Hades is the Ancient Greek god of the Underworld, the place where human souls go after death. In time, his name became synonymous with his realm. It has to be said unsurprisingly – since he barely left it. Appropriately, the most significant myth related to Hades concerns one of the very few times he did – to abduct Demeter’s daughter, Persephone.
Hades means “The Unseen One” – a suitable name since Hades is the ruler of the invisible world. However, the Ancient Greeks rarely used this name – just like Christians rarely used the word “Hell” during the Middle Ages. So, since minerals and precious metals are found underground, they often referred to Hades euphemistically as Plouton – namely, “The Wealth-Giver.” Unsurprisingly, Hades’ Roman equivalent is called Pluto as well.
Portrayal and Symbolism
As the ruler of the dead, Hades was a grim and ghastly figure, inspiring awe and terror in everybody. Consequently, he was rarely depicted in art. When he was, he was most commonly portrayed with a beard, and a solemn, mournful look. He frequently wears a helmet, named the Helm of Darkness or the Cap of Invisibility. Cerberus, the three-headed dog which guarded the entrance to the Underworld, is usually beside him. Every so often he carries a scepter or holds the key to his kingdom. At a later stage, he became associated with his weapon of choice, the bident, a two-pronged fork modeled after Poseidon’s trident. As Plouton, he was sometimes shown with a cornucopia, the horn of plenty.
Among the Ancient Greeks, Hades was known as “the Other Zeus.” Homer even calls him “The Infernal Zeus,” in addition to “the grisly God.” He was also called “the host of many” or “the Attractor of Man” – since all men eventually went to serve him.
Hades’ Family · Birth and the Titanomachy
Hades was the fourth child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea (after Hestia, Demeter, and Hera), both the oldest and the youngest male sibling. In other words, he was the first of the three brothers (Hades, Poseidon, Zeus) to be born and swallowed by his father, but the last one to be regurgitated.
After being rescued by Zeus from the belly of Cronus, Hades joins him in the Titanomachy. Eventually, the decade-long war ends with a victory for the Olympians. Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus cast lots to decide who of the brothers will rule which domain. Hades gets the underworld.
Hades’ Wife · The Abduction of Persephone
By far the most important myth is Hades’ abduction of Persephone, Demeter’s daughter. That was one of the few times Hades traveled above ground. The reason, naturally, was love: he fell for Persephone. However, Persephone didn’t want to give in easily, so Hades devised an ingenious ploy. As Persephone was gathering flowers with her maidens at the Nysian plain, he caused an indescribably beautiful flower to suddenly bloom before her. When Persephone reached out to pluck it, the ground under her opened and Hades appeared before her, all dreadful and majestic in his four-horse golden chariot and took her with him to the Underworld.
Demeter, the goddess of fertility, was so distressed at the absence of her daughter, that she started fasting and wandering aimlessly. Finally, after nine days, Hecate told her what happened. After the All-Seeing Helios confirmed the event, Demeter left Olympus as an act of protest against the injustice done to her.
With her gone, the earth was as barren and infertile as a desert. One year passed, and the gods started worrying that the famine would wipe out humanity. So Zeus sent all the gods, one by one, to beg Demeter to come back, promising her all kinds of gifts and functions. She wanted none; the only thing she wanted was to see her daughter once again.
So, Zeus had no choice but to send Hermes to Hades with the request that he return Persephone to Demeter. He complied, but only after making Persephone eat one pomegranate seed before leaving. This ensured that she would remain bound to his kingdom eternally.
Now, both sides had no choice but to accept Zeus’ compromise: Persephone would spend two-thirds of the year with her mother, but one-third of it with Hades. And this is the part of the year which corresponds with the winter months: they say that Demeter retreats from Olympus to her temple at Eleusis to grieve the absence of Persephone.
It’s possible that Hades and Persephone didn’t have any children. However, some say that Zagreus may have been their son. Macaria is also claimed to have been Hades’ daughter – but no mother is mentioned.
Hades in the Bible
As the realm of the dead, Hades is mentioned ten times in the “New Testament” in its original Greek text. Older translations – such as the King James Bible – invariably translate it as “hell.”