Hades was the Lord of the Dead in ancient Greek mythology, the third of the "Big Three" Olympian gods (the other two being Zeus and Poseidon). Myths claim that the three brothers drew lots for the three kingdoms of air, sea, and Underworld; Hades was allegedly unhappy with his result and carried a grudge against the Olympians for eternity. Far less flamboyant than his siblings, this stern deity neither expected nor gave favors. His kingdom, the Underworld, was the final destination for all humanity according to the myths.
Quick Hades facts:
The ancient Greeks were in no hurry to meet this god of doom, and so would use euphemisms for him (for instance "the Rich One", as he was ruler of all underground gold, gems, etc.) instead of speaking his name. No other deity in the Greek pantheon inspired such terror and loathing.
Although the ancients did not view him as a demon, an encounter with this god meant that all hope was lost. Symbolic of death's pitilessness, the Lord of the Underworld allowed no one (except a few heroes) to leave his kingdom's borders. Even his queen, Persephone, goddess of springtime, became like her husband during her time in the Underworld.
The Lord of the Dead was so feared that not only did people rarely use his name, but also they seldom depicted him in art, and they built no temples to him!
Hades, whose name means "unseen", was the only Olympic god without a monument in ancient Greece. Similarly, the myths claim that the god of the Underworld had no throne on Olympus; he preferred to stay in his shadowy kingdom. Unlike his brothers Zeus and Poseidon, who were constantly involved in dramas with mortals and events on Olympus, Hades remained on the verges of mythological activity.
This lack of a major presence in story, in temples, and in artifacts made some classical sources choose to omit Hades as one of the original twelve Olympians.
The realm of the dead, the Underworld, was the eternal residence of departed souls, guarded at its gates by the terrifying three-headed dog, Cerberus. Fearsome monsters in the Underworld were as common as pigeons on earth, invoking childhood fears of bogey-men and other frights that haunt the dark.
punishments for careless souls were the rule. According to the myths, a
worse-than-the-regular-Underworld pit, Tartarus (TAR-tar-us), was reserved for evildoers
who deserved extraordinary misery. Many beings who earned punishment directly from the gods found themselves thrown into Tartarus.
Aside from Tartarus, the Greek Underworld had three parts: the Fields of Asphodel for souls who were neither good nor evil, the Fields of Punishment for significant wrongdoers, and the happy, golden Elysian Fields for the heroic and/or virtuous.
Greeks believed that the majority of mortals would spend eternity in Asphodel as formless, misty beings without memory or purpose. The famous Greek "warrior paradox" of pursuing death to achieve immortality (think Achilles, Hercules, Odysseus) sprang partially from the desire to remain sentient after death and spend eternity in the Elysian Fields.
Music, laughter, and games went on endlessly in Elysium; it was a garden of earthly delights. Souls there could choose to return to earth at any time. Some stories
claim the Titan Cronus ruled Elysium, though others maintain
the Olympians threw Cronus into Tartarus following his defeat.
Conversely, residents of the punishment fields had to endure eternal penalties tailored to their evil deeds on earth. The shades of Minoan Crete's King Minos and his brother, Radamanthus, known for their justice when on earth, became judges in the netherworld.
Creative and diabolical sentences abounded: for instance, the crafty founder of Corinth who tried to cheat death,
Sisyphus, earned a sentence of rolling an enormous boulder up a hill...
only to have the boulder slip from his grasp any time he approached
the summit, forcing him to begin his task all over again.
The Underworld offered both the pool of Lethe (LEE-thee) for forgetfulness (common ghosts often drank from this) and the pool of Memory for long-term residents.
The black, sinister river Styx bordered the kingdom of the dead. A goddess-daughter of Ocean who sided with Zeus in his battle against the Titans personified the river. To honor her, Zeus decreed that any oath invoking Styx was not to be violated, even by the gods.
Styx played a crucial part in the myth of Achilles, as well: the hero's only vulnerable spot was where his mother gripped his infant heel when she dipped him in the current to make him invincible.
Souls newly arrived to the Underworld needed to pay the infamous ferryman, Charon, two golden drachmas for their one-way passage. This ferry toll created the ancient custom of placing coins on the eyelids of the departed.