Hades – God of the Dead and King of the Underworld

Affiliate Disclosures

Hades is the Greek god of the dead as well as the king of the underworld. He is so well known that his name is used synonymously with the underworld and you will often see references to the underworld simply calling it Hades.

Hades is the oldest son of Cronus and Rhea. Hades, along with his younger brother, Poseidon, and three older sisters, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera, was swallowed by their father to prevent any of his children challenging his power and overthrowing him. They grew to adulthood inside of him. When Hades’ youngest sibling Zeus was born, their mother Rhea hid him away so he would not be swallowed. Eventually, Zeus forced Cronus to regurgitate his brothers and sisters, including Hades. Afterwards, all the gods and their allies banded together to challenge the Titans (including their father) for power, which resulted in a war that lasted for a decade before the Olympian gods were victorious.

Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades divided up the world into three realms over which they would rule: Zeus was given the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld.

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Editor's Top Picks
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Last update was on: October 15, 2021 4:38 pm

Who is Hades?

Hades is depicted in Greek mythology as being generally more altruistic than his brethren, rather than “evil” as his association with death may connotate to some. He differs from his brothers immensely as he was often seen as passive and somewhat cold and even stern, rather than easily impassioned and lustful. He held all of the subjects of his undead kingdom in equal standing and didn’t pick favorites.

Hades’ strictest rule was that his subjects could not leave the underworld, and anyone who tried was subject to his rage. Additionally, Hades was not fond of those who attempted to cheat death or steal from him.

Many Greek heroes end up venturing into the underworld, each for their own reasons. Seen as one of the most treacherous places a hero could enter, those who entered did so at their own risk and many never returned from it.

Hades was seen as fearsome, and those who worshipped him tended to avoid swearing oaths upon his name or even saying his name at all. He was considered to control all of the precious minerals as they were found “under” the earth and therefore came from his domain.

Black animals were sacrificed to him (sheep specifically), and their blood dripped into a pit dug into the ground while the worshipped averted their eyes and hid their face.

Hades is mentioned several times in the Christian New Testament. Later translations interprets this as simply Hell.

The Abduction of Persephone

The most famous story involving Hades is the abduction of Persephone. The goddess Persephone was out in a field picking flowers, when the earth opened up and from the chasm Hades emerged in his chariot pulled by fierce black horses. He grabbed Persephone and took her with him back to the underworld.

Persephone’s mother, Demeter, searched the entire earth for her daughter and when she couldn’t find her, she fell into a dark despair. As a result, there was a devastating famine as Demeter prevented crops from growing in the barren land.

Zeus eventually asked Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to go down to the underworld and convince Hades to return Persephone to her mother. Hades received Hermes and his message and relented, readying his chariot to return Persephone to earth. Before they left, however, he gave Persephone a pomegranate seed to eat. In some versions, Persephone was given twelve pomegranate seeds, of which she ate six. The rule was that anyone who had tasted the food of the underworld would be forever bound to it. Because she had eaten the seeds, Persephone was required to return every year for six months.

Demeter, upon seeing her daughter, released her hold on the earth’s crops and allows them to flourish once again. This story can be seen as an allegory for the seasons, as the land is verdant and abundant during the spring and summer, when Persephone is with Demeter. But when  Persephone is away in the underworld with Hades, the earth is cold and barren.

Stories Involving Hades

Sisyphus

Sisyphus was the king of Corinth (at the time known as Ephyra) and was punished after death for his immoral and corrupt ways. He was known for using his intelligence for evil, plotting to kill his brother Salmoneus, and even cheating death by binding Thanatos, the god of death, with his own chains.

This incensed Hades as he believed Sisyphus was directly disrespecting him and his authority over the souls of the dead. The punishment for Sisyphus’ deceit was to forever be tasked with rolling a gigantic boulder up a hill in Hades, only to have it inevitably roll back down the hill before he reached the summit.

As a result of Thanatos’ confinement, nobody on earth could die, which angered Ares, the god of war, who believed that all of his battles were no longer entertaining as his opponents could not die. Ares eventually freed Thanatos and people once again were able to die.

Pirithous and Theseus

Pirithous and Theseus were best friends as well as children of gods and mortal women. They believed that the only women befitting of their divine heritage were daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose the young Helen of Troy (who would have been around seven or ten at the time) while Pirithous chose Persephone.

Hades learned of their plan to kidnap his wife, so he offered them hospitality with a feast. Pirithous and Theseus accepted, but when they sat down, snakes appeared and wrapped themselves around their feet—trapping them. Eventually, Theseus was rescued by the hero Heracles but Pirithous was forever trapped in the underworld as punishment.

Asclepius

Asclepius was a mortal hero later transformed into the god of medicine. He is the son of Apollo and often represents the healing aspect of the medical sciences.  While mortal, he gained the ability to bring back the dead from the underworld, which according to some myths, skills he himself used to keep himself alive.

Eventually, Hades discovered this and complained to Zeus that his rightful subjects were being stolen and that Asclepius must be stopped. Zeus agreed and killed Asclepius with his thunderbolts only to later resurrect him as the god of healing and give him a place on Mount Olympus.

Heracles

Cerberus hades Greek myth
Cerberus – The Three-Headed Dog

One of Heracles’ final labors was to capture Hades’ three-headed guard dog: Cerberus. Heracles learned how to enter and exit the underworld while remaining alive and then descended into its depths through an entrance at Taenarum. The goddess Athena and the god Hermes both aided Heracles on his journey. In the end, Heracles simply asked Hades’ permission to take Cerberus and Hades gave it under the condition that Heracles didn’t hurt his loyal guard dog.

Symbols of Hades

Hades is represented by several symbols. These include:

  • Cornucopia
  • Keys – thought to be the key to the gates of the underworld
  • Serpent
  • White poplar
  • Screech owl
  • Black horse – Hades often travelled in a chariot drawn by four black horses
  • Pomegranate
  • Sheep
  • Cattle
  • In addition to these, he also has the cap of invisibility, also called the Helm of Hades, which renders the wearer invisible. Hades lends this to Perseus, who uses it on his quest to behead Medusa.
  • Hades is also sometimes depicted with Cerberus, his three-headed dog, next to him.
Who is hades

Hades vs. Thanatos

Hades wasn’t the god of death, but simply the god of the underworld and of the dead. The god of death was Thanatos, brother of Hypnos. Many get this confused, believing Hades to be the god of death.

Hades in Roman Mythology

Hades’ counterpart in Roman mythology is a combination of the Roman gods Dis Pater and Orcus as they were merged into Pluto. To the Romans, the word “pluto” was also synonymous with the underworld just as “hades” was to the Greeks.

The root of the name Pluto means “wealthy” and more elaborate versions of the name also existed which could be translated as “giver of wealth,” all of which can be seen as a direct reference to both Hades and Pluto’s association with precious minerals and wealth.

Hades in Modern Times

Depictions of Hades can be found all over modern pop culture. He is often used as an antagonist because of his association with the dead and the underworld, despite the fact that in Greek mythology these associations do not make him evil.

In many properties, the character of Hades makes an explicit appearance. Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson, however, does subvert the idea that Hades is always evil. In the first book of the series, Hades is framed by a demigod as having stolen Zeus’ thunderbolts despite having nothing to do with it. Later, once the truth is discovered, he is given begrudging apologies by those who jumped to assume his guilt.

In the popular Disney animated film, Hercules, Hades is the main antagonist and he tries to overthrow Zeus and rule the world. Throughout the story he attempts to kill Hercules to maintain his own power.

Many video games take inspiration from the king of the underworld, and he appears as a character in the God of War video game series, the Kingdom Hearts series, Age of Mythology, as well as many others. However, he is often portrayed as being evil.

A species of blind, burrowing snake, Gerrhopilus hades, is named for him. It is a thin, forest-dwelling creature that can be found in Papua New Guinea.

Lessons from Hade’s Story

  • The Judge- Eventually, everybody ends up in the kingdom of Hades. Regardless of whether they were rich or poor, cruel or kind, all mortals are faced with a final judgement once they reach the underworld. In a kingdom where the bad are punished and the good are rewarded, Hades rules over them all.
  • The Easy Villain- In many modern-day interpretations, Hades is scapegoated and turned into the villain despite his role in Greek mythology, where he appears just and typically stayed out of everybody’s business. In this way, it’s easy to see how people often make the assumption that someone is cruel or evil merely because of surface level associations with unhappy things (like death).

Hades Facts

1- Who are Hades’ parents?

Hades’ parents are Cronus and Rhea.

2- Who are Hades’ siblings?

His siblings are the Olympian gods Zeus, Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Chiron and Zeus.

3- Who is Hades’ consort?

Hades’ consort is Persephone, whom he abducted.

4- Does Hades have children?

Hades had two children – Zagreus and Macaria. However, some myths state that Melinoe, Plutus and the Erinyes are also his children.

5- What is Hades’ Roman equivalent?

Hades’ Roman equivalents are Dis Pater, Pluto and Orcus.

6- Was Hades evil?

Hades was the ruler of the underworld, but he wasn’t necessarily evil. He’s portrayed as being just and meting out punishment as deserved. He could, however, be stern and merciless.

7- Where does Hades live?

He lived in the underworld, often called Hades.

8- Is Hades the god of death?

No, the god of death is Thanatos. Hades is the god of the underworld and of the dead (not of death).

9- What was Hades the god of?

Hades is the god of the underworld, of the death and of riches.

Summing Up

Although he is the god of the dead and the somewhat gloomy underworld, Hades is far from the evil and conniving figure that current day story tellers would have you believe. Instead, he was considered fair when judging the deeds of the dead and often much more evenly-keeled compared to his rowdy and vengeful brothers.