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Who is Hades?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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While many people tend to think of Hades as a place of punishment, Greek mythology has a completely different application for the term. Traditionally, he is understood to be the Greek god who eventually won the right to be named the god of the underworld, and the chief caretaker of the abode of the dead.

According to the legends of the Greeks, ancient beings known as the Titans were originally in control of all known creation. Three brothers — Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades — challenged their sovereign rule, and determined that they were to be the rightful rulers of the underworld, the sky, and the sea. The brothers engaged in war with the Titans, eventually defeating them. At this juncture, the victors chose to assume specific areas that each brother would oversee. Hades chose the task of overseeing the underworld, and ruling over the spirits of those who had died and crossed over into the next life.

Hades has sometimes been portrayed as a fearsome figure, designed to strike terror into the hearts of men. Within this version, the god is one who is ready to punish the wicked for the lightest infraction, and delights in administering justice that is not tempered with mercy. Often, this concept was used to bring people who were involved in activities that were considered on the fringe of acceptable traditions and morals to abandon those practices, and engage in rites that were meant to win the favor of all the gods.

At other times, Hades has been portrayed as the merciful and just ruler of the underworld, seeing to the needs of both those dwelling in a state of happiness and paradise, as well as those who have been damned. This concept is sometimes attributed to reading between the lines in the tales of Greek mythology, especially in instances when the god appears to offer persons a chance to step back and reverse a wrong action taken.

Generally feared but often considered among the most powerful of all the gods, Hades was worshiped by many people, often with an eye to appeasing the god and ensuring a more pleasant place in the world to come. To this end, families often established an altar in the home in order to honor him, as well as gathering in temples to offer appropriate offerings to the god.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Language & Humanities, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon924909 — On Jan 08, 2014

@bluedolphin: Because, when Cronos was thrown out, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades rolled dice to see which domain they got. It's not like they could choose. Otherwise, there would have been another war. That's how Zeus got the sky, Poseidon got the sea, and Hades was stuck with the underworld. In what I have read, the reason he is only mean, cold and dark is because he was jealous of his brothers.

By bluedolphin — On Oct 28, 2012

If Hades is good and merciful, why did they make him the villain in the Disney movie Hercules? That's not fair.

By serenesurface — On Oct 27, 2012

@anon297894-- There are a few statues of Hades in various museums in Greece. In these depictions, Hades looks like a regular man, much like any other Greek man would have been depicted at that time.

The statue of him that I saw in a museum in Crete depicted him with longer hair and a beard, holding a stick in his hand. He also had Cerberus next to him. Cerberus is the three-headed dog that guards the underworld. His duty is to watch the gates of the underworld for Hades to make sure that no one leaves.

By ZipLine — On Oct 26, 2012

I find Greek mythology kind of confusing because nothing seems to be written in stone, it all seems relative. Like, different people could have very different ideas about Hades and how he is and what he does.

There are interpretations in all religious and spiritual belief systems. But Greek mythology seems more uncertain to me. I don't understand why the Greeks didn't establish a single concept of Hades so that people believed the same thing.

By anon297894 — On Oct 17, 2012

How does Hades look? What are his characteristics? Is he handsome? Ugly, etc.?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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