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Friday, 16 December 2011

God Hades and Persephone

                                                            Edited, Jan. 16, 2012

HADES (PLUTO)  was the King of the Underworld, the god of death and the dead. He presided over funeral rites and defended the right of the dead to due burial. Hades was also the god of the hidden wealth of the earth, from the fertile soil with nourished the seed-grain, to the mined wealth of gold, silver and other metals.
Hades was devoured by Cronus  as soon as he was born, along with four of his siblings. Zeus later caused the Titan to disgorge them, and together they drove the Titan gods from heaven and locked them away in the pit of Tartarus. When the three victorious brothers then drew lots for the division of the cosmos, Hades received the third portion, the dark dismal realm of the underworld, as his domain.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 4 - 6 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"He [Cronus] then married his sister Rhea. Because both Ge (Earth) and Uranus (Heaven) had given him prophetic warning that his rule would be overthrown by a son of his own, he took to swallowing his children at birth. He swallowed his first-born daughter Hestia, then Demeter and Hera, and after them Pluto [Hades] and Poseidon . . .

Caravaggio, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto
Hades was depicted as a dark-bearded, regal god. He was depicted as either Aidoneus, enthroned in the underworld, holding a bird-tipped scepter, or as Pluto, the giver of wealth, pouring fertility from a cornucopia. The Romans named him Dis, or Pluto, the Latin form of his Greek title Pluto, "the Lord of Riches."

Agostino Carracci, Hades 


Hades was invoked and propitiated in the magic of Necromancy, the summoning forth of the ghosts of the dead. Hades and Persephone presided over the oracles of the dead (nekromanteia) and the rites of necromancy (necromancy), the summoning of the ghosts of the dead.


Odysseus was instructed in the art of necromancy by the witch Circe so that he might commune with the prophetic ghost of the seer Teiresias. According to the author of the Odyssey the rites were performed on the borders of the Underworld. Later authors, however, say that Odysseus visited the Nekromanteion (Oracle of the Dead) at Cumae in southern Italy.

Witches such as Medea were practitioners of the necromantic rites. Medea employs these powers in a spell to restore youth to Aeson. 

Ovid, Metamorphoses 7. 242 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Medea uses her magic to restore Aeson's youth :] Two turf altars she built [for the ritual], the right to Hecate, the left to Juventas [Hebe, the goddess of Youth], wreathed with the forest’s mystic foliage, and dug two trenches in the ground beside and then performed her rites. Plunging a knife into a black sheep’s throat she drenched the wide ditches with blood; next from a chalice poured a stream of wine and from a second chalice warm frothing milk and, chanting magic words, summoned the Deities of Earth (Numina Terrena) and prayed the sad shades’ monarch (Rex Umbrarum) [Hades] and his stolen bride [Persephone] that, of their mercy, from old Aeson’s frame they will not haste to steal the breath of life . . . [and she then applied her potions to the body of the man.] And Aeson woke and marveled as he saw his prime restored of forty years before."

 Hades & Cerberus in museum of Archeology in Crete


Hades was regarded as the master of dreams, especially those believed to have been sent forth by the ghosts of the dead. The two-doored gate of the dreams (false and true) was said to lie in Hades' realm.

Homer, Odyssey 24. 12 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"So did these ghosts travel on together squeaking, while easeful Hermes led them down through the ways of dankness. They passed the streams of Oceanus, the White Rock, the Gates of the Sun and the Land of Dreams, and soon they came to the field of asphodel, where the souls, the phantoms of the dead have their habitation."

Hades is a son of Cronus and Rhea, and a brother of Zeus and Poseidon. He was married to Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. In the division of the world among the three brothers, Hades obtained "the darkness of night," the abode of the shades, over which he rules. (Apollod. i. 1. § 5, 2. § 1.) Hence he is called the infernal Zeus (Zeus katachthonios), or the king of the shades (anae enerôn, Hom. Il. ix. 457, xx. 61. xv. 187, &c.).

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 29 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Pluto [Hades] fell in love with Persephone, and with Zeus’ help secretly kidnapped her. Demeter roamed the earth over in search of her, by day and by night with torches. When she learned from the Hermionians that Pluto [Hades] had kidnapped her, enraged at the gods she left the sky, and in the likeness of a woman made her way to Eleusis . . .
When Zeus commanded Pluto to send Kore [Persephone] back up, Pluto gave her a pomegranate seed to eat, as assurance that she would not remain long with her mother. With no foreknowledge of the outcome of her act, she consumed it. Askalaphos, the son of Akheron and Gorgyra, bore witness against her, in punishment for which Demeter pinned him down with a heavy rock in Hades’ realm. But Persephone was obliged to spend a third of each year with Pluto, and the remainder of the year among the gods." 
 Hades (right-hand side) and Persephone (left-hand side). Detail from an Attic red-figure amphora, ca. 470 BC. From Italy.
 Hades abducts Persephone in his chariot. One of her Nymphs cowers in fright. C4th BC
 The rape of Persephone: Hades (on the right) leaves his chariot driven by a winged Erinye; Persephone (unseen here) tries to escape. Side B of a loutrophoros made of fired and painted clay in Apulia (Magna Graecia), by the red-figure technique, between 330 and 320 BC approx.


Rubens, Pluto Taking Proserpine

 Joseph Heintz the Elder, The rape of Proserpine

Grands appartements du Château de Versaille
 Abduction of Proserpine on a Unicorn, Albrecht Durer

Giuseppe Scolari, Rape of Proserpina

Pluto and Proserpina

Hades was usually regarded as an infertile god, for a god of the dead should, by his very nature, be incapable of siring children.

In Orphic myth, it is heavenly Zeus rather than Hades who impregnates Persephone, sometimes in the guise of an earthly dragon, sometimes in the form of her own husband.

Melinoe was a chthonian goddess identified with Hecate. In Orphic myth she was born when Persephone was seduced by Zeus in the guise of her husband Hades.
 Rape of Proserpina

Parc de Versailles, Rape of Proserpina

 Hades returns Persephone to the upper world in his chariot, accompanied by Hermes and Hecate. The gods have their usual attributes: Hades a bird-tipped staff, Hermes a herald's wand, winged boots and petasos cap, and Hecate a four-headed Eleusinian torch.  ca 350 BC

 Leighton depicts Hermes helping Persephone to return to her mother Demeter after Zeus forced Hades to return Persepone.

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5.68.1 :
"Now she [Demeter] discovered the corn before she gave birth to her daughter Persephone, but after the birth of her daughter and the rape of her by Pluto [Hades], she burned all the fruit of the corn, both because of her anger at Zeus and because of her grief over her daughter. After she had found Persephone, however, she became reconciled with Zeus and gave Triptolemos the corn to sow, instructing him both to share the gift with men everywhere and to teach them everything concerned with the labor of sowing."

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Proserpine/Persephone

Detail of Haides seated in his palace from a painting depicting Orpheus' journey to the Underworld. The god wields a bird-tipped staff.  ca 330 - 310 BC

 Detail of the palace of Haides from a painting depicting Orpheus' journey to the Underworld. Haides sits enthroned in the palace beside a standing Persephone, who holds a four-headed Eleusinian torch. ca 330 - 310 BC

 Detail from a painting of Orpheus in the Underworld. In the centre Haides and Persephone sit enthroned on a couch. The god holds a bird-tipped staff, and the goddess a four-tipped Eleusinian torch. To their right stands Hekate, dressed as a huntress holding twin torches. ca 320 BC

When Orpheus came to the underworld seeking the return of his dead love Eurydike, Haides and Persephone were moved by his pleas and agreed to let her return.

                                                             Jan Bruegel

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 14 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When his [Orpheus'] wife Eurydike died from a snake-bite, Orpheus descended into Haides’ realm with the desire to bring her back up to earth, and persuade Plouton [Hades] to release her. Plouton promised to do this if on the return trip Orpheus would not turn round before reaching his own home. But he disobeyed, and turned to look at his wife, who thereupon went back down again."

     Gerard de Lairesse,The Descent to the Underworld of Orpheus

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 7 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Orpheus . . . was passionately devoted to music. It is thought that by his skill he could charm even wild beasts to listen. When, grieving for his wife Eurydice, he descended to the Lower World, he praised the children of the gods in his song."

  Francois Perrier,

 Orpheus in front of Pluto (Hades) and Proserpina
  Charon's Boat - or - the Ghosts of "all the Talents" taking their last voyage, - from the Pope's Gallery at Rome / .
A group of naked British Whig politicians, including three Grenvilles, Sheridan, St. Vincent, Moira, Temple, Erskine, Howick, Petty, Whitbread, Sheridan, Windham,and Tomline, Bishop of Lincoln, crossing the river Styx in a boat named the Broad Bottom Packet. Sidmouth's head emerges from the water next to the boat. The boat's torn sail has inscription "Catholic Emancipation" and the center mast is crowned with the Prince of Wales feathers and motto "Ich Dien". On the far side the shades of Cromwell, Charles Fox and Robespierre wave to them. Overhead, on brooms, are the Three Fates; to the left a three-headed dog. Above the boat three birds soil the boat and politicians.

Many of the myths of the Underworld focus on certain individuals who suffer eternal punishments for their misdeeds; there is a recurrent theme among them of an endless, repetitive task, performed for eternity.

The fifty daughters of Danaüs, whose names are given by Apollodorus (ii. 1. § 5) and Hyginus (Fab. 170), though they are not the same in both lists. They were betrothed to the fifty sons of Aegyptus, but were compelled by their father to promise him to kill their husbands, in the first night, with the swords which he gave them. They fulfilled their promise, and cut off the heads of their husbands with the exception of Hypermnestra alone, who was married to Lynceus, and who spared his life. (Pind. Nem. x. 7.) According to some accounts, Amymone and Bebryce also did not kill their husbands. (Schol. ad Pind. Pyth. ix. 200; Eustath. ad Dionys. Perieg. 805.) Hypermnestra was punished by her father with imprisonment, but was afterwards restored to her husband Lynceus. The Danaïdes buried the corpses of their victims, and were purified from their crime by Hermes and Athena at the command of Zeus. Danaüs afterwards found it difficult to obtain husbands for his daughters, and he invited men to public contests, in which his daughters were given as prizes to the victors (Pind. Pyth. ix. 117.) Pindar mentions only forty-eight Danaïdes as having obtained husbands in this manner, for Hypermnestra and Amymone are not included, since the former was already married to Lynceus and the latter to Poseidon. Pausanias (vii. 1. § 3. Comp. iii. 12. § 2; Herod. ii. 98) mentions, that Automate and Scaea were married to Architeles and Archander, the sons of Achaeus. According to the Scholiast on Euripides (Hecub. 886), the Danaïdes were killed by Lynceus together with their father. Notwithstanding their purification mentioned in the earlier writers, later poets relate that the Danaides were punished for their crime in Hades by being compelled everlastingly to pour water into a vessel full of holes. (Ov. Met. iv. 462, Heroid. xiv.; Horat. Carm. iii. 11. 25; Tibull. i. 3. 79; Hygin. Fab. 168; Serv. ad Aen. x. 497.) 

                                       The Danaides, by John William Waterhouse 

                                                  John Singer Sargent

One of the most important works of Roman literature is Vergil's Aeneid, the story which traces the mythical quest of Aeneas, a survivor of the Trojan war who was destined to start a kingdom in Italy, which would one day become the Roman empire. One of the most interesting chapters of the Aeneid concerns his journey through the Underworld, seeking the spirit of his father Anchises, a character introduced in section four, as one of Aphrodite's few mortal lovers.

Crespi, Aeneas, escorted by the priestess known as the Sibyl of Cumae, as they board Charon's ferry

The Cumaean Sibyl guided Aeneas to the Underworld through the Oracle of the Dead near Cumae. Virgil's account of the story is partially quoted here.

"The Sibyl [performing the rites of necromancy at the oracle of the dead at Cumae] first lined up four black-skinned bullocks, poured a libation wine upon their foreheads, and then, plucking the topmost hairs from between their brows, she placed these on the altar fires as an initial offering, calling aloud upon Hecate, powerful in heaven and hell. While other laid their knives to these victim’s throats, and caught the fresh warm blood in bowls, Aeneas sacrifices a black-fleeced lamb to Nox (Night), the mother of the Furiae, and her great sister, Terra (earth), and a barren heifer to Proserpine. Then he [Aeneas] set up altars by night to the god of the Underworld [Hades], laying upon the flames whole carcases of bulls and pouring out rich oil over the burning entrails. But listen! - at the very first crack of dawn, the ground underfoot began to mutter, the woody ridges to quake, and a baying of hounds was heard through the half-light: the goddess was coming, Hecate. [a path then opened up for the Sibyl & Aeneas to travel down to Hades]." - Virgil, Aeneid 6.257

To view Sibyl of Cumae click here

 Alexandre Ubeleski, Aeneas and Anchises in Hades.

 Pieter Bruegel, depicting Aeneas and the Sibyl

              Michelangelo's "Last Judgement" in the Sistine Chapel

To view Michelangelo's  Last Judgement click here