The House of Hades

The Underworld was divided into different regions. One region was for the most exceptional mortals (such as heroes), another region was for the common folk, and a third was for evildoers. But there is more to the Underworld than these three main regions, as you will soon see.

Infernal Geography

Some early myths situate the Underworld at the very edge of the land of the living, just past the ocean's shoreline. Later, more common myths situate the Underworld beneath the ground. The Land of the Dead was thought to have many entrances, mostly through caves or lakes.

Several rivers surrounded the Land of the Dead, including:

  • Acheron: River of Woe

  • Cocytus: River of Wailing

  • Lethe: River of Forgetfulness

  • Pyriphlegethon: River of Fire

  • Styx: River of Hate

You may hear the Underworld itself referred to as “Hades.” To the ancient Greeks, Hades was the name of the god, not the place he ruled. The Underworld had several names: the Land of the Dead, the Nether Regions, the House of Hades, and the Infernal Regions, to name a few. But it was considered bad luck to mention Hades' name or talk about his realm.

Entering the Underworld

When a person died, Hermes came to collect that person's shade (or soul) and lead him or her to the Underworld. To get to the Underworld required crossing one or more rivers. To cross a river, the shade had to engage the services of Charon, the ferryman of the dead. Charon didn't work for free; he required a coin as payment.

The ancients had a custom of placing a coin under the tongue of a deceased loved one. This was intended as payment to the ferryman Charon. If someone who died was not properly buried, or not buried at all, that person's shade would wander the river's shore for a hundred years.

If a would-be passenger could not pay Charon's fee, that shade was doomed to wander the shoreline for a hundred years before being allowed passage. Even after they'd paid and boarded the boat, the shades had to do most of the work — they rowed, while the ferryman merely steered.

After crossing one or more rivers, the shade had to pass Cerberus, the watchdog of Hades, before passing through the Underworld's gates. Cerberus wasn't just any dog. Some myths say he had three heads, while others say he had 50.

Regardless, Cerberus loved to eat raw flesh. Cerberus got along fine with shades on their way into the Underworld; his job was to prevent living mortals from entering and shades from escaping.

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