Hades is one of the ruling gods of the Greek pantheon, the son of Cronus and Rhea, brother of Zeus, and husband of Persephone. With the division of the world that came following the overthrow of Cronus, Zeus took the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld; the earth was shared between them. Hades also is regarded as a god of riches because precious stones and minerals as well as crops and water from springs come from the earth. This was one reason that he was called Pluto, the giver of wealth; the other reason was that no one wished to voice his deadly name. He rides in a black chariot drawn by four black horses. His underworld home is the House of Ais. The closely guarded gates of his kingdom, also called Hades, are identified in the Odyssey as lying beyond the ocean at the edge of the world, and in the Iliad as lying directly beneath the earth.

Hades was the habitation of the dead, or shades. His name as ruler is Polydegmon, receiver of many guests because of the multitudes that streamed through the gates. Hades was a subterranean Zeus–chthonios, of the dark realm, as opposed to the cult of the sky god, hypsistos. Through Hades run the rives Styx, besides which the gods made their hallowed oaths, and Lethe, with its waters of forgetfulness. In the Odyssey these rivers are identified as the Pyriphlegethon and Kokytos (a tributary of the Styx), which flow into the Acheron.

According to legend Hades abducts Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, and keeps her for four months of each year, winter, as his queen in his underworld realm. He is depicted as a dark-bearded god carrying a two-pronged harpoon or a scepter, and a key. The concept of Hades a place for the dead was a late development, but even then this dim realm bore no resemblance to the Christian hell, and it was never a place of punishment. A.G.H.


Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, 92-93
Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1980, p. 143

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