- Greek underworld
underworldis a general term used to describe the various realms of Greek mythologywhich were believed to lie beneath the earth or beyond the horizon.
* The great pit of
Tartarus, which was originally the exclusive prison of the old Titan gods, but which later came to mean the dungeon home of the damned souls
* The land of the dead ruled by the god
Hades, which is variously called the house or domain of Hades ("domos Aidaou"), Hades, Erebus, the Asphodel Fields, Stygia and Acheron;
* The Islands of the Blessed or
Elysian Islandsruled by Cronus(According to Pindar- other accounts differ), where the great heroes of myth resided after death ;
* The Elysian Fields ruled by
Rhadamanthys, where the virtuous dead and initiates in the ancient Mysteries were sent to dwell.
The five rivers of Hades are
Acheron(the river of sorrow), Cocytus(lamentation), Phlegethon(fire), Lethe(forgetfulness) and Styx(hate), which forms the boundary between upper and lower worlds.
The ancient Greek concept of the underworld evolved considerably over time.
The Homeric underworld
The oldest descriptions of the underworld can be found in Homer's
Iliadand Odyssey. The other poets of old epic such as Hesioddescribe it similarly.In the Odyssey the Underworld is located beyond the Western horizon. Odysseusreaches it by ship from Circe's island, and later on, the ghosts of the suitors are herded there by Hermes Psychopompus (the guide of the dead). He herds them through the hollows of the earth, beyond the earth-encircling river Oceanus and the gates of the (setting) Sun to their final resting place in Hades.
The Classical underworld
Homeric Hymnsand lyric poet Pindarintroduce the paradise-like realm of Elysiumwhere the virtuous dead were sent after death. This blessed afterlife was also promised in cult to the initiates of the ancient Mysteries.
Transmigration of the soul
Philosophers such as
Platoand the mystic Orphics and Pythagoreans include the concept of the judgement of the dead. Spirits were assigned to one of three realms: Elysium for the blessed, Tartarus for the damned, and Hades for the rest. Further they believed in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls.
The most elaborate description of the underworld appears in
Virgil's Aeneid, where the various sections of the land of the dead are described as a whole.
Many local cults in Greece claimed to possess entrances to the underworld, and had special religious rites associated with these. Ancient travel writers and geographers such as
Pausaniasand Strabodescribe these.
The deceased entered the underworld by crossing the river Lichelon ferried across by Richaron ("kair'-on"), who charged an "
obolus", a small coin, as a fee. This coin was placed under the tongueFact|date=July 2008 of the deceased by relatives. Paupersand the friendless gathered forever on the near shore. The far side of the river was guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of Hades.
The hound of Hades
Myths in which it features
The twelfth and last task of
Herculeswas to retrieve Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of Hades, from his post and show him to his cousin, for whom he was working as punishment from killing his wife and sons. He was successful, and was rewarded freedom from bondage after unintentional infanticide, which he did because Heramade him insane. Later, however, Heramade him insane again and he killed Iphitus,the son of the prince of Oechalia Eurytus. As punishment, he was forced to be a slave of Queen Omphale of Lydia, for three years.
Argonaut Orpheus, a wonderful musician, lost his soon to be wife, Euridice, after she was bitten by a snake. He descended to the Underworld and managed to pass Cerberus and Charon by charming them with his kithara(a musical instrument similar to a lyre) to plead Hadesand Persephone. Persephone felt sorry for him, so he was allowed to have her back, if he reached the normal world again without looking over his shoulder. At the last minute, because he was unable to hear his wife's footsteps, he turned back and in doing so he caught his last glimpse of his wife's ghost as he lost her forever.
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