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date: 20 March 2023



  • A. Henrichs


  • Greek Myth and Religion

Hades (Homeric Ἀΐδης‎, also Ἀϊδωνεύς‎; aspirated Ἅιδης‎ in Attic only; cf. F. R. Adrados (ed.), Diccionario griego-español (1980–), 1.48), son of Cronus and Rhea (Hes. Theog.453–56) and husband of Persephone (Od. 10.491), is ‘Lord of the dead’ (Il. 20.61) and king of the underworld, the ‘house of Hades’ (Hom., Hes.), where he rules supreme and, exceptionally, administers justice (Aesch. Supp.228–31, Eum.273–5). 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; R. Seaford on Eur. Cyc.397). Hades refers normally to the person; in non-Attic literature, the word can also designate the underworld (Il. 23.244, Od. 11.635, Heraclitus fr. 98 DK, Anac. 50.9 f. Page, Luke 16.23). Cold, mouldering, and dingy, Hades is a ‘mirthless place’ (Od. 11.94; Hes. Op. 152–5). The proverbial ‘road to Hades’ (Lucian Catapl. 14) is ‘the same for all’ (Anth. Pal. 7.477.3 f., 11.23.3). Aeacus, son of Zeus, ‘keeps the keys to Hades’ (Apollod. Bibl. 3.12.6, cf. GVI 1906.4, PGM IV 1464 f.); the same is said of Pluton (Πλούτων‎) (Paus. 5.20.3), Anubis (love charms from Roman Egypt: PGM IV 341 f., 1466 f.; Supp. Mag. 2.299 entry under κλείς‎), and Christ (Rev. 1.18). The ‘gates of Hades’ (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 f., 767–73). Hades, too, was sometimes perceived as an eater of corpses (Soph. El. 542 f.). Without burial, the dead cannot pass through Hades’ gates (Il. 23.71–4, Eur. Hec. 28–54). Once inside, they are shrouded in ‘the darkness of pernicious Hades’ (SEG 26.1139.9).

Like the Erinyes/Eumenides (‘Angry/Kindly Ones’) and Demeter (‘Earth-mother’, cf. Eur. Bacch. 275 f., Derveni papyrus col. 22.7–12 (eds. T. Kouremenos, G. M. Parássoglou and K. Tsantsanoglou, 2006, 104 f.), Hades lacked a proper name; as in the case of other nameless chthonians, the reluctance to name him was a precaution (Pl. Cra. 403a7). He was referred to by descriptive circumlocutions as ‘chthonian Zeus’ (Il. 9.457; M. L. West on Hes. Op. 465), ‘the chthonian god’ (Hes. Theog. 767), ‘king of those below’ (629), ‘Zeus of the departed’ and ‘the other Zeus’ (Aesch. Suppl. 156 f., 231), ‘the god below’ (Soph. Aj. 571; Eur. Alc. 424), or simply ‘lord’ (Eur. Alc. 852). 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 (West on Hes. Theog. 969; Ar. fr. 504 K-A; Pl. Cra. 403a3–5); he is a ‘good and prudent god’ (Pl. Phd. 80d7).

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 (E. R. Dodds on Pl. Grg. 493b4, 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 (5.844 f.) and by Aita/Hades in Etruscan art (LIMC ‘Hades/Aita’ nos. 5–6, 10–12, 21), makes its wearers invisible (Ar. Ach. 390, Pl. Resp. 612b). Other negative epithets are ‘hateful’ (Il. 8.368 στυγερός‎, like the Styx), ‘implacable and adamant’ (Il. 9.158 ἀμείλιχος ἠδ᾿ ἀδάμαστος‎), ‘tearless’ (Hor. Carm. 2.14.6) and ‘malignant’ (βάσκανος‎, cf. M. W. Dickie, ZPE 100 (1994), 111–4). Epithets which 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.ce 166), Eukles (‘Of Good Repute’: Orph. fr. 488–491.2 Bernabé; Hsch. e 6926), Hagesilaos (‘Leader of the People’, Aesch. fr. 406 Radt; A. W. Bulloch on Callim. Hymn 5.130; GVI 1370.2), Pasianax (‘Lord over All’: Def. tab. Audollent, nos. 43–4), Polydektes or Polydegmon (‘Receiver of Many’: Hymn. Hom. Cer. 9, 17), Polyxeinos (‘Host to Many’: Aesch. fr. 228 Radt; Callim. fr. 285 Pf.), and Pluton (‘Wealth’, πλοῦτος‎, personified; cf. Soph fr. 273 Radt). 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, LIMC ‘Hades’ no. 28, c. 490 bce; Soph. Ant. 1200, Pl. Grg. 523a4, Isoc. 9.15; IG 13.5.5, 386.156, 22.1363.21 ‘priestess of Pluton’, 1672.169, 1933.2; Hymn. Orph. 18).

Hades was not a recipient of cult (Soph. Ant.777–80). Like Thanatos, he was indifferent to prayer or offerings (Aesch. fr. 161 Radt, Eur. Alc. 424). The abnormal cult of Hades at Elis, with a temple open once a year, then only to the priest (Paus. 6.25.2 f.), 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 cult in his beneficial aspect as Pluton, often alongside his consort Persephone. The couple were widely worshipped as Pluton and Kore (IG 22. 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 various curse tablets, however, he is invoked along with Demeter and Kore or, more menacingly, with the Erinyes, Hecate, Hermes, Moirai, and Persephone (Gager (see bibliog below) nos. 53, 84, 89, 110, 134); curses in the name of Hades and Persephone are less common (Def. tab.R. Wünsch, no. 102b13–16; W. Peek, Kerameikos 3 (1941), 98 no. 9. 18). So-called Plutonia marked entrances to the underworld (Strabo 5.244).

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 (Hymn. Hom. Cer. 370 ff.). Their union was without issue; its infertility mirrors that of the nether world (Apollodorus (6) of Athens, FGrH 244 F 102a2). 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 (R. Janko on Il. 15.185–93; Richardson on Hymn. Hom. Cer. 86). As ruler of the dead, Hades was always more ready to receive than to let go (Aesch. Pers.688–90). 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. 843–9) and wounded Hades with his arrows (Il. 5.395–7; Paus. 6.25.2 f.). Hades’ mistress Minthe (see menthe) was changed into the mint plant by Persephone (Strabo 8.344, Ov. Met. 10.728–30; cf. Oppian, Halieutica 3.486 ff.).

Alcestis' death vision of Hades, who comes to get her, is dim but frightening (Eur. Alc.259–62 Diggle: ‘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, pomegranate, or cantharus. On some vases, Hades is shown averting his gaze from the other gods (LIMC nos. 14, 22, 148). Unlike Hades, Thanatos is represented with wings (Eur. Alc. 843; often in vase painting, e.g. Euphronios, calyx-crater, formerly New York, Met. Mus. 1972.11.10, now in Rome; Thanatos Painter, lecythus, London, BM D 58). Conceptually and iconographically, Dionysus (Heraclitus fr. 15 DK) and Sarapis (H. Heubner on Tac. Hist. 4.83 f.) in their chthonian aspects have affinities to Hades-Pluton.

Hades was the universal destination of the dead until the second half of the 5th cent. 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 13.1179.6 f. = CEG 1.10.6 f.; Eur. Supp. 533 f.; 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. 65.71 f. Austin). 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.


  • L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie, 4th edn., rev. C. Robert (1894), 1.798-846.
  • E. Vermeule, Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry (1979).
  • W. Burkert, trans. J. Raffan, Greek Religion (1985), 194–199.
  • T. Gantz, Early Greek Myth (1993), 70–73, 123–128.
  • C. Sourvinou-Inwood, ‘Reading’ Greek Death (1995).
  • L. Albinus, The House of Hades (2000).
  • J. N. Bremmer, The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife (2002).
  • F. Graf and S. I. Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife (2007).
Hades In Literature
  • R. Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (1942).
  • N. J. Richardson, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter (1974).
  • J. G. Gager, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (1992).
  • P. Thieme, in R. Schmitt (ed.), Indogermanische Dichtersprache (1968), 133–53.
Cults and epithets
  • L. R. Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (1896–1909), 3.280–288, 376–378.
  • B. Prehn, Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft Suppl., 867–878 s.v. ‘Hades’.
  • E. Wüst, Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, 990–1027, s.v. ‘Pluton’.
  • A. Henrichs, in H. Hofmann and A. Harder (eds.), Fragmenta Dramatica (1991), 161–201.
  • S. Scullion, Classical Antiquity 1994, 75–119.
Keys to Hades
  • K. J. Dover, Aristophanes: Frogs (1993), 52 f.
  • S. Morenz, Religion und Geschichte des alten Ägypten (1975), 510–20.
  • R. Lindner, S.-C. Dahlinger, N. Yalouris, and I. Krauskopf, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 4 (1988), s.v. ‘Hades’, ‘Aita’, ‘Pluto’, 1. 367–406, 2. 210–236 (plates).
  • K. Clinton, Myth and Cult: The Iconography of the Eleusinian Mysteries (1992), esp. 105–113.
  • J. H. Oakley, Picturing Death in Classical Athens (2004), 125–37.