Nov. 15th, 2010
To Hell and Back
The thought of life after death and the underworld are a very common thread in most
ancient mythologies as well as in the mythology of today’s modern world. What happens after
death and where the souls go are unanswered questions that even the most faithful have
perhaps pondered. According to The Iliad, “The kingdom of the dead lies beneath the secret
places of the earth”. In The Odyssey, the way to it “Leads over the edge of the world” (Homer).
To the ancient Greeks, that kingdom was the underworld, the abode of the dead. In the modern,
Western world societal influences and embedded religious theology have created the concept of
an ethereal heaven and a grim hell. Reincarnation, resurrection even eternal life may also
present themselves in philosophical and religious discourse, yet they are different from the
mortal life. There is no guiding force to follow toward that heavenly goal, and one cannot know
of it until death. The Greeks perceived the underworld as a geographical location, one that both
the living and the dead can venture into.
One of the twelve Olympians, Zeus, defeated Cronos (his father) and divided up the world
between himself and his two brothers. Zeus chose to rule the sky; Poseidon chose the seas,
and Hades the underworld. Hades, whose name means “the unseen,” was the Greek God of the
underworld, a place associated with the west, where the sun sets, the dying of the day. Neither
the Greeks nor the Romans ever thought of Hades as evil, as Christianity refers to Satan,
though he was certainly thought of as a grim and inflexible God. “Worshippers always averted
their eyes when making a sacrifice.” (Cotterell & Storm, 47).
Hades abducted Persephone when she strayed from her companions in a field where she
beheld a beautiful flower. Hades “Rose up through a chasm in the earth” in a chariot drawn by
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