My apologies for the late ‘H’ post; I am very much hoping I can get ‘H’ and ‘I’ both done today. My allocated time yesterday was disrupted by a midwife’s appointment and my head just wasn’t in the right place. Tiredness has really hit me this week and if I have to reschedule things it is very hard to work up the motivation, so I would rather do some decent research and a decent post than one when I am half asleep and my mind is longing for sleep too.
H has brought me to Hades and finally into the realm of Greek mythology, an area that has often grabbed my attention when researching for my book. I have taken inspiration from Greek Gods and Goddesses, although I have never really considered Hades before, which is strange in itself given the nature of the world I have created.
Although Hades is the term for Heaven, I never realised until today that – similar to my research into Chinese heaven – the name actually came from the God who rules the Underworld but has come to refer to both the God of the Dead and the place where he rules. Hades was one of three brothers, including Zeus, to whom the cosmos was divided between and he drew the unlucky straw. Heaven in Greek mythology does not have the same initial splendour that other cultures and religions draw. It is described as a miserable dream, full of shadows, where the dead slowly fade into nothingness.
The underworld is surrounded by a series of rivers – woe, lamentation, hate, fire and forgetfulness – and to cross the dead must pay Charon, the ferryman (therefore, a dead person would have a coin placed in their mouth when they were buried). Anyone who does not pay cannot cross into the underworld and remain trapped between the two worlds. Then when a soul enters the underworld, which is guarded by the three headed dog Cerberus, they are judged by three judges who determine their sentence – the good go to Elysian Fields, the shades of heroes wander aimlessly in the Asphodel Meadows, and the especially bad go to Tarturus, their version of Hell, which is a deep, gloomy part of Hades used for torture.
As a God, Hades was quite passive and just and not evil as many connonations suggest. However, he would be outraged if any soul, or shade, tried to leave his realm, or if anyone tried to steal the souls from him. He was particularly angry with anyone who tried to cheat death. Although particularly feared by the Ancient Greeks, Hades was the God of the Dead, and not the God of Death and so he himself had no control over when people died.
Although the names ‘Elysian Fields’ and ‘Asphodel Meadows’ bring to mind something of beauty, Hades does not really come across as a place to strive for in the afterlife. In a culture where people worshipped gods of just about anything death must have been something feared by the Ancient Greeks. Were they then better at living, focussing more on life itself, and trying to prevent death from passing them by? Given their influence on so many different schools, including medicine – Hippocrates is known as the father of medicine – perhaps this is why. Although I wonder what Hades would have thought of this given his wrath at anyone who tried to cheat death?