Hades and Persephone

All posts tagged Hades and Persephone

The Danaids

Published February 26, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Well, due to massive time-suck to write a paper that will hobble my grade (oh, god, it’s so horrible!) I don’t have time to narrate a long myth this week, but I thought of a short one which I originally would never have planned to write, but I did find a way to tie it into the “Hades” theme, so…yeah.  Here it is, warts and all.  (Keep in mind that in Greek myths, “Libya” means pretty much the entire continent of Africa, and “Asia” really refers more to the Middle East than anything else…though if they’d known about the continent we now call Asia, it would have meant that as well.)


Belus was a mighty king who ruled over Libya and Asia.  He had twin sons, Danaos and Aegyptos.  When he died, he left Asia to Aegyptos and Libya to Danaos.  But the brothers quarreled, and Aegyptos conquered part of Libya, which he promptly named “Egypt” after himself.

Fearful that Aegyptos wanted all of Libya and might kill him, Danaos fled north to Argos with his fifty daughters.  Danaos was descended from Io, a princess of Argos, so he laid claim to the throne there.  The current king contested his right, but eventually lost, and Danaos became the new king of Argos.

However, long before the brothers had quarreled, Danaos had promised that his fifty daughters would marry the fifty sons of Aegyptos.  It was not long after Danaos fled to Hellas that the sons of Aegyptos wanted their brides, and came to Argos after him.  They refused to leave Argos without their wives, but Danaos was afraid that they were going to try to wrest his new kingdom away from him.

Filled with fear, Danaos agreed to the marriages, but the night before they were to be wed, he met with his daughters secretly.  He gave each of them a knife, and told them that they must slay their husbands once they were alone on their wedding night.  The girls were shocked to be given such violent instructions, but they were dutiful daughters, and promised to obey their father’s command.

All but one of them indeed obeyed:  once their new husbands had fallen asleep, the forty-nine daughters of Danaos drew their knives and lopped off the heads of the forty-nine sons of Aegyptos.

But Hypermnestra had fallen in love with her husband, Lycneus, and could not bring herself to obey her father’s commands.  Instead, she helped him to escape from Argos, alone but alive.

The next morning, Danaos was presented with the decapitated heads of forty-nine of his nephew/son-in-laws.  But he was enraged with Hypermnestra for her disobedience.  He had her locked up, and placed her on trial for her refusal to obey her king and father.  But the people of Argos were horrified by what the other daughters of Danaos had done, and refused to condemn Hypermnestra for her act of kindness.  Eventually, Danaos himself came to accept Hypermnestra’s actions, and permitted her to live peacefully with Lycneus.

In the meantime, however, Danaos found that no man wanted to marry his other forty-nine daughters.  The men of Hellas were all afraid that they might end up the way the sons of Aegyptos had.

The gods themselves came down to arbitrate the matter:  Hermes and Athene performed the purification rites for the forty-nine Danaids, as Zeus himself had ordered them to do.

But still no men wanted to marry the murderous widow-brides.

Danaos held athletic competitions, inviting heroes from all regions of Hellas, and in addition to the usual valuable prizes, he gave each winner one of his daughters as an additional prize…though the winners rarely wanted them.

But as time passed, the Danaids managed to win over their reluctant husbands, and they had many children, who spread all across Hellas, and that is why the Hellenes are sometimes called the Danaans, because of their descent from Danaos.

When the Danaids died, they received a terrible shock.  They were led to the throne room of Hades, who frowned at them from his throne.  Without a word, he called for the Hundred-Handed Giants to take them to Tartaros.  The dead women began to weep and wail at their fate.

“What are you saying?” Persephone objected from her throne.  “Why should they be treated so wretchedly?”

“They murdered their husbands,” Hades pointed out.  “On their wedding night, no less.”

“But they were only following their father’s orders!”

“When a mortal woman is married, her duty is no longer to obey her father, but to obey her husband,” Hades said coldly.

Persephone giggled.  “Does that mean I don’t have to obey my father anymore, even though he’s the king of the gods?  If you tell me to disobey him, do I have to do it?”

Hades cleared his throat uncomfortably, avoiding her gaze.  “I said mortal women,” he pointed out.  “Besides, I would never ask you to disobey my brother.  Except…perhaps…to stay here with me longer than your allotted time….”

“Regardless, I don’t think it’s right to send them down to Tartaros.  They were already purified of their guilt, and they were devoted wives the rest of their lives,” Persephone reminded her husband.

“And what would you have me do with them, then?” Hades retorted.

“Just send them out with the regular shades, of course,” Persephone responded, sounding a little confused.

“And do you really think that would be a good idea?  The shades of women who hated their husbands but suffered through their long and unpleasant marriages would torment them out of jealousy that these women did what they never had the courage to do.  The shades of men of all sorts would torment them even more, out of hatred for what they had done, and out of fear that their action was going to encourage other women to do the same.  They will be happier in Tartaros than they would be with the regular shades.”

Persephone paused a moment, biting her lip.  “I suppose you may be right about that, but it still doesn’t seem very fair.”

“I’ll give them a very light punishment,” Hades promised her, then turned to the Hundred-Handed Giants who were guarding the frightened shades.  “Set up two troughs of water, one full and one empty.  They’re to fill the empty one from the full one.  But put holes in their ladles.”

The women moaned in sorrow, but Hades felt that was the best he could do for them.  It was not strenuous labor, nor was it painful.  There really wasn’t anything else he could do for them…


Obviously, I had originally planned to omit this because it’s so shockingly misogynistic.  But I came up with that argument between Hades and Persephone on the subject last night (while I was having a very bizarre, super-depressed nega-fantasy in which the heroine of my quasi-young adult novels was trying to throw herself into Tartaros because…well…because I was depressed) and thought that could at least make it slightly less unpalatable.  And, more importantly, it would be fast to write.  (But really, it doesn’t make any sense that the Danaids were punished so harshly, considering they were following paternal orders.  There’s no mention of the women of Lemnos being sent to Tartaros after they collectively murder their husbands, their husbands’ concubines, their husbands’ concubines’ children, and all the unmarried/widowed men on the island as well.  They completely get away with it–and spend a year sleeping with the Argonauts as a bonus!–but the Danaids are punished eternally?  So not right.)

Eventually, I might go back and fill in some of the missing details, like the manner in which Danaos won the throne of Argos, or the cause of the quarrel between Aegyptos and Danaos.  But right now I don’t have the time.

I think I’m totally wrong about the athletic games part, too.  I’ve forgotten exactly what happened, and I’m writing this on campus, so I can’t check my usual reference books.  I’ll fix it later if it’s wrong.  (I was going to use the new iOS app to write this, using the partial draft that was already saved, but for some reason it discarded all my line breaks.  Uh, yikes, you know?  I guess that thing’s only intended for single paragraph mini-entries.)  I also fell flat on my face regarding the punishments of other mortal shades in Tartaros.  Ordinarily, for a painful punishment, I’d use Ixion and the wheel of flame, but Ixion won’t have even been born yet, let alone have died yet, so I can’t.  I know there’s someone in Tartaros getting his liver eaten out (not Prometheus; he’s not usually said to be in Tartaros, but on a mountain somewhere) but I don’t remember who.  [Edit 12/17:  I hadn’t been thinking about just how very early the Danaids actually were.  Not one of the usual Tartaros suspects would be there yet.  So now it has an even weaker ending…] I shouldn’t be writing this from campus…anyway, like with the games, I’ll fix that later, when I’m home and I have my research books.  (I know, you’re thinking “well, just go to the library and look it up, if you’re on campus!”  But the thing is, it’s snowing out there, and I really don’t want to walk all the way down to the library.  I’m already in the building where my class is going to be held, and I’m totally staying in here until the class is over.  It’s too cold to be wandering about on campus.)

Orpheus and Eurydice

Published February 19, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Several of these myths just sort of overlap.  So, technically speaking, the majority of this one goes in the ten years between Apollo’s year as a slave and the near-death of Admetos.


No one could sing as beautifully as Orpheus.  Even the birds stopped singing to listen to him.  His mother, after all, was Calliope, one of the Muses.  Some said his father was Apollo, and others said his father was the King of Thrace.  But no matter who his father was, Orpheus was the most beautiful singer and the finest lyre-player among all mortal men.

His singing was greatly admired by all who heard it, and kings all across Hellas paid him well to play at their court, and even though he could do nothing but sing, he more than pulled his weight when he traveled on the Argo with Jason.

Not long after he returned to Thrace from Colchis, Orpheus found himself falling in love.  Eurydice was a beautiful girl who came to listen to him sing every day, and always smiled so happily.  She would close her eyes and just listen and listen and listen, with that sweet, happy smile.  Almost before he knew it, Orpheus had asked her to be his wife.

They were soon married, and lived very happily in a home filled with song.  They had not been married long before that day.  It was a lovely day, and Orpheus decided that they should go eat on the slopes of the most beautiful mountain in Thrace, which happened to be very near their home.  After they ate, they sat in the shade of a tree, and Orpheus played his lyre and sang for Eurydice.  In the middle of the afternoon, they became tired, and settled down for a brief nap.

But when Orpheus awoke, he could not arouse Eurydice.  No matter how he shook her shoulder, she would not stir, and her flesh was cold.  When he picked her up, a snake slithered out from underneath her skirts.  There were marks on her leg, where the snake had bitten her.

Orpheus fell into despair at his wife’s death, and would not be consoled.  Everyone tried to cheer him up, but all he would do was weep, and sing songs of lament for his beautiful Eurydice.  His songs were so beautiful and tragic that everyone and everything that heard him wept; even rocks and statues were crying for poor Eurydice.

Apollo himself wept to hear the songs of grief, and he spoke to Orpheus through one of his weeping statues, telling him to seek a particular cave in the mountains, where he would be able to enter the house of Hades and see his wife again.  Orpheus was delighted at the idea, and set out for the cave at once.

The passage underground was dark and dank and dismal, but Orpheus kept the thought of Eurydice in his heart, and he did not falter in his journey.  When he reached the entrance to the underworld, the three-headed dog Cerberus began barking and snarling at him, menacing him.  But Orpheus was not afraid, and sang sweetly to the dog, which was soon wagging its tail like a pet greeting its master at the door.

Orpheus continued his journey through the realm of the dead, singing at the shades to convince them to part and allow him past.  He kept on singing until he reached the throne room where Hades and Persephone sat upon their chilly thrones.

Hades sighed.  “Not another one!  How many mortals are going to prance in here as if they belonged?!”  He glanced behind Orpheus, and saw that Cerberus had followed the bard, and was still wagging his tail happily.  “Worthless mutt,” he grumbled.  “I ought to replace you with a locked gate!  That at least might keep a few mortals out!”

“Oh, leave the poor little puppy alone!” Persephone exclaimed.

“He isn’t a ‘poor little puppy.’  He’s a vicious guard dog!  Or he’s supposed to be,” the god added, with another cold look at the three-headed dog, whose ears wilted sadly at the rebuke.

“Tell us what brings you here while you’re still alive,” Persephone said, turning toward Orpheus.  “I doubt you came just to bring us a little much-needed cheer.”

Orpheus shook his head, and sang his tragic song of his lost love.  By the time he was finished, Persephone was weeping hysterically in her husband’s arms.  If Hades was touched by the song, it did not show on his face.  “Very tragic,” he admitted, “but that does not explain why you have come here while you still breathe.  If you miss her that much, you could always kill yourself and be reunited with her.”

“Please, just let me have my Eurydice back again,” Orpheus begged.  “In life, so that we can have children and grow old together.”

“If I allowed every grieving husband to revive his wife, there would very soon be no women left in this realm,” Hades answered, shaking his head.  “She came to the end of the time the Fates allotted her.”

“Have you no sympathy in you at all?” the mortal man wailed, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Sympathy I have, but I also have the strength of will not to act on it,” the god replied.  “The dead must remain so, if there is to be any order in the world.”

“You can let just this one woman go!” Persephone exclaimed, looking up at her husband.  “Think how little time they got to spend married!”

“Persephone…”

“Are you claiming that you would have stood by and accepted it if I had been taken away from you forever so soon after our marriage?” the goddess countered.

“Of course not!  But we’re gods and they’re only mortals!”

“That’s no excuse,” Persephone insisted.

Hades sighed deeply, then looked back at Orpheus.  “Very well,” he said.  “Since my own wife is so insistent upon it, I shall give you the chance to earn the restoration of your bride.”

“Earn?” Orpheus repeated.

“You are asking me to defy the Fates whose powers hold sway even over gods like myself.  I cannot take such an action lightly.  So you must prove that you are worthy of such a great boon.”  Hades paused a moment, frowning.  “When you leave my realm, Eurydice’s shade will be following you.  With every step, she will become less a shade and more alive.  If she makes it all the way back to the surface, she will once more be alive.  However, if you turn to look at her even once while she is in that state, halfway between shade and living mortal, then she will return to being only a shade again, and you will have lost your chance to have her returned to you.  Is that clear?”

Orpheus nodded, and thanked the gods profusely for their kindness in agreeing to return his beloved Eurydice to him.

Hurrying as quickly as he could, Orpheus set out to return to the land of the living.  He was eager and confident as he left the house of Hades, but with every step he took towards the surface, he began to worry.  Was Eurydice really behind him?  Would he really have her restored to him?  What if she wasn’t there?  What if she thought he wasn’t looking at her because he didn’t care?

He tried to slow his pace, hoping she would catch up to him.  But he heard no footsteps behind him.  What if she wasn’t there?  What if the gods had lied to him?

By the time the cave mouth was distantly visible, the anguish was too much for Orpheus.  He had to know if Eurydice was with him!

Orpheus glanced over his shoulder, hoping that it was not enough to violate the command of the god of the dead.

For one brief moment, he saw Eurydice’s face, then she vanished from his sight, and Orpheus was alone.

He tried to run after her, but found the cavern walls suddenly blocking his path downward.  There was nothing Orpheus could do but return to the surface and grieve.

As he returned to Thrace, feeling alone and desolate despite the beauty all around him, Orpheus found that he could no longer stomach the sight of women:  they were not his Eurydice.  So he began to spurn women, and accepted only the company of men.  For companionship, friendship and love, he would no longer consort with women, and the women of Thrace began to feel hatred for the bard whose beautiful melodies they had once adored.

Most Thracian women did nothing over the way Orpheus was jilting their entire sex, but the Maenads, the wild followers of Dionysos, they were willing to act where other women were not.  A band of them, enjoying thir usual drunken frenzy, chanced upon the bard one night.

He told them to leave, but they would not.  They invited him to join their dance, but he would not.  He tried to leave their company, but they would not let him.  They told him he should worship Dionysos with them, as he once had done, but he would not.

Their conversations became more and more strained, until Orpheus began to shout at them, weeping and wailing, ordering them to leave him be.  They shouted back, cursing him for disdaining women.  When he replied that there was no curse worse than being with women, one of the Maenads could take it no longer.  She grabbed his wrist, and began to tug.

The other Maenads quickly joined in.  They grabbed him by his hands, by his feet, by his hair.  They began to pull and pull, as if they were children quarreling over a toy.  They tugged and tugged until they had pulled Orpheus apart.

The Maenads flung most of the pieces of Orpheus on the ground where he had stood, except for his head.  That they flung into the river Hebron, where it floated along in the current, still singing laments for his lost Eurydice.


Hmm. I wonder if I should have kept the last bit where his head floated all the way to the island of Lesbos, where it became an oracle, speaking prophecies so accurate that Apollo grew jealous and hit it with a thunderbolt?  (Funny thing about how many gods other than Zeus get to throw his thunderbolts…)

Anyway, now that I’m done with the Hades myths–apart from his brief appearance in one of the Twelve Tasks of Heracles–I’m not sure what to tell for next week.  Hmm…I think I’ll decide that after I’ve been to tonight’s class, so I’ll know just how much time I’ll need to dedicate to writing that paper.  He said something about “next week’s research paper” in the assignment for this week, but I don’t know if the whole paper is due next Thursday, or if next Thursday is for working on it and it’s actually due the week after.  Don’t know, off-hand, how long it is, either.  (Though since I’m a graduate student, I do know it’s probably a lot longer for me than it is for the undergrads.  That’s the annoying thing about a mixed graduate and undergraduate class…)  Anyway, if the paper looks to be something really massive/time-consuming, I’ll probably do a very short myth for next week.  Otherwise…hmm…not sure what to do next.  I want to do the other myths I’ve referenced in the ones I’ve already written, but there are actually a lot of those…

 

Admetos and Alcestis

Published February 12, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Y’know, it occurs to me that there’s still one more Hades-related myth I need to tell after this one:  the death of Orpheus.  So I guess that one’s up for next week, then I can get to the other stories I’ve touched on but not told yet.  It’s going to be tricky to figure out when to place that in relation to this one, though.  Admetos, like Orpheus, is an Argonaut (well, Admetos may not always be an Argonaut, but as he’s from Thessaly and a son-in-law of Pelias, it makes more sense for him to be an Argonaut than someone like, say, Telamon, who has no particular connection to Thessaly or Iolcos), but…hrmm.  Depending on how I handle the…uh…ack.  There’s a reason these myths are not usually coordinated in a strictly chronological manner.  Yeah, so I guess I’m just going to have to live with the fact that some of the stories overlap, chronologically.  Or rather, that stories like this one, with multiple parts, have other stories take place in the middle.


It all began with Asclepios.  He was the son of Apollo, and the most skilled of all mortal healers.  He was even so skilled that he once managed to bring a dead man back to life.

But that was the where the trouble started.  Zeus was enraged at the offense against the natural order, and he struck Asclepios dead with a thunderbolt.

A furious Apollo wanted to avenge his favorite son, but he could never turn against his own father.  Instead, Apollo began slaughtering the Cyclopes who had forged the thunderbolts.  This only made Zeus even more angry, since the Cyclopes were his uncles.  He grabbed Apollo and began dragging him down to Tartaros, swearing he would subject the rebellious god to everlasting torment.

Zeus found Hades awaiting him just outside the entrance to Tartaros, with several of the Hundred-Handed Giants.  Zeus remanded Apollo to the custody of the giants, and stepped aside to speak to his brother.

“Do you really think that this is a good idea?” Hades asked coldly.  “He’s already angry at you, and you want to place him in company with Titans who still want vengeance on us for ousting them from power?  Have you forgotten why you swallowed Metis?”

“Do you want to let him get away with what he’s done?” Zeus countered, still burning with anger.

“There are other ways to punish him,” Hades pointed out.  “Find one that can’t lead to us becoming the ones locked away in torment for eternity.  I have no desire to end up like our father.”

Zeus was still angry, but he knew his brother was right.  So he dragged Apollo back up to the surface, and forced him into a disguise so that he looked like an ordinary mortal man.  Then he took him to Pherae in Thessaly, and gave him to its king, Admetos, as a slave.

Apollo was horrified to end up as the slave of a mortal man, but Admetos was very kind to him, even though he had had no idea that his new slave was actually a god.  Apollo’s main task was to watch over the cattle as they grazed on the plains of Thessaly, and he played his lyre and sang the whole time he was at work, making the animals docile and cooperative.  In fact, the cows were so happy to listen to Apollo’s singing as they grazed that all of the heifers gave birth to twins that spring.  Realizing that his new cowherd had to be somehow responsible for the miracle, Admetos began to treat the disguised Apollo even more kindly, earning the god’s friendship and gratitude.

Soon afterwards, Admetos fell madly in love with the beautiful Alcestis, one of the daughters of Pelias, the King of Iolcos.  But Alcestis was Pelias’ favorite daughter, and he did not want her to get married, and so he declared that no man should have his daughter’s hand in marriage unless he arrived at Pelias’ palace in a chariot drawn by a lion and a boar.  Admetos despaired of ever winning his beloved’s hand, but Apollo assured him that it could be easily done, as even the most savage beasts could be tamed by music.  Then, without another word, Apollo walked off into the forest, and found a wild boar.  He sang to it and played his lyre, and it became as meek and gentle as a lamb, and followed him gladly back to the stable, where the chariot was waiting.  Apollo gently hitched the boar to the chariot, and then went into the forest in the other direction, where he found a savage lion.  After a song from radiant Apollo, the lion became as docile as a sleepy kitten, and followed the god back to the stable, batting playfully at the hem of his tattered slave robes.  Once the lion, too, was hitched the chariot, Apollo mounted the chariot as charioteer, and called to Admetos to ride behind him.

Admetos had seen many strange things in his time, so he was not afraid to ride in a chariot pulled by a lion and a boar, especially not with his uncanny slave handling the reins.  Pelias was dismayed to see Admetos arrive in such a manner, but he was essentially a man of his word, and he was afraid of what other miracles such a young man might be capable of, so he agreed to allow Admetos to marry Alcestis, and soon the boar and the lion were taking the young couple back to Pherae, where Apollo released the wild beasts back into the forests.

After Apollo had been a slave in Pherae for an entire year without misbehaving–or even seducing any mortal maidens–Zeus forgave his son, and allowed him to return to Mt. Olympos.  Apollo went to Admetos and shed his disguise, then promised Admetos that he would always watch over his house, and as an added gift of friendship, he told Admetos that he knew the king’s Fate.  Admetos was to live another ten years, at which time he would fall ill and die.  But, in gratitude for all of Admetos’ kindness, Apollo gave him a special gift.  Once Admetos fell ill, if he could find any other mortal who was willing to die in his place, then Admetos’ life would be spared, and he would live on…but it had to be voluntary:  if they didn’t want to die to save him, if they were doing it because they were ordered to, then it wouldn’t work.

Admetos thanked the god and promised to make lavish sacrifices in his honor every year for the rest of his life.  Satisfied, Apollo returned to his father’s palace on Mt. Olympos.

A few years after Apollo’s departure, soon after Alcestis became heavy with child, Admetos heard that Jason of Iolcos was preparing a voyage to far distant Colchis, in search of the Golden Fleece.  Knowing that he could not die for another eight years, Admetos eagerly signed on to join the expedition, promising his beloved wife that he would return safe and sound.

And indeed he did return, uninjured and bearing both gifts and many tales of heroism, both his own and that of his companions, who included not only local heroes like Peleus of Phthia but also more distant heroes like Castor and Polydeuces, and even the mighty Heracles himself, the most famous of all the mortal sons of Zeus.  But that’s another story.

Admetos and Alcestis and their new son, Eumelos, lived many years in happy peace in Pherae.

At first, when Admetos fell ill, he didn’t worry, because he was so used to knowing that it wasn’t yet his time to die.  But then he stopped and counted the years, and realized that it now was his time to die.  He struggled out of bed and went to see his aged parents, asking if one of them would sacrifice the few years they had left so that he could live on.

But they refused.

He went to see his soldiers, all the men who had sworn to fight and die for Pherae, and asked if one of them would sacrifice their lives that he might live.

But they refused.

He went to the slaves in the palace, whose lives were surely worse than death.  They, surely, would have no reason to want to keep living, Admetos thought.  He told them about Apollo’s promise to spare his life if someone would choose to die in his place.

But they refused.

Desperate to find someone who would die for him, Admetos had heralds make proclamations throughout his lands.  They said that if any man or woman chose to die to save their king, then their family would be richly rewarded.

But still no one came forward to give up their lives for him.

Giving up at last, Admetos returned to bed and felt his strength begin to wane away.  As he realized the end was near, he called for his son, and began to make his last farewells.  Once he had said goodbye to his weeping son, Admetos called for his dear wife, who had run off in tears on seeing Admetos embracing Eumelos for the last time.

But she did not answer.

As Admetos became more and more distraught that his wife would not show her face to him one last time, to let him see her again before his end came, he began to grow agitated.  He began to fear that Alcestis actually wanted him to hurry up and die so that she could take another husband.  He rose from the bed and began to pace his bedchamber in his worry.  He had been pacing for some time when his son spoke.

“Papa, aren’t you dying?” he asked.  “Shouldn’t you do that in bed?”

Admetos stopped and looked at his confused son.  Then he realized something chilling.  He was no longer ill.  He no longer felt the shadow of Thanatos hovering above him.

Terrified, he ran from his bedchamber, and hurried through the town, calling for his wife.

He found her, at last, collapsed before the altar in the massive temple that Admetos had built in honor of Apollo’s kindness.  No matter how Admetos cried and wept and called her name, she did not stir, for she had herself given her life to allow him to continue living, and no number of sacrifices to Apollo caused her to revive.

Alcestis was laid in state in the palace, to be wept and mourned, until a fitting tomb could be built outside the city.  The king ordered the whole city to go into mourning for its beautiful queen, and retreated into his chamber, unwilling to see anyone.

Early the next day, one of Admetos’ old comrades from the Argo arrived in Pherae.  Great Heracles, son of Zeus himself, arrived in Pherae, and found himself quite surprised to see everyone in mourning.  He called at the palace, and was shocked to find that Admetos was not in the throne room awaiting his guest.  Shouting and shouting until the servants were afraid that the palace itself might fall on their heads, Heracles wandered through the palace, looking for his old friend.

Eumelos was the one who approached Heracles, and began to explain the calamity of his mother’s death, weeping all the while, as he led the son of Zeus to see Admetos.  Admetos finished his son’s tale, leaving Heracles both mournful and enraged at once.  He was sad to hear of the lovely lady’s passing, but he was ourtraged that she had been forced to give up her life in such a manner.

After pondering it some while, Heracles declared that he would not stand for it, and that he would see to it that the situation was remedied at once!  He told Admetos to hold off from the funeral, and set off from Pherae, headed towards the nearest cavern that led down beneath the crust of the earth and into the depths below.

As Heracles arrived at the entrance to the underworld, the three-headed dog Cerberus at first began to bark and snarl, but then whined and slunk away, his tail between his legs.  Heracles laughed at the dog’s fear, and strode up to the cowering animal.

“Where’s your master, then?” he chortled.  “I have business with the old stiff!”

Cerberus whimpered, and backed away a moment longer, then turned and began to run through the swirling shades of the underworld.  Heracles ran after the hound until he found himself once more facing Hades, and for the first time also facing the cold yet beautiful Persephone.  Standing between Heracles and the rulers of the afterlife was the weeping shade of the very woman Heracles had come for.

“As if it weren’t noisy enough in here already,” Hades sighed, on sighting his nephew approaching.  He glanced over his shoulder at Cerberus, as the three-headed dog hid behind the god’s throne, then looked back at Heracles.  “Do make it quick.  I can’t face dealing with your raucous presence right now.  It’s bad enough that this woman won’t stop crying long enough to explain her untimely death…”

“I don’t see why Hermes ran off without explaining for her,” Persephone added, shaking her head.  “He’s usually so good about that, when he brings the souls down here.”

“He probably spotted some mortal maiden on his way down,” Hades grumbled, shaking his head.

“I’m here for her,” Heracles said, indicating Alcestis.  “My friend Admetos doesn’t want to lose his wife so soon.”

Alcestis stopped crying, and looked at the hero with wonder.  “You’ve spoken to my husband?” she asked.

“Do you really think you can come down here any time you please and return the dead to life?” Hades asked.  “Even if you were my brother’s favorite son, as you seem to imagine yourself to be, I cannot allow such chaos.”

“Just this one time, I promise,” Heracles said, and then explained how Alcestis had given up her life so her husband could live.

By the time he finished, Persephone was weeping, and her husband was frowning.  “That irritating little…if Apollo is going to make a deal like that, he should have the sense to tell me about it!” Hades exclaimed.  “No wonder Hermes didn’t want to stay to explain…”

“We’ll let her return to the surface, won’t we?” Persephone asked, her eyes pleading through their tears.

“Of course we well,” her husband assured her, “though a wretch who would ask his wife to die in his place doesn’t deserve such a fine woman by his side.”

“He never once asked that of me,” Alcestis assured the god.  “He asked everyone in the kingdom other than me or our son.  I chose to die because I couldn’t face life without him.”

Hades sighed deeply.  “Very well, then.  You may take her back up, Heracles, and I won’t even ask you to kill her husband in recompense.  But if you ever set foot in my domain again, you’re staying!”

Heracles laughed.  “We’ll see,” he replied, then began to lead Alcestis back out of the throne room.  But halfway across the room, he noticed the bench where Theseus and Pirithoos were sitting.  “Hey?  What are you doing here?”  He walked over to his old friends.  Theseus smiled wanly at him, but Pirithoos only looked blankly ahead, seeing nothing.

“The one is suffering his eternal punishment for attempting to steal my wife,” Hades answered coldly.  “The son of Aegeus is being punished for helping him, and being too stupid to give up on his shameless friend.”

Heracles turned back to Theseus, who nodded his head sadly, and explained that he didn’t want to leave Pirithoos behind to suffer alone.  “But I would gladly return the girl to Tyndareos with repayment for our transgression, if we were both allowed to return to the surface!” he added, trying to gain Heracles’ sympathy.

“Theseus…Helen’s brothers already rescued her,” Heracles told him.  “Years ago.”

“Years?  I thought I had only been here a few days…”

Heracles laughed.  “Good gods, man, open your eyes!  I was barely more than a boy last time I saw you!  Now I’m heralded across the world as the greatest hero ever born!”  Heracles ignored the scoffing noise his uncle made behind him.

“Then…what about my kingdom?  What about my family?”

“Well, Castor and Polydeuces conquered all of Attica to get Helen back.  Don’t hold it against them, okay?  They’re good friends of mine, too, you know.  They left Menestheus in charge of Athens.  He’s not a bad fellow, but your sons fled to Euboea, just in case.”  Heracles paused uncomfortably.  “I think your mother’s still with Helen…as her slave.”

“What?!  My mother enslaved, and my sons in hiding?!”  Theseus tried to rise, but was still stuck fast to the bench.  “Please, let me rescue them!”

“You are free to go at any time, so long as you understand that your friend will never leave this place,” Hades informed him.

Theseus was still hesitating, so Heracles made the decision for him.  Gripping the smaller man by his arms, he yanked him up off the sticky seat.  Theseus screamed in agony–part of his buttocks remained on the seat!–but he was free.  Leaning heavily on Heracles, Theseus accompanied his friend and Alcestis back to the surface, and to Pherae.

While Admetos and Alcestis were enjoying their tender reunion, Heracles asked Theseus what he was going to do about his kingdom.  “I’ll need an army to reclaim it,” Theseus said, frowning.  “Will you help me retake it?”

“If I do, Castor and Polydeuces might take offense,” Heracles replied, shaking his head.  “Besides, I’ve got a family of my own to get back to.  Deianeira starts to get antsy when I’m away too long.”

Theseus sighed sadly, but agreed that he could not ask his friend to do more than he had already done.  Instead, he set out for Scryos, an island near Euboea, in the hopes that its king, Lycomedes, would help him retake Athens from Menestheus.  Once his kingdom was restored to his hands, he could send for his sons to rejoin him, and send whatever gifts and treasures it would take to convince Tyndareos to return his mother.

Taking their leave of the reunited royal family of Pherae, the two heroes went their separate ways.


Okay, so technically I’m unaware of any story in which Hades talked Zeus out of throwing Apollo into Tartaros.  However, the whole bit with the death of Asclepios, Apollo killing the Cyclopes, and and Zeus punishing him for that act is all genuine.  Oh, and those Cyclopes really are the uncles of Zeus and the other first generation gods:  like the Titans, they’re the children of Gaia and Ouranos.

I need to make a running tally of all the men in these myths who don’t want to let their favorite daughters get married.  It always smacks of incestuous desire, you know?  (In fact, said desire is sometimes stated outright.)  Pelias makes creepy father number one.

For all those who have read the book The Neverending Story, I apologize for lifting the line “But that’s another story.”  Because that got used insanely often in the book.  It was only used the once in the movie, but in the book…hoo boy, was that everywhere!  It’s just that I needed some kind of “don’t expect that here; it’s elsewhere” line here, and…I couldn’t help myself.

It will be a very long time before I ever get back to Scyros in any of these stories–if I ever do–but in case you don’t know what happened, I’ll just say that it didn’t go well for Theseus…

Hades and Persephone

Published January 20, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

The first installation in my narration of the few myths that strongly involve Hades.  I’m not sure why I ended up writing it in a children’s storybook style…particularly considering the whole incest thing.  (I really need to have a look at D’Aulaire’s and see how they glossed over the Olympian incest issue there.)


 

One day, Zeus went down into the darkness of the underworld to speak to his brother, Hades.  The gloom was so thick that by the time he reached the throne, Zeus already wanted to leave.  “You’re going to have mushrooms growing on your head if you don’t get out into the light once in a while,” he told his brother.

“Don’t be absurd,” Hades replied.  Surrounded all day long by the whining dead, he had little sense of humor.

“Or maybe you need a wife to keep you company, cheer you up.”

“Judging by your example, I wouldn’t think that was a wife’s primary duty,” Hades said, with the closest to a chuckle as he could muster.

“You know, I have a beautiful daughter in need of a husband,” Zeus commented.  “Persephone needs to get married before she can decide to emulate her sisters Athene and Artemis.  I don’t want three perpetually unwed daughters.”

“So?”

“Since she needs a husband and you need a wife…” Zeus prompted.

“I doubt that I am the husband my niece would choose,” Hades replied sourly.  “I’m sure she would prefer a younger, more lively god.  Someone more like Apollo.”

“He’ll never agree to take a wife,” Zeus laughed.  “No, it is my firm conviction that you and she are perfectly suited to each other.  You rule the soil itself, and all that is beneath it, and she makes things grow from that soil.  What could be more ideal than that?”

Hades nodded slowly.  “Perhaps so,” he admitted, “but I have never thought of taking a wife.”

“You don’t want her, then?”

Hades cleared his throat.  “I didn’t say that…”

“You do think her beautiful, then?” Zeus prompted.

“…of course.”

“Then what could your complaint be?”

“There is no complaint,” Hades explained.  “I simply cannot make such a momentous decision so lightly.”

“Of course,” Zeus agreed.  “I wouldn’t want you to make my mistake.  I’ll send her down to play in her favorite poppy fields, in one week’s time.  If you want to make her your wife, take her then.  If you don’t, then I’ll find her some other husband.”

Hades nodded his agreement, and Zeus quickly returned to the bright splendor of Mt. Olympos.  Although his brother had fully intended to refuse his niece’s hand, the longer Zeus was gone, the more Hades could not stop thinking about the offer.  He had often looked up through the soil and seen Persephone playing in the fields of brightly colored flowers, dancing and singing with nymphs.  Persephone had outshone the nymphs as much as the moon outshone the stars; she had been so bright that it almost hurt Hades’ eyes to look on her.  And yet he had still looked.  And after he knew that she could be his, he had looked all the more eagerly, watched her all the more intently.

By the time the week was up, he had decided to accept his brother’s offer.  Hades hitched up his horses to his chariot personally, and rode up to the surface, opening a crack in the earth so that he and his bride could ride away together in proper style.

The nymphs screamed and ran away at his arrival, which he found to be most rude indeed.  When he offered Persephone his hand, she just stared at it in confusion.

Irritated by the delay, and having no idea what the proper procedure was, Hades stepped off his chariot, lifted Persephone in his arms, and began to carry her back to the chariot.

To his surprise–and consternation–the girl began to scream, calling for her mother and father to come and save her.  Save her?  From what?  Did she find the notion of marriage that unappealing?  Hades hesitated for a moment, then set her in the chariot and urged the horses back down below.  It was just nerves, he was sure.  She was nervous, and panicking, even as mortal girls did on first meeting their husbands.  It would pass.  Of course it would pass.

But to his dismay, it didn’t pass.  Persephone gave up screaming after a while, and began instead to weep.  She wept and wept until it was starting to make even Hades’ eyes hurt.  He certainly didn’t want to hold their wedding celebration with her crying, so Hades asked her what was wrong, because he could find nothing else to ask.

“Please, let me go back to the surface,” Persephone said, looking up at him with her big eyes swollen and bloodshot.  “My mother will be worrying about me, and the flowers will miss me, and I’m too young to die!”

“How could you die?” Hades replied, altogether confused.  “Goddesses don’t die.”

“Then why have you brought me to the land of the dead, uncle?”

“Because this is where I reside,” he told her.  “Did you think husband and wife would not share one abode?”

“Husband and wife?” Persephone repeated.  “What do you mean?”

Hades stared at her for a moment, then scowled.  “He didn’t tell you.”  He shook his head.  “He didn’t tell you.  He must have seen some pretty mortal girl and forgotten all about me…”

“What didn’t my father tell me?”

“He promised me your hand in marriage,” Hades explained.  “To be granted today.”

“Marriage?!  But–no!  I won’t!  I won’t live in this terrible, dank, dreary place!  I won’t!”  Persephone didn’t wait for Hades to reply.  Instead, she ran away into the darkness.

Hades sighed.  He was tempted to follow her immediately, but decided it was better to wait.  Let her see just how dark his realm could be, so she would better appreciate the light in his home.  But when he approached her the next day, she was still refusing him, and ran off again into the darkness.  The third day produced no different results.

In the mean time, up on the surface, Demeter was in a dreadful panic over her missing daughter.  But the terrified nymphs who had been Persephone’s playmates didn’t know who had taken her, as they had never seen Hades before.  Mournful and bewildered, Demeter began to roam all through the land, calling out for her lost daughter.  Ashamed that he had forgotten to tell his sister and their daughter about the planned marriage, Zeus took a sudden trip to the most distant lands he could find, far to the north, taking all his rain clouds with him.  Without Zeus’ rain clouds and Demeter’s cooling love, the land began to sizzle and scorch, and nothing would grow.

Persephone was no happier, wandering through the darkness, miserable and alone, but constantly refusing her uncle’s protestations of love and requests for a proper marriage.  She missed the warmth of the sun, the light of the moon, the feel of the grass beneath her feet, and the taste of sweet fruit in her mouth.  That was what she missed most of all, after a month had passed, and she began to feel very hungry, but there was nothing to eat in the underworld, as there was nothing outside Hades’ palace other than the swirling shades of dead mortals.

Hades, in desperation, had ordered the Hundred-Handed Giants and Cyclopes to plant him a garden that might attract Persephone’s attention, but the only thing they could make grow in it were a few malnourished pomegranate trees.  Still, he hoped it would show the girl how far he was willing to go for her, and as soon as the garden was ready, he led her by the hand and took her on a tour of it.  She was pleased to see something striving to live in that dark, dank region, but refused to smile, lest she encourage him, and thereby lose any chance of ever getting to go home again.

Once Hades had returned to his throne in defeat, Persephone set her hand on the trunk of one of the pomegranate trees, and spoke words of gentle love to it.  The tree grew and grew, spouting leaves, flowers and fruit all at once.  After she had thus encouraged all the trees, Persephone found the garden quite pleasant indeed, though she still wanted to see the sky, and once more wave at the horses pulling Helios’ chariot.

The longer she spent in that garden, though, the more Persephone’s hunger began to gnaw at her.  It had been so long since she had eaten, and the pomegranates looked so tempting and tasty, hanging upon their branches…but she had to stay strong!  If she ate anything, then she would no longer be able to call herself a prisoner, and would be acknowledging herself as a guest instead.  That was the first step towards giving up her maiden status and becoming a wife, and that was completely unacceptable!

After that, Hades came to speak to Persephone in the garden every day.  He always began and ended their conversations by asking her to give in and be his wife as her father had promised, but since she was no longer running away from him, he had to find other things to say to her as well.  He didn’t know what to say, so he would tell her about his work.  He would tell her what mortals had died that day, who they were, how their loved ones had mourned them, or how they hadn’t, and how their souls had accepted their new existence, whether with decorum or with tears or attempts to bribe their way into a better life.  Persephone found it amusing that some mortals thought they could tempt the god who controlled the gold within the soil by offering him his own gold back again, but she always wept to hear of lamenting widows, or mourning parents bereaved of their children.  She could never have admitted it, but she began to look forward to his daily visit.

Eventually, the land above became so dry and desolate that Helios began to feel sorry for the mortals who could no longer make their crops grow.  He landed his chariot near Demeter, and told her where she could find Persephone.  Demeter was so grateful to learn where her precious daughter was that she couldn’t summon up any words of thanks, and could only hug Helios briefly before hurrying down through a cave to reach her brother’s throne room, where she demanded the return of her daughter.

Persephone was overjoyed to see her mother again, and lavished hugs and kisses upon her.  But Hades wasn’t willing to give up his bride.

“Zeus promised her to me,” he reminded his sister, “to be my wife.  Are you going to disobey his commands?”

“He made no mention of that to me,” Demeter countered angrily, “and I have just as much right to choose my daughter’s husband and he does, even though he is the king of the gods!”

“Among the mortals–” Hades started, but was allowed to go no further than that.

“I don’t care what the mortals do!” Demeter snapped at him.  “We are goddesses; we have our own rules, and don’t have to obey the rules imposed on mortal women!”

“Be reasonable.  It is cruel to stand in the way of love,” Hades tried to reason with her.

“What love?” Demeter countered.  “This is abduction and imprisonment!  She doesn’t care for you one bit, no matter what you claim to feel for her!  She’s been miserable the whole time she’s been down here!”

“Those are your feelings, not hers,” Hades said.  “If that is truly how Persephone feels, then I will accept it.  But she must swear on the River Styx that she has felt herself only a prisoner, and never once at home.”  He gestured towards the Briareos, the Hundred-Handed Giant he trusted most.  The giant presented him with a chalice filled with the waters of the Styx.  An oath over those waters was so powerful that not even Zeus himself would dare break it.

Persephone stared at the chalice with fearful eyes, and shook her head.  “I shouldn’t have to do that!” she exclaimed.  “I just want to go home!”

“Then go ahead and take the oath,” her mother prompted her.

Persephone bit her lip, and shook her head again, and wouldn’t take the chalice.  Demeter tried and tried to cajole her into taking the oath, but the girl was intransigent.

“Then you admit that you’ve begun to feel at home here?” Hades asked hopefully.  He had a secret that had been revealed to him by Briareos, but he didn’t want to have to use it…

“No!” Persephone shrieked.  “I want to go back up to the surface, into the light of the sun!”

Hades frowned, and picked up the dish beside his throne.  He showed it to his sister and her daughter.  Persephone blanched at the sight.  “This is one of the pomegranates from my garden,” he explained to Demeter.  “It had been hidden at the base of one of the trees.”

“So?” Demeter asked coldly.

“Three of the seeds within have been eaten,” Hades told her, showing the spot where the fruit had been opened, and the seeds removed.

“Anyone could have eaten them,” Demeter insisted.

“No one is allowed into my garden other than myself, Persephone, and Briareos,” Hades said, “and neither he nor I have tasted this fruit.  We will swear to it if you like?”

Demeter looked at Persephone uncertainly, and the girl began to cry.  “But I was hungry!” she wailed.

“You’re a goddess; you don’t need to eat!” Demeter objected.

“Taking and eating food without telling anyone is not the action of a guest,” Hades went on.  “It is either that of a thief, or of a person in their own home.”

“Just what do you want?” Demeter asked.

“I want a wife.”

“I will never allow it!” Demeter shouted.  “I won’t let my daughter live down here away from the light!  I’ll never allow so much as a single blade of grass to grow on the land above if my daughter is forced to live in this darkness!  Do you want to be overrun by the shades of all the mortals on earth all at once?”

“Mother, that’s awfully cruel,” Persephone pointed out.  “You shouldn’t punish the mortals.  They didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Persephone, just keep quiet and let Mother handle this.”

Demeter’s instruction made Persephone sigh sadly, but she didn’t think it wise to argue back, not while her mother was in such a foul temper already.  The argument between Demeter and Hades resumed and quickly escalated.  Demeter screamed and bellowed and uttered terrifying curses and threats, shocking her daughter terribly.  Hades remained calm, but his voice carried the fury of hundreds of generations of fallen warriors.

The argument might have gone on for all of time, if Helios had not informed Zeus of what was going on.  Zeus immediately returned to Hades’ throne room, and quieted his enraged sister.  After he had been told all the details, Zeus nodded.

“Then let us work out an arrangement that will suit everybody,” he said.  “Since she ate three seeds, Persephone must spend three months of the year with her husband, but she may spend the rest on the surface with her mother.  That is my decision, and there will be no further arguments.”

Not one of the gods was pleased with the arrangement–except Zeus himself–but they knew better than to argue with the king of the gods.

A wedding feast was quickly held, and Persephone accepted her new role as queen beneath the surface.

When it was time for her to return to her mother, up in the light, Persephone kissed her husband warmly, and promised to think of him while she was away.


Well, that was ridiculously long.  Sorry.  I had trouble finding a way to make the ending work.  No, let me rephrase that.  I had trouble finding a way to handle the ending, and since I couldn’t find one that worked, I had to go with this one.  Hopefully, I’ll come up with a better way in the future.  Also, I apologize for letting a little Beauty and the Beast sneak in there.  But…actually, when you think about it, there’s probably a correlation there; even if the versions actually being passed about by storytellers weren’t inspired by Hades and Persephone, I bet Perrault was.  (Or maybe not.  How would I know?)

 

The Truth about Zeus and Hades

Published January 19, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Today, I thought I would let loose a bit about one of the things that most irritates me about the way Greek myths and gods are treated in the modern age, especially by Hollywood.  In particular, I’m going to be talking about the way Hades is treated.  You know what I mean:  he’s often treated as being the equivalent of the Christian Devil, and his realm is treated as equal to Hell, with the Elysian Fields (or the Isles of the Blessed or the White Island) being the equal of Heaven.  None of this is the least bit accurate.

I’ll start with Hades himself.  As most people know, he was one of the six children of Kronos and Rhea, the other five being Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and Hestia.  According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Hades was the eldest, and Zeus the youngest, but in the Iliad it’s stated that Zeus is the eldest brother, so traditions varied across Magna Graecia.  Following the defeat of Kronos and the Titans, the three brothers split the world between them; Zeus received the air and the sky, Poseidon the water, and Hades all that was below the earth’s surface.  While this did primarily mean the deep darkness filled with the souls of the dead, it also meant crops before they had sprouted, and metals and precious stones yet to be mined, leading to one of his Greek epithets, Ploutos or Plouton, “the Wealthy.”  (Whence his Roman name Pluto.)  There is no standard explanation of how the division was achieved; some sources say they drew lots, others that they chose by age, and others still that Zeus was awarded the chief position and rule over the skies as reward for being the one who threw down their tyrannical father.

One of his other names is “the chthonic Zeus,” that is “Zeus of the earth.”  It’s especially used by Hesiod, but similar names also crop up in Euripides, and Aeschylus also calls him “the other Zeus,” and “the earthly, the much-visited Zeus of the dead,” and “Zeus who is beneath the earth.”  This is perhaps the most indisputable reason I believe that Zeus and Hades were originally different aspects of the same god.  Such a combination is not unheard of; Osiris filled similar roles in Egypt, and there were many other gods who traveled from the underworld to the heavens regularly, throughout the beliefs in the region.  Now, keep in mind that this is largely only my opinion, and I refer mostly to very early times, Mycenaean or even pre-Mycenaean.  However, I came to this opinion based on good authority:  Timothy Gantz, in Early Greek Myth says “Thus it appears that at times Zeus and Hades represented simply different facets of a single extended divine power.”  (Pg 72, also the source of the Aeschylus quotes.)

One of the other reasons I think that is the connection between Hades and the fertility goddesses Demeter and Persephone, and their role in the growth of plants.  Zeus is often called the “cloud-gatherer” by the Greek poets, because in his role as a sky god, he was responsible for causing storms.  (Though by literary times, he seems to largely delegate that responsibility to lesser deities, but I think it’s safe to say that in earlier times, he still played the more traditional role of a storm god, and it was the higher post assigned to him in Mycenaean times that freed him of the more mundane tasks of that role.)  So plants could not grow without the aid of Zeus and his rain.  But they couldn’t grow without the fertile earth that was the realm of Hades, either, and there is surviving artwork depicting Hades assisting Demeter in making crops grow.  And on top of that, Hades is married to Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter.  (Eew, double uncle!)  Persephone’s role was to a large extent the same as her mother’s, and the two were usually worshipped together in ancient times, so Persephone may well be only an extension of Demeter, a new(er) goddess to go with the new(er) god.  (Again, that last part is purely my own speculation.)  For the most part, there is little to speak of the marital relations of Hades and Persephone, except that some later writers assigned Hades the same wandering lust that plagued his brothers and nephews…and made Persephone just as jealous a wife as her Aunt Hera.  And despite the famed allegory for the changing seasons of Persephone coming and going from the underworld, it may not always have been the case that she was such an inconstant wife:  the mentions of Persephone in the Odyssey make it sound as if she remains in her husband’s realm all year round.

A final connection between Hades and Zeus before I move on.  There aren’t many myths involving Hades apart from the tale of how he came to marry Persephone, but one of the few there are is that of Pirithoos and his mad desire for Persephone.  I’m going to go into detail on the myths themselves later (in other posts), so I won’t say too much now, except that it involved Pirithoos entering Hades’ home as a guest, though he intends to make off with his host’s wife.  This is a connection to Zeus for two reasons.  One, Zeus once had a mortal guest named Ixion who attempted to have his way with Hera…and in vengeance, Zeus went and got Ixion’s wife pregnant (in addition to sending Ixion down to Tartaros to suffer in eternity) with a son…who just happened to be that very same Pirithoos.  (I’d say “like father, like son” if Ixion was actually Pirithoos’ father, but since he wasn’t…)  Two, the bond between host and guest, called xenia or “guest-friendship,” was the special province of Zeus himself, allegedly having been invented by him.  (The actual practice dates at least back into the Late Bronze Age, and is known to have been in general practice all throughout the Aegean area.)

Now, as to the realm of the dead, it was nothing like the Christian afterlife.  Most dead people went to the same common darkness below the earth, which was not called Hades, despite the modern misconception.  It had no specific name, but was often referred to as “the house of Hades,” but as that was long and unwieldy, it was sometimes shortened, and the “house” part was implied, so that all that was actually written was “Hades” in the genitive case, hence the confusion in modern minds.  The afterlife was also sometimes called Erebos, or “darkness,” as in the Odyssey.  Of course, that’s the common afterlife, the one where all real people could expect to go.  (Unless they were members of a cult with another version of the afterlife, such as the Orphic cults, but that’s another matter entirely, and one that I have only a smidgen of knowledge about.)

There were two other types of afterlife.  For the most evil and wicked, there was Tartaros.  The realm where the Titans were kept imprisoned, where they themselves had previously imprisoned the Cyclopes and Hundred-Handed Giants.  For the most part, the only mortals said to have been sent to Tartaros were those who had committed crimes against the gods themselves, as Ixion had.  (There are also the Danaids, but…I chalk that up to extreme misogyny on someone’s part.  Particularly when you consider that the women of Lemnos suffered no penalty for slaughtering their husbands.)  No matter how terribly a real person behaved, it was unlikely to match up to, for example, Tantalos killing his own son and serving the corpse to the gods at a feast, or trying to steal ambrosia from Olympos, so you don’t see much in the way of real people being said to have fallen into Tartaros upon their deaths.  It isn’t entirely clear if Tartaros is under Hades’ rule, or the rule of some other god, or perhaps all of them; different regions probably had different traditions in that regard, most of which never made it into any surviving writing.

For the greatest and finest heroes, there were better afterlives.  I use the plural because there are three different versions.  The Elysian Fields of Homer and the Isles of the Blessed of Hesiod were probably the same paradisaical afterlife, merely given a different name due to the different local traditions.  The third, the White Island, was very different, and yet also somewhat the same.  Like the other two, it was an afterlife only for the greatest heroes, a place where real people could never hope to spend their eternity.  Unlike the other two, it was also a real place.  It was an island off the coast of Scythia, ruled over by Achilles after his death, and there was a temple built in his honor on the island.  (Though only men were allowed to go there to offer sacrifices in his honor.)  Other than Achilles, Patroclos, Aias and Antilochos, I don’t know off-hand of any heroes specifically said to have gone to the White Island rather than the Elysian Fields and/or the Isles of the Blessed.  (Iphigenia was said to have been Achilles’ wife there, though.)  The Elysian Fields/Isles of the Blessed may have been under the control of Hades, Aiakos or Rhadamanthys; as with Tartaros, there isn’t much information in surviving sources, and even what information there should be assumed to be only a fraction of the beliefs that once existed.

A Christian-like concept of the afterlife can be found described in some ancient Greek writings, however, which has probably led to some of the irritating misconceptions of the modern age.  I came across one such description in the mouth of Nestor in Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica, which I thought was the Christian influence on Quintus, but according to the translator’s notes on the new(ish) translation, it isn’t.  Quintus was echoing Plato’s Republic, and given what I know of Socrates’ and Aristotle’s beliefs, that does make perfect sense.  However, that Christian-like afterlife was utterly without the presence of the traditional Greek gods, or at least without their strong presence.  (That was, after all, the excuse used by the Athenians to put Socrates to death, saying that he taught the worship of gods other than those of Athens.)  So while the Platonic concept of the afterlife may have contributed to the modern malignant reputation of Hades and his realm, it’s unlikely to have been the primary factor.

The primary cause is most likely interference by the Medieval and Renaissance scholars who were passing along the mythic material in the intervening years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the modern era.  (Similar to what happened to Loki’s reputation, when the illiterate Vikings converted to Christianity, and some few versions of the old tales were written down with alterations and amendments by the priests recording them.)  That and Hollywood’s tendency to dumb down everything to make it more easily understood by the stoned monkeys the executives think the masses are.  (Okay, maybe that was a little harsh…)

Okay, I feel like there’s still more I need to say here, but it’s getting quite late, and I’m starting to lose focus.  (Literally and figuratively; my eyes need a rest….)  So if I think of the way this should have ended, I’ll come back to fix it up later.  Otherwise, I’ll leave it here for now, except to say that I plan to return to the topic of Hades in later posts, not just discussing his primary myths, but actually writing them out.  (I actually wrote most of the first one yesterday.  It’s got a bit of a children’s book tone to it, unlike my usual writing.)

“Book of Life” and NaNo countdown…

Published October 31, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

So, instead of hanging out at my parents’ place to avoid trick-or-treaters, I went to my parents’ place and then we all went to see a movie, specifically “Book of Life.”  Which turned out to be completely awesome!  As usual, the people making the trailers had no idea how to market it, so they made trailers for a different, much lesser movie.  Though I’ve seen trailers that were even more misrepresentational, but the “Book of Life” trailers were still pretty far off.  Especially since they made out like Ice Cube’s role (which was barely more than a cameo, really) to be one of the central parts of the film.  I think that was because his character made the marketing people feel comfortable, because he was so very modern USA, whereas everyone else was very much 19th century-ish Mexico.  That made the character jarring to me, personally, all the more so since he–being made of wax–was very fluid and rounded, whereas all the other characters were wooden puppets or skeletons, and thus very disjointed, and many of them possessing corners as well.

In any case, the story itself was sweet, charming, and much more complex than the trailers would have had us believe.  Two things especially stand out that the trailer fell short on.  One was the rival character, Joaquin.  The trailer made it sound like he was entirely flat and purely antagonistic, like Beauty and the Beast‘s Gaston, only even more hollow and pointless.  In truth, he’s the hero’s life-long best friend, and their rivalry over the heroine was tearing them apart both as friends and within.  Okay, sure, it’s still a standard situation, but it’s a lot more interesting.  The other place the trailer fell short was the fact that it didn’t even show the two rulers of the two distinct realms of the afterlife, La Muerta (or was it Muertilla?) and Xibalba.  For that matter, I’m not sure the trailer even showed the worse afterlife, the Land of the Forgotten, at all.  Xibalba was particularly interesting to me, because that’s the name of the Mayan afterlife.  When I next get a chance, I need to look up the Day of the Dead, and see if there is a tradition of an unpleasant ruling character named Xibalba.  That would be really fascinating from an anthropological standpoint.

Anyway, being who I am, I couldn’t help but see certain parallels to Greek myths.  I can’t talk about the Orpheus parallel I saw, because it’s a spoiler, coming from very late in the picture, but I think it’s safe to talk about the one I saw in Xibalba and La Muerta:  as they’re apparently estranged lovers (or spouses?) they immediately put me in mind of Hades and Persephone, though obviously very inaccurately so, since Hades and Persephone are never estranged as such (though they are often parted, except according to the Odyssey poet) and Hades rules over the regular afterlife, not Tartaros.  (In fact, sometimes someone else entirely has control over Tartaros, and it’s entirely out of Hades’ control.)  Overall, despite that Xibalba is a bit the villain of the piece, he still gets a better shake than any other ruler of a “bad” afterlife I’ve ever seen in a movie.

In any case, before I change the subject, let me just say that if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen it, you should go see it!  Go on Nov. 2nd, the Day of the Dead.  That would be appropriate.

There was a funny bit during the trailers that I want to point out.  Two trailers ran back to back with deliciously appropriate timing.  The first was one of those “inspiring real-life stories,” in this case one about students trying to build robots.  Then the very next trailer begins with a video log of a young man building a robot; it was a new (or at least one I hadn’t seen before) trailer for “Big Hero 6.”  The combination was quite funny.  That movie about the students trying to build robots, though…it’s called “Spare Parts.”  I can’t…I can’t take it.  “Spare Parts.”  I know why they picked it, and I’m sure it’s the “right” title for the picture, but….I associate that title with something very different.

You see, I’m a “Doctor Who” fan, right?  (In fact, I’m watching “The Moonbase” right now.  I was at a local used store that was having a “buy 2 get 1 free” sale, and found it used.  Probably sold back by the same person who sold back “Web of Fear” and “Enemy of the World.”  I can understand selling back “Web of Fear” since the most important episode is still missing, and the visual effects were a bit lack-luster, but selling back “Enemy of the World?”  I just don’t get it!  I’d say it’s one of the best of Troughton’s entire run!)  Anyway, Big Finish Audio has been putting out audio “Doctor Who” adventures for some time.  And one of the fifth Doctor adventures was called “Spare Parts,” and it’s one of the best and most intense Cyberman stories ever.

Ah…still an hour to go before NaNo begins!

Dang, I want to get writing!  I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time now!

I guess I’ll post another excerpt of Ilios to deviantART while I’m waiting…

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