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Chapter 15: Views of the Afterlife: The Realm of Hades
last edited 3-26-04
See Carlos Parada's Map of the Underworld

Details to Know:

from the Nekyia (voyage to Underworld) from Homer's Odyssey Book 11:

crimes/punishments of those punished in Tartarus
(Orion, Tityus, Tantalus, Sisyphus). In all cases, the crime is an act of hubris ("a wanton act of violence") against a god. Regular people who have committed regular "sins" are not separated from the rest of the dead.

from the Myth of Er from Plato's Republic Book 10:

philosophical concepts enter into this picture: Er returns form the dead to tell of what he has seen

- judges determine whether a soul is just or unjust
- righteous ones are marked in the front and set upward; the unjust are marked ont eh back and sent downward
- souls congregate after returning from 1000 years of punishment (from below) or reward (from above) with their memories intact
- idea of after-death compensation for wrongs/good deeds committed during life: "punishments for some and again rewards for others in due proportion"
- those guilty of crimes against parents/gods (always equivalent in Plato) don't come back

Souls that have successfully served their time then move onto the next stage, the spindle of Necessity which turns the spheres of the universe

Each soul chooses by lot his next life - his choose will reflect how much knowledge of good and evil he has. The idea is to work for the Good. A bad choice will result in a bad life. There are many more lives to choose from than souls that need a life, so even if you draw a high number in the lottery, you can still make a good choice.

As it turns out, the souls who had experience suffering in past lives often made better choices than those who previously led fortunate lives and had no knowledge of the "why" behind the "what" - i.e., "they had adopted virtue through habit rather than wisdom".

NB: animals are included here (this gibes with the Pythagorean idea that souls routinely exchange human bodies for animals, and vice versa, depending on their past experiences. Orpheus becomes a swan, Agamemnon an eagle, Thersites (a troublesome Greek soldier) an ape. Odysseus chooses an unremarkable, quiet life (he had had enough trouble). Atalanta chooses to be a male athlete to have the chance to achieve the honor she was denied as a woman.

After being assigned a daimon (a guiding spirit, perhaps akin to our understanding of "conscience", but one that is divinely inspired), the souls get assigned their span of life and drink from the River of Forgetfulness (Lethe). They are then reborn.

For a bit more on the Platonic view of wiping the slate clean before rebirth, see my on-line lecture about this aspect of Greek Philosophy.

from the Nekyia (voyage to Underworld) from Virgil's Aeneid Book 6:

Aeneas must visit the Underworld to get words of wisdom from his father Anchises. He gains access by using the Golden Bough. Aeneas' guide is the Cumena Sibyl (from the cave in Cumae, Sicily, where he enters the underworld). Aeneas finds that his mate Palinurus remains unburied and is stuck on the wrong side of the Styx. He promises to take care of that when he returns to earth.

Elements of Aeneas' trip: Charon, Cerberus, Fields of Mourning (where he sees Dido). Road divides: left path goes to Tartarus (place of punishment, also called Erebus), the right path goes to Elysium (place of reward, also called The Elysian Fields). Know how Tartarus is described, why the Fury Tisiphone is there. Know how shades (souls) are described in Elysium. Know why the specifically mentioned shades end up where they end up.

Anchises explains the mysteries of the universe. Be familiar with them.

Know the following names, terms:

The Three Judges: Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Aeacus.

The Five Rivers: Styx (hate), Acheron (woe), Lethe (oblivion), Cocytus (wailing), and Phlegethon (fire).

The Ferryman Charon.

Hermes Psychopompus, "leader of souls".


Furies: Allecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone are the ones generally associated with the Underworld.

Classical Sufferers in Tartarus Crime Punishment
Tityus tried to rape Hera vulutre eats his liver every day
Ixion   bound to a fiery wheel
Danaids betrayed and killed their husbands must fill leaky vessels - impossible task
Sisyphus tried to defeat Death must roll rock up hill and try to make it stay - impossible task
Tantalus tried to trick gods by serving them the flesh of his son tortured by having food and drink just out of his grasp


Marble group of Hades, Persephone, Cerberus (basement of Heraklion Museum, Crete)