Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 18 April 2024



  • A. Henrichs
  •  and Ellie Mackin Roberts


Hades is the Lord of the Underworld—the realm to which he gives his name—alternatively named Aidoneus, and from the mid-fifth century bce associated with Plouton and Theos (at Eleusis). He is the husband of Persephone and brother of Zeus. He rules over the Underworld but takes no direct control of the dead themselves. He has very minimal cult activity associated with him. His name was thought to mean “invisible” or “unseen one,” perhaps related to his mythic “cap of invisibility,” though there is contention over the linguistic accuracy of this.


  • Greek Myth and Religion

Updated in this version

Article updated to reflect current scholarship. Digital materials added.

Hades (Homeric Ἀΐδης‎, also Ἀϊδωνεύς‎; aspirated Ἅιδης‎ in Attic only), son of Cronus and Rhea (Hes. Theog. 453–456) and husband of Persephone (Hom. Od. 10.491), is “Lord of the dead” (Hom. Il. 20.61) and king of the underworld, the “house of Hades,” where he rules supreme and, exceptionally, administers justice (Aesch. Supp. 228–231; Eum. 273–275).1 After Homer, Hades is not only the god of the dead, but also the god of death, even death personified (Semon. 1.14; Pind. Pyth. 5.96; Nem. 10.67; Isthm. 6.15; Soph. Ant. 581; Eur. Alc. 262).2 Hades refers normally to the person; in non-Attic literature, the word can also designate the underworld (Hom. Il. 23.244; Od. 11.635; Heraclitus fr. 98 DK; Anac. PMG 395 (Bernsdorff); Luke 16:23). Cold, mouldering, and dingy, Hades is a “mirthless place” (Hom. Od. 11.94; Hes. Op. 152–155). The proverbial “road to Hades” (Luc. Catapl. 14) is “the same for all” (Anth. Pal. 7.477.3f.; 11.23.3). Aeacus, son of Zeus, “keeps the keys to Hades” (Apollod. Bibl. 3.12.6; cf. GVI 1906.4; PGM IV 1464f.). The same is said of Pluton (Πλούτων‎) (Paus. 5.20.3), Anubis (love charms from Roman Egypt: PGM IV 341f., 1466f.; Supp. Mag. 2.299 s.v. κλείς‎), and Christ (Rev. 1:18). The “gates of Hades” (Hom. Il. 5.646) are guarded by “the terrible hound” Cerberus, who wags his tail at the new arrivals, but devours those attempting to leave (Hes. Theog. 311–312, 767–773). Hades, too, was sometimes perceived as an eater of corpses (Soph. El. 542–543). Without burial, the dead cannot pass through Hades’ gates (Hom. Il. 23.71–74; Eur. Hec. 28–54). Once inside, they are shrouded in “the darkness of pernicious Hades” (SEG 26.1139.9).

In instances where authors wished to unambiguously refer to Hades the divinity (rather than the location), he was named Aidoneus (Hom. Il; Hom. Hymn Dem.), and in other cases he was referred to by descriptive circumlocutions as “chthonian Zeus” (Il. 9.457), “the chthonian god” (Hes. Theog. 767), “king of those below” (629), “Zeus of the departed” and “the other Zeus” (Aesch. Suppl. 156, 231), “the god below” (Soph. Aj. 571; Eur. Alc. 424), or simply “lord” (Eur. Alc. 852).3 As the Lord of the Dead, he was dark and sinister, a god to be feared and kept at a distance. Paradoxically, he was also believed to “send up” good things for mortals from his wealth below (Ar. fr. 504 K-A; Pl. Cra. 403a3–5).4 He is a “good and prudent god” (Pl. Phd. 80d7). Like the Erinyes/Eumenides (“Angry/Kindly Ones”) and Demeter (“Earth-mother”; cf. Eur. Bacch. 275f.; Derveni papyrus col. 22.7–12), “Hades” may be considered a moniker rather than a name. As in the case of other nameless chthonians, a reluctance to name him may have been precautionary (Pl. Cra. 403a7; with understanding that this text is not a work of eschatology or theology, but a philosophical exercise regarding the etymology of names).

The two opposite but complementary aspects of his divinity are reflected in a host of positive and negative epithets. Of the latter, Hades, “the invisible one” according to ancient etymology (cf. Soph. Aj. 607 ἀΐδηλος Ἅιδας‎, but modern linguists are divided on this), recalls the darkness of his realm. The “wolf’s cap of Hades” (Ἄϊδος κυνέη‎), worn by Athena in the Iliad (5.844f.) and by Aita/Hades in Etruscan art (LIMCHades/Aita” nos. 5–6, 10–12, 21), makes its wearers invisible (Ar. Ach. 390; Pl. Resp. 612b).5 Other negative epithets are “hateful” (Hom. Il. 8.368 στυγερός‎, like the Styx), “implacable and adamant” (Hom. Il. 9.158 ἀμείλιχος ἠδ᾿ ἀδάμαστος‎), “tearless” (Hor. Carm. 2.14.6) and “malignant” (βάσκανος‎).6 Epithets that euphemistically address his benign and hospitable aspects include Clymenus (“Renowned”), Eubouleus (“Good Counsellor”; Nic. Alex. 14; GVI 2030.9), Euchaites (“the Beautiful-haired One”: Clarian oracle ISestos 11.24, c. 166 ce), Eukles (“Of Good Repute”: Orph. fr. 488–491.2 Bernabé; Hsch. e 6926), Hagesilaos (“Leader of the People,” Aesch. fr. 406 Radt; GVI 1370.2), Pasianax (“Lord over All”: Def. tab. Audollent, nos. 43–44), Polydektes or Polydegmon (“Receiver of Many”: Hom. Hymn Dem. 9, 17), Polyxeinos (“Host to Many”: Aesch. fr. 228 Radt; Callim. fr. 285 Pf.), and Pluton (“Wealth,” πλοῦτος‎, personified; cf. Soph fr. 273 Radt).7 Originally a divinity in his own right, during the 5th cent. bce Pluton became Hades’ most common name in myth as well as in cult (first attested on a phiale by Douris, LIMCHades” no. 28, c. 490 bce; Soph. Ant. 1200; Pl. Grg. 523a4; Isoc. 9.15; IG 13.5.5, 386.156, II2.1363.21 “priestess of Pluton,” 1672.169, 1933.2; Hymn. Orph. 18).

Hades was not a recipient of significant cult worship (schol. Hom Il. 9.158: “in no city is there an altar to Hades”). Like Thanatos, he was indifferent to prayer or offerings (Aesch. fr. 161 Radt, Eur. Alc. 424). There is no evidence that was invoked during funerary rituals. The abnormal cult of Hades at Elis, with a temple open once a year, then only to the priest (Paus. 6.25.2), and his temenos at Mt Minthe near Pylos (Strabo 8.344) are the exceptions that prove the rule. But throughout the Greek world—at Eleusis, Sparta, Ephesus, Cnidus, and Mytilene, among numerous other places—he received worship in his beneficial aspect as Pluton, often alongside his consort Persephone. The couple were widely worshipped as Pluton and Kore (IG II2 1672. 182, 4751; CEG 2.571); at Eleusis, they were also known as Theos and Thea. Pluton is related to the Eleusinian cult figures Plutus and Eubouleus as well as to other friendly chthonians such as Zeus Meilichios and Zeus Eubouleus (see chthonian gods). In Hermione, in the Argolid, he was worshipped alongside Demeter and Kore in his guise as Clymenus. At Locri Epizephyrii he appears as the consort of Persephone in a series of terracotta plaques dedicated to her in a marriage cult, where he is shown either abducting her or enthroned behind her. These plaques are iconographically distinct from other visual representation of Hades (including Plouton and Eleusinian Theos). In various curse tablets he is invoked along with Demeter and Kore or, more menacingly, with the Erinyes, Hecate, Hermes, Moirai, and Persephone; curses in the name of Hades and Persephone are less common (Def. tab. Wünsch, no. 102b13–16).8 So-called Plutonia marked entrances to the underworld (Strabo 5.4.5).

Apart from the story of Persephone’s abduction by him, few myths attach to Hades. By giving her the forbidden food of the dead to eat—the pomegranate—he bound Demeter’s daughter to return periodically to his realm (Hom. Hymn Dem. 370ff.). Their union was without issue. Its infertility mirrors that of the netherworld (Apollodorus (6) of Athens, FGrH 244 F 102a2). Orphic tradition holds that the pair had a daughter, Melinoë (Hymn. Orph. 71, Athanassakis). When the sons of Cronus divided the universe amongst themselves, Hades was allotted the world of the dead, Zeus obtained the sky, and Poseidon the sea, hence Hades “dwells apart from the gods” (Eur. Hec. 2).9 It was during this allotment that Hades gained his “helmet of invisibility” (Hom. Il. 5.844–845; ps-Apollod. Bibl. 1.2.1; cf. Hes. [Sc.] 227). Although Hades himself is never represented using the helmet, it may contribute to the understanding that his name means “invisible” or “unseen.”10

As ruler of the dead, Hades was always more ready to receive than to let go (Aesch. Pers. 688–690). Two kindred gods, Demeter and Dionysus, as well as heroes like Heracles, Theseus, and Orpheus, descended alive to Hades and returned to earth. Ordinary mortals went there to stay. Alcestis, Eurydice (1), and Protesilaus were among the few allowed to leave (cf. Plat. Symp. 179c). Heracles wrestled with Thanatos (Eur. Alc. 843–849) and wounded Hades with his arrows (Il. 5.395–397; Paus. 6.25.2). Hades’ mistress Minthe (see menthe) was changed into the mint plant by Persephone (Strabo 8.3.14; Ov. Met. 10.728–730; cf. Oppian, Halieutica 3.486ff.). In later literature, Hades is said to have abducted the nymph Leuce (“White”) and transformed her into the white poplar tree that graces the Elysium fields in the Underworld (Serv. Ecl. 7.61).

Alcestis’s death vision of Hades, who comes to get her, is dim but frightening (Eur. Alc. 259–262: “Someone is leading me, leading me away—don’t you see—to the hall of the dead. He stares at me from under his dark-eyed brow. He has wings—it’s Hades!”). In Greek art, Hades and Pluton—differentiating between the two is not always possible—are wingless human figures lacking any terrifying aspects. Zeus-like and bearded, Hades-Pluton is a majestic, elderly man holding a sceptre, twig, cornucopia, drinking horn, pomegranate, or cantharus. In Eleusinian contexts, Theos (“The God,” euphemistically Hades), is represented similarly, though here he is often shown alongside Plouton, creating further ambiguities between the figures. On some vases, Hades is shown averting his gaze from the other gods (LIMC s.v. “Hades,” nos 14, 22, 148). Unlike Hades, Thanatos is represented with wings (Eur. Alc. 843; often in vase painting).11 Conceptually and iconographically, Dionysus (Heraclitus fr. 15 DK) and Sarapis in their chthonian aspects have affinities to Hades-Pluton.12

Hades was the universal destination of the dead until the second half of the 5th century bce, when we first hear of the souls of some special dead ascending to the upper air (aithēr), while their bodies are said to be received by the earth (Athenian epitaph, c. 432 bce; IG 13.1179.6f. = CEG 1.10.6; Eur. Supp. 533; CEG 2.535, 558). Notably, the souls of the heroized daughters of Erechtheus “do not go to Hades” but reside in heaven (Eur. Erech fr. 370.71 Kannicht, Collard, and Cropp), though the girls undergo a quasi-apotheosis at the hand of Athena, so this is clearly an unusual case. The various Underworld topographies found in Homer (Od. 11) and Virgil (Aen. 6), in the esoteric Gold Leaves containing descriptions of Hades and in the apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter, reflect changing constructs of the afterlife. (See death, attitudes to, Greek; Tartarus; Persephone.


      • Albinus, Lars. The House of Hades: Studies in Ancient Greek Eschatology. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2000.
      • Bremmer, Jan N. “Hades.” In Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, 726–728. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995.
      • Bremmer, Jan N. The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife. London: Routledge, 2002.
      • Graf, Fritz, and Sarah I. Johnston. Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013.
      • Henrichs, Albert. “Hades.” In Greek Myth and Religion: Collected Papers II, 392–396. 2019. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019.
      • Mackin Roberts, Ellie. Underworld Gods in Ancient Greek Religion: Death and Reciprocity. London: Routledge, 2020.
      • Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane. “Reading” Greek Death: To the End of the Classical Period. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.
      • Vermeule, Emily. Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1979.
        Hades in Literature
        • Gazis, George A. Homer and the Poetics of Hades. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
        • Lattimore, Richard. Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs. Urbana, IL: The University of Illinois Press, 1942.
        • Richardson, Nicholas J. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.
        • Beekes, Robert S. P. “Hades and Elysion.” In Mír Curad: Studies in Honour of Calvert Watkins. Edited by Jay Jasonoff, H. Craig Melchert, and Lisi Oliver. 17–28. Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck, 1998.
        • Schmitt, Rüdiger. Indogermanische Dichtersprache. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968.
        Cults and Epithets
        • Burton, Diana. “Worshipping Hades: Myth and Cult in Elis and Triphylia.” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 20.1 (2018): 211–227.
        • Johnston, Sarah I. “Demeter in Hermione: Sacrifice and Ritual Polyvalence.” Arethusa 45.2 (2012): 211–241.
        • Prehn, B. Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Suppl. s.v. “Hades.”
        • Wüst, E. Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “Pluton.”
        • Henrichs, Albert. “Namenlosigkeit und Euphemismus: Zur Ambivalenz der chthonischen Mächte im attischen Drama.” In Fragmenta Dramatica: Beiträge zur Interpretation der griechischen Tragikerfragmente und ihrer Wirkungsgeschichte. Edited by Annette Harder and Heinz Hofmann, 161–201. Göttingen, Germany: Vanderhoek and Ruprecht, 1991.
        • Scullion, Scott. “Olympian and Chthonian.” Classical Antiquity 13.1 (1994): 75–119.
        Keys to Hades
        • Dover, Keneth J. Aristophanes: Frogs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, 52ff.
        • Morenz, Siegfried. Religion und Geschichte des alten Ägypten. Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1975, 510–520.
    • Clinton, Kevin. Myth and Cult: The Iconography of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Stockholm: Paul Åströms Förlag, 1992.
    • Lindner, R. S.-C., N. Dahlinger, N. Yalouris, and I. Krauskopf. Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 4 (1988), s.v. “Hades,” “Aita,” “Pluto.”
    • Oakley, John H. Picturing Death in Classical Athens: The Evidence of the White Lekythoi. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.


  • 1. Cf. F. R. Adrados (ed.), Diccionario griego–español (1980–), 1.48.

  • 2. R. Seaford on Eur. Cyc. 397 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)

  • 3. M. L. West on Hes. Op. 465 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978).

  • 4. See West on Hes. Theog. 969 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966).

  • 5. See E. R. Dodds on Pl. Grg. 493b4 (Oxford: Clarendong Press, 1959)

  • 6. Cf. M. W. Dickie, ZPE 100 (1994): 111–114.

  • 7. A. W. Bulloch on Callim. Hymn. 5.130 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

  • 8. J. H. Gager, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), nos 53, 84, 89, 110, 134. W. Peek, Kerameikos 3 (1941): 98 no. 9. 18.

  • 9. R. Janko on Hom. Il. 15.185–193 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991); and Richardson on Hom. Hymn Dem. 86.

  • 10. Cf. Beekes 1998, 18.

  • 11. E.g. Euphronios, calyx-crater, formerly New York, Met. Mus. 1972.11.10, now in Rome; Thanatos Painter, lecythos, London, BM D 58.

  • 12. H. Heubner on Tac. Hist. 4.83f; and Heidelberg: Winter, 1968.