onto the Underworld. Mournful, forlorn rivers separate the dreary kingdom of Hades from the world of living people.

The first river is Acheron, through which the old carrier Charon transports the dead in a dull, dismal boat. The second is Lethe, the river of oblivion. Everyone who drinks its waters, forgets everything in the world, even his own name and family.

The third river is Styx, which surrounds on all sides the kingdom of shadows. For that reason, the most inviolable oath for the immortals is the oath by the waters of Styx. No one and never would dare to break it.

Cerberus: the Hound of Hades

This painting represents Heracles fighting against Cerberus in the kingdom of Hades.
Heracles and Cerberus by Peter Paul Rubens

Sorrowful and gloomy are the fields in the kingdom of Hades. The shadows of the dead wander along them forever. Their moans resound silently and barely perceptible, like the rustling of fallen leaves. No one can return from the kingdom of sorrow to the ravishing earth, since the exit is guarded by the three-headed dog Cerberus, on whose neck instead of a mane, flutters a woven ball of hissing snakes. Cerberus is completely terrible; poisonous thick saliva drips to the ground from his three bared mouths.

The palace of Hades and its servants

In the depths of the underworld, where neither light, nor joys, of the earth can reach, stands the palace of Hades. The lord of the dead sits inside it on a golden throne, surrounded by fearsome, inexorable gods. Here are as well the goddesses Erinyes, who pursue criminals. They hold whips and serpents that sting and injure people with guilty conscience! Nowhere is safe from the avenging Erinyes and their devouring wrath. Insofar as they inflict terrible madnesses and diseases on culprits and murderers and dearth or famine upon nations, which dare to shelter such a kind of people.

Next to Hades stands his faithful servant Thanatos, the harsh god of death. He flies to people, waving his huge black wings, and dresses in a wide black cloak. Thereupon he cuts a strand of hair from the head of the person that needs to die and takes away his soul. Thanatos reeks of grave and sepulchral cold.

Not far from Thanatos stands his brother Hypnos, the god of sleep. The brothers have very different personalities. While death is inexorable and merciless, the sleep furnishes rest and peace. Therefore, Hypnos flies silently over the earth and pours a sleeping drink from his horn. He always holds a powerful magic wand. As soon as he touches someone’s eyes with this staff, the person falls asleep.


Another great and terrible goddess, who lives in the kingdom of Hades is Hecate. She presides over witches and ghosts and has three bodies and three faces. In fact, she can be dreadful and avenging. For that reason, the Greeks tried to appease her frame of mind, building shrines in her honor at three-way crossroads. The shrines to Hecate were frequently placed at doorways to ancient Greek homes, temples, towns and cities. Insofar as the Greeks believed, that she can protect them from the restless dead and other malignant spirits.

Even though Hecate is bloodthirsty and fierce. Sometimes she sends to earth a monster with a copper leg named Empusa. The creature in question can turn out to be a very beautiful maiden. She usually employs crafty and touching words to lure a man to a deserted place. Afterwards she is prone to attack her victim violently, drinking his blood and swallowing the body.

On top of that, if the night is dark and scary, Hecate herself comes out and wanders around the roads of Hellas, surrounded by ghosts and packs of ferocious dogs from the shores of Styx. Only sorcerers love Hecate. Since she helps them out with their intrigues, however she can also free a person from sorcery. To that end, everyone honors her, someone because of fear, and someone in hope of help. The ancient Greeks sacrificed dogs to Hecate.

Hades and Sisyphus

This painting represents Sysyphus as a tired man, carrying a large boulder on his back. It happens in the gloomy realm of Hades.
Sisyphus by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

In the gloomy realm of Hades also inhabit, those persons, who dared to deceive the gods. For example, the Corinthian king Sisyphus was a cunning and devious character. That being so, he managed to capture and imprison with fetters the god of death himself. As a consequence, people stopped dying and the course of things established by Zeus had broken.  The thunderer became angry and sent Ares to rescue Thanatos. Thus the god of war broke the thick chains of Death and liberated him out of his imprisonment.

Thereafter Thanatos expelled Sisyphus’ soul and sent it back to the gloomy kingdom of Hades. But once again the sly king managed to deceive the gods. He ordered his wife not to sacrifice to the underworld deities. As a result, when Hades got tired of waiting for these sacrifices, Sisyphus asked him to return with his wife and hurry up her offerings.

Hades believed his crafty words and let him go, but Sisyphus did not think to fulfill his promise. He laughed merrily at his simple deception towards the lord of the underworld. The gods went into a rage and sent the god Thanatos after him once again. That being so, Sisyphus was captured and condemned to eternal punishment. He had to roll a heavy stone up a steep hill every time.

Covered with sweat and completely exhausted, he is moving the rock closer and closer to the top… It seems that only one simple effort separates Sisyphus from reaching his goal. But the stone gets away from his hands and rolls down with rumble. Thus once again Sisyphus is obliged to repeat his heavy, endless labor.

Hades and Tantalus

This painting represents Tantalus and his torture in Hades. The water is above his chest, but he is not able to drink it and reach the apples, hanging over his head.
Tantalus by Dutch follower of Caravaggio

Tantalus, the son of Zeus himself, is cruelly punished in the kingdom of Hades. Once upon a time he was the richest and happiest man on earth. The gods used to feast cheerfully in his palace and Tantalus used to climb the high Olympus and feast with the gods as well. Wine, ambrosia and all types of luxurious foods had pleased his stomach during their years of fellowship. The gods looked upon the king as their equal.

However, Tantalus became proud of such an honor, and began to disrespect even his father, the great Zeus. Arrogance and vanity pushed him onto a terrible crime. Wanting to test whether the gods are omniscient or not, Tantalus killed his young son Pelops and served his meat under the guise of food at the lavish dinner of the immortals. Nonetheless none of the Olympians dared to touch the terrible thing that laid on the plate. They revived Pelops and he became even more beautiful than before.

Thereafter Zeus imprisoned his criminal son Tantalus in the realm of Hades and condemned him to an eternal appalling torment. He stands up covered until his neck in a clear, transparent water, but he is still suffering a terrible thirst. Since when he barely tries to bend down to drink – the water recedes.

Above Tantalus’ head, beautiful, delectable fruits hang from the trees, but he is tormented by hunger, because when he stretches out his hand, the branches begin to rise up swiftly. And above the place where Tantalus is imprisoned lays a huge rock. It is about to fall down and crush Tantalus, and he is constantly scared to death. This way, Tantalus’ disrespect and cruelty towards the gods and his own son, turned into an eternal anguish. And the son of Zeus has to suffer a daily nightmare of fear, hunger and thirst.