#Greek Underworld Info#
(Called the Underworld, because it is in the sunless regions under the earth…
Hades’ realm (or Hades) because the Underworld was Hades’ third of the cosmos, just as the sea was the god Poseidon’s (Neptune, to the Romans) and the sky, the god Zeus’ (Jupiter, to the Romans).
There were five main rivers that appear both in the real world and the underworld. Their names were meant to reflect the emotions associated with death.
(A rite used to summon and question qhosts.)
The Styx is generally considered to be one of the most prominent and central rivers of the Underworld and is also the most widely known out of all the rivers. It is known as the river of hatred and is named after the goddess Styx. This river circles the underworld seven times.
The Acheron is the river of pain. It is the river that Charon, also known as the Ferryman, rows the dead over according to many mythological accounts, though sometimes it is the river Styx or both
The Lethe is the river of forgetfulness. It is associated with the goddess Lethe, the goddess of forgetfulness and oblivion. In later accounts a poplar branch dripping with water of the Lethe became the symbol of Hypnos, the god of sleep
The Phlegethon is the river of fire. According to Plato, this river led to the depths of Tartarus.
The Cocytus is the river of wailing.
Tartarus is not considered to be directly a part of the underworld, it is described as being as far beneath the underworld as the earth is beneath the sky. It is so dark that the “night is poured around it in three rows like a collar round the neck, while above it grow the roots of the earth and of the unharvested sea.” Tartarus is the place that Zeus cast the Titans along with his father Cronus after defeating them. Homer wrote that Cronus then became the king of Tartarus. While Odysseus does not see them himself, he mentions some of the people within the underworld who are experiencing punishment for their sins.
The Fields of Punishment was a place for those who had created havoc on the world and committed crimes specifically against the gods. Hades himself would make the individual’s punishment of eternal suffering based on their specific crime. Prometheus, the titan of forethought who created mortals and gave them fire, was chained to a mountain with an eagle feeding on his regenerating liver until Heracles cut his bonds so he could go free.
The Asphodel Meadows was a place for ordinary or indifferent souls who did not commit any significant crimes, but who also did not achieve any greatness or recognition that would warrant them being admitted to the Elysian Fields. It was where mortals who did not belong anywhere else in the Underworld were sent.
The Vale of Mourning is where those who were consumed by unhappy love dwell.
Elysium was a place for the especially distinguished. It was ruled over by Rhadamanthus, and the souls that dwelled there had an easy afterlife and had no labors. Usually, those who had proximity to the gods were granted admission, rather than those who were especially righteous or had ethical merit. Heroes such as Kadmos, Peleus, and Achilles also were transported here after their deaths. Normal people who lived righteous and virtuous lives could also gain entrance such as Socrates who proved his worth sufficiently through philosophy.
The Isles of the Blessed were islands in the realm of Elysium. When a soul achieved Elysium, they had a choice to either stay in Elysium or to be reborn. If a soul was reborn three times and achieved Elysium all three times, then they were sent to the Isles of the Blessed to be sentenced to eternal paradise.
According to Greek mythology, the islands were reserved for those who had chosen to be reincarnated thrice, and managed to be judged as especially pure enough to gain entrance to the Elysian Fields all three times. Feature of the fortunate islands is the connection with the god Cronus; the cult of Cronus had spread and connected to Sicily, in particular in the area near Agrigento where it was revered and in some areas associated with the cult of the phoenician god Baal.
Flavius Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana (v.2) says, “And they also say that the Islands of the Blessed are to be fixed by the limits of Libya where they rise towards the uninhabited promontory.” In this geography Libya was considered to extend westwards through Mauretania “as far as the mouth of the river Salex, some nine hundred stadia, and beyond that point a further distance which no one can compute, because when you have passed this river Libya is a desert which no longer supports a population.”
Plutarch, who refers to the “fortunate isles” several times in his writings, locates them firmly in the Atlantic in his vita of Sertorius. Sertorius, when struggling against a chaotic civil war in the closing years of the Roman Republic, had tidings from mariners of certain islands a few days’ sail from Hispania:
“ …where the air was never extreme, which for rain had a little silver dew, which of itself and without labour, bore all pleasant fruits to their happy dwellers, till it seemed to him that these could be no other than the Fortunate Islands, the Elysian Fields. ”
It was from these men that Sertorius learned facts so beguiling that he made it his life’s ambition to find the islands and retire there.
“ The islands are said to be two in number separated by a very narrow strait and lie 10,000 furlongs ( 2,000 kilometers / 1,250 miles ) from Africa. They are called the Isles of the Blessed. […]
Moreover an air that is salubrious, owing to the climate and the moderate changes in the seasons, prevails on the islands. The North and East winds which blow out from our part of the world plunge into fathomless space and, owing to the distance, dissipate themselves and lose their power before they reach the islands, while the South and West winds that envelop the islands sometimes bring in their train soft and intermittent showers, but for the most part cool them with moist breezes and gently nourish the soil. Therefore a firm belief has made its way, even to the barbarians, that here are the Elysian Fields and the abode of the Blessed of which Homer sang.
Pliny the Elder’s Natural History adds to the obligate description— that they “abound in fruit and birds of every kind”— the unexpected detail “These islands, however, are greatly annoyed by the putrefying bodies of monsters, which are constantly thrown up by the sea”.
Ptolemy used these islands as the reference for the measurement of geographical longitude and they continued to play the role of defining the prime meridian through the Middle Ages. Modern geography names these islands as Macaronesia.
Lucio Russo in L’ America dimenticata puts forward the bold hypothesis that the Fortunate Isles were actually the Lesser Antilles and that Hipparchus knew their longitude with remarkable precision.