Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, there was a place on Earth, or to be precise, under the surface of the Earth, that was feared by many people residing in Ancient Greece. This place was called Hades. It was the place were the souls of the dead resided, along with Pluto, the feared god of the underworld.
Like in many monotheistic religions nowadays, the ancient Greek polytheistic religion believed in souls and in the afterlife. Ancient Greeks believed that, after death, the soul separates from its physical body and, by taking the shape of this body, it was transported to Hades, the kingdom of the dead.
The entrances to Hades
The main entrance of Hades was found somewhere in the river Acheron, a river that still exists in the western part of Greece. The souls would be transported there by boat and the ferryman was no other but the ancient Greek version of the Grim Reaper, Charon, known also as the psychopomp, the transporter of the souls. Each soul would actually have to pay for this journey and that is why ancient Greeks were buried with a coin under their tongues. Another entrance of Hades was found in the Peloponnese region, in Cape Tainaron or Cape Matapan. In this area there is a cave that many believed it could actually lead to Hades.
Cerberus: the terrifying guard of Hades
The gates of Hades were protected by a terrifying supernatural being that you might already know from popular culture. I am referring to Cerberus, a monstrous multi-headed dog that would scare away the living from entering the kingdom of the dead and the dead from exiting this realm. Dogs were already domesticated and were pets and guards of many ancient Greek households, including the palace of Odysseus or Ulysses. Therefore, it is not a surprise to see a dog guarding the entrances of the most feared place on Earth.
Where was Hades located?
Hades was believed to be under the surface of the Earth. It was a dark and cold place, however, it was not similar to hell, in the way that hell is described in today’s monotheistic religions. It was both heaven and hell and it was separated in different areas, where different types of souls would reside. The water element was strong, in fact, apart from the river Acheron, which would connect the worlds of the living and the dead, the souls would find four more water sources, including Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and oblivion, from which the dead would drink to forget their past life.
The areas of Hades
As I mentioned, Hades was separated in different areas, in which, different souls would reside. Most of us, would probably reside in the Asphodel Meadows. The Asphodel Meadows was dark and gloomy, but also quite beautiful. That was the place were the ordinary people would reside, people who lived normal lives, without doing anything too bad or too extraordinary either.
Now there were two places that were not so pleasant to spend the afterlife. These were the Mourning Fields, the place for those who waisted their life waiting to be loved by someone who did not love them back, and Tartara, which can be compared to the Judeo-Christian hell. Originally, Tartara was the prison of the Titans, however, it became the place were the wicked souls received divine punishment. It was located deep inside the Earth, and the souls residing there were often referred to as “prisoners”. Tartarus was covered by Erebus, a darkness darker than someone could imagine, and the souls were tortured mentally, filled with guilt and shame for their heinous acts, such as killing their own parents or betraying their own city-state. It is not clear whether the prisoners were tortured physically, however, since they did not reside in their physical bodies, physical pain would not be possible.
Now, when it comes to the most desirable place of Hades, this would be the Elysium Fields, a place were the heroic souls would reside. The place could be compared to the Judeo-Christian heaven, with the difference that it was located under the surface of the Earth and it was not the home of the kindest people, but of the bravest and most heroic ones. Ethics have changed since ancient times and, although humility and compassion might be what would be considered a pass to heaven nowadays, bravery and a strong will were the traits that were the most admirable in ancient Greece.
Plouton: The ruler of the underworld
Plouton or Pluto (Πλούτωνας in Greek) is the ancient Greek god that was sent to rule Hades. Although he was the least popular god amongst the mortals, since meeting him meant that their lives had ended, he was not evil. He had indeed committed a heinous crime by today’s standard – he kidnapped and married his own niece, however, that was a common practice among the ancient Greek deities and if someone was guilty the most for kidnappings with sexual motives, that would be Zeus, the most popular and respected of the Olympian gods.
Plouton was the only god, along with Poseidon, who did not reside in Mount Olympus. He was in charge of all the different places of Hades, from Tartarus to the Elysium Fields, and he was neither a saint nor diabolical.