Greek underworld

Greek underworld

The Greek underworld is a general term used to describe the various realms of Greek mythology which were believed to lie beneath the earth or beyond the horizon.

These include:
* 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 Islands ruled 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 Iliad and Odyssey. The other poets of old epic such as Hesiod describe it similarly.In the Odyssey the Underworld is located beyond the Western horizon. Odysseus reaches 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

The Homeric Hymns and lyric poet Pindar introduce the paradise-like realm of Elysium where 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 Plato and 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.

Virgil's underworld

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.

Local cults

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 Pausanias and Strabo describe these.

The ferryman

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. Paupers and 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 Hercules was 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 Hera made him insane. Later, however, Hera made 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.

The 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 Hades and 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.

ee also

* Hell
* Heaven

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