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Tartarus: The Abyss of Greek Mythology Explained

In Greek mythology, there was an abyss worse than the underworld. The Tartarus was the bottom of the earth, and it homed the most terrible creatures. The Tartarus was as old as the world itself, and is both a location and a personification. Here’s a closer look.

Tartarus the Deity

According to the myths, Tartarus was one of the primordial deities, also called Protogenoi. He was one of the first gods to exist along with Chaos and Gaia, the primordial goddess of the earth. Tartarus was the god of the abyss with the same name, which was the dark pit of the world. 

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After Uranus, the primordial god of the sky, was born, he and Tartarus gave the universe its form. Uranus was a gigantic bronze dome which represented the skies, and Tartarus was an inverted dome, which matched with Uranus and completed the egg-shaped form.

Offspring of Tartarus

In the myths, the monster Typhon was the son of Tartarus and Gaia. Typhon was a giant monster who once tried to dethrone the Olympians and take control over the universe. The creature did this under the commands of Gaia since she wanted to attack Zeus for imprisoning the Titans in Tartarus. Typhon became the force from which all the storms and hurricanes of the world originated. 

In some accounts, Echidna was also an offspring of Tartarus. Echidna and Typhon were the parents of several Greek monsters, making Tartarus the ancestor of most of the monsters that existed in Greek mythology. 

Tartarus as a Place

After the Olympians dethroned the Titans, Tartarus remained as the abyss of the world, below Hades, the underworld. In this sense, Tartarus isn’t the underworld itself, but a step below the underworld. There were many inhabitants in Tartarus, and many were sentenced to Tartarus as punishment. 

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A Place Worse than Hades

Although Hades was the god of the underworld, three spirit judges of the underworld decided over the destinies of the souls of the dead. The three judges deliberated on each person, considering what people had done in life. They judged if the souls could remain in the underworld or had to be banished. When people had committed unspeakable and horrible crimes, the judges sent them to Tartarus, where the Erinyes and other creatures of the underworld would punish their souls for all eternity.

Besides the criminals whom the three judges sent down to the Tartarus for their punishment, hideous creatures and others who defied the gods were also there. The Tartarus became an essential part of Greek mythology for the horrible criminals, the dangerous monsters, and the war prisoners who had to spend their lives there. 

Tartarus in the Myths

As a deity, Tartarus does not appear in many myths and tragedies. Most authors mention him as the deity of the pit or just as a sheer force, but he does not have an active role. Tartarus as a place, i.e. the abyss, on the other hand, had to do with several stories.

1. The Tartarus and Cronus

As Tartarus was a place below the underworld, it served as the place where the gods imprisoned their most dreadful enemies. When Cronus was the ruler of the universe, he imprisoned the three original Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires in the abyss. Cronus did this because he feared they would overthrow him, similar to how he overthrew Uranus. Zeus and the Olympians freed these creatures, and they helped the gods in their fight for the control of the universe.

2. Tartarus and the Olympians

After the war between the gods and the Titans, Zeus imprisoned the Titans in Tartarus. Tartarus served as a prison for the Olympians, who would imprison their enemies there.

What is tartarus

The Tartarus Outside Greek Mythology

In Roman tradition, Tartarus was the place sinners went to receive their punishment for their actions. The poet Virgil described the Tartarus in one of his tragedies. According to his writing, the Tartarus was a triple-walled space of maximum security so that sinners could not escape. In the middle of the abyss, there was a castle in which the Erinyes lived. From there, they punished those who deserved it. 

People have mostly left aside the idea of Tartarus as a deity. His depictions as the abyss of the universe are the most prominent. In animation movies and entertainment, Tartarus appears as the bottom of the world and the deepest part of it. In some cases, a prison, and in others, a torturing place.

Tartarus Facts

  1. Is Tartarus a place or a person? Tartarus is both a location and a deity, although in later myths, it became more popular as just a location.
  2. Is Tartarus a god? Tartarus is the third primordial deity, coming after Chaos and Gaia.
  3. Who are Tartarus’ parents? Tartarus was born out of Chaos.
  4. Who is Tartarus consort? Gaia was Tartarus’ consort.
  5. Did Tartarus have children? Tartarus had one child with Gaia – Typhon, who was the father of all monsters.

In Brief

Tartarus was an indispensable part of the world in Greek mythology, for it held the most dangerous creatures of the universe and those who committed awful crimes. As a god, Tartarus was the beginning of a long line of monsters who would roam the earth and influence Ancient Greece. For his role in the affairs of the gods, Tartarus was a prominent figure in the myths.

Affiliate Disclosures
Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.