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The Dread Of The Unknow Essay, Research Paper
The Dread of the Unknown
Man has always feared what he can not see or comprehend. The ancient times, specifically of Greece and Rome, were no exception. The ancient gods of these two civilizations were regaurded with both veneration and terror. None were dreaded more than the dark god of the Underworld, Hades. His presence to any mortal meant the icy hand of death would sieze him and he would be brought to the sinister gods realm not knowing what would become of him in the after life or what foul, tortuous beasts would stalk his exsitance for eternity. The kingdom, god, and inhabitants of Hades were feared by mortal men in ancient times of Greece and Rome and looked upon with both mystery and dread.
Hades was vexed from the very beginning of his reign as a god of mystery and horror. Hades was the son of Cronus and Rhea, both Titans, along with his brothers Posiden and Zeus (Guerber 159). Cronus fearing a prophecy that one day his children would overthrow him devoured all his children after they were born, excluding Zeus (Ames 14). However one day Zues returned and his siblings were all rescued thus beginning the war with the Titans (Ames 15). Hades and his brothers were victoryous over the Titans and divided up the world among into thirds among themselves. Pluto, the most taciturn of the brothers, received for his portion the scepter of Tartarus and all the Lower World, where no beam of sunlight was ever allowed to find its way; (Guerber 25). Gaining control over a realm of death and darkness naturally struck fear in the hearts of mortals. The desrciption of his visage and powers reflected the fear mortals had for Hades.
Little was known of the secluded god, his description and personality varied greatly among the people of ancient Greece and Rome. Generally Hades was described as a stern, dark, bearded man with tightly closed lips (Guerber 150). Often he was pictured with a crown on his head and a scepter and the key to Tartarus in his hand (Guerber 160). When Hades was referred to by the ancient Greeks he was regaurded as a god of terror and mystery and rarely paid homage (Ames 126). Hades is not to be soothed, neither overcome, wherefore he is most hated by mortals of all gods. (Iliad 9.158). Even the river nymph in the Persephone myth feared the sinister god fearing his vengence for telling Ceres of her daughters abduction (Benson 82). However on the contrary when the Romans referred to him as Pluto he was honored as the god of riches and was regaurded as a benevolent and respected god (Ames 126). In each civilization he was appointed as both the god of the dead and of riches, due to all the precious metals found beneath the earth, his kingdom (Guerber 159). Hades power came from two main objects in his posession. He possessed the helmet of invisibility, which was made by the Cyclopes, it made him undetectable when he came to the surface (Graves 37). The magical bronze helmet was a gift from the cyclops forges after they were freed from Tartarus by the Olympians during the Titan War (Ames 62). The second item of his power was his trident.
Whenever the stern god set out on one of these expeditions, he rod in a chariot drawn by four coal-black steeds; and , if any obstacle presented itself to impede his progress, he struck it with his two-pronged fork, the emblem of his power, and the obstacle was immeadiately removed (Guerber 159). Hades grew very rich because of all the treasure found beneath the earth in his realm; yet everyone hated him, including Persephone (Graves 37).
Most myths involving the dark god depict him as a malicious god with evil intent. He seemed happy there and was seen to leave his kingdom on only two ocassions: once to abduct Persephone and the other time to go in search o Panan in order to be cured of a wound inflicted by Hercules (Ames 126). Hades never visited Olympus although he was the brother of Zeus he remained in hi underworld liar (Ames 22). According to Graves however, the god was forbidden to visit Olympus (28). There are many versions to the abduction of Persephone myth some depicting Hades as the common evil god while others showing his caring side for the beautiful girl. Guerber states that Hades had tried to find someone to share his dark throne with, but everyone declined his offer (184). Therefore instead of asking Persephone he mearly abducted her against her will (Guerber 184). Another version states that Hades met with Zues to ask for Persephone s hand in marriage (Graves 28). It is said by Graves that Zues did not answer Hade s question directly, knowing Demeter would disapprove, but instead gave Hades a satisfying wink (28). Hades tried to seal his bride in the Underworld with him by giving her a pomegranate seed to eat (). To quell both Persephone s mother, Demeter and Hades, Zeus with the help of Rhea, the gods mother, reached a comprimise (Graves 30). Persephone would have to spend a month in the Underworld with her husband Hades for every pomegranate seed she ate while in the Underworld and for the rest of the year could be reunited with her mother (Richardson 30). Still another version shows the other side of Hades. According to Benson, it was Venus and Cupid who made Hades fall in love with Persephone with the aid of one of Cupid s arrows (77). In this tale Pluto had been kind to her and she had learned to love and respect him (Benson 85). Hades showing a caring and compassionate side goes to his brother Zeus and begs for her release from the Underworld (Benson 86). In each tale Hades abducts Persephone and steals her from her mother to make her his bride. However, in not all the cases did he show evil intent. He treated her with dignity and respect and cared only for her well being.
There are many stories of the topography of the Underworld; mortals knew little of this dismal realm and look upon it with mixed feelings of dread and wonderment. Parado writes that the UnderWorld was divided up int many separarte fields: for children, suicides, the innocent condemed to death, and war heroes (Parado n.p). Newly departed spirits were led by Hermes down int the shadows of the Underworld until they reached the first of the fields of Hades, the Asphodel Fields (Parado n.p). Here it is said that the spirits awaited judgement from the three Fates (Graves 37). Those that were found niether very bad or very good were sentenced to the Asphodel Fields, where the ghosts wandered endlessly finding nothing to do but to hunt the occassional ghost of a deer (Graves 37). This field was a place of confusion and nothingness, there was no pleasure nor punishment (Parado n.p). The extremly wicked were sentenced to the Punishment grounds behind the palace of Hades (Graves 37). This punishment ground was known as Tartarus and was said to have a portal entrance surrounded by pillars that couldn t be broken even by the gods themselves (Parado n.p). Other stories state that Tartarus had a bronze gate and was surrounded by three walls and the waters of the Phelegethon to house the very wicked (Ames 129). It was said to be a realm of complete Darkness found as far from the earth as the earth from the sky (Parado n.p). Within its ominous gates it was said to house many notorius figures such as the Titans, Giants, and the Danaids (Ames 129). The very good were sent on to the pool of Memory which led to Elysium, a land of ocharards, perpetual sunshine, games, and nothing ever faded (Graves 37).
Far out of sight and hearing of the pitiful sounds which so constantly rose out of Tartarus, were the Elysian Fields, lighted by a sun and moon of their own, decked with the most fragrant and beautiful of flowers, and provided with every charm that nature or art could supply (Guerber 169). According to Parado, these fields were said to be found beneath the palace of Hades and accessed by only the good (n.p).
Storms or winters were said to never come to the Elysian Fields, and everyone spent eternity with friends and nature (Guerber 170). Others state that the Elysian Fields were a place for both the unborn and those destine to be reincarnated came (Parado n.p).
The inhabitants of Hades struck fear in the hearts of mortals. Mortals feared the brothers Thanatos (Death) and Hypnos (Sleep) that naturally supplied Hades with new subjects (Ames 128). The three Fates with hair of serpents, horrified mortal men with both their appearance and power to cast judgement on their eternal souls (). The most well known beast of Hades was Cerberus. To prevent all mortals from entering, and all spirits from escaping, Pluto placed a huge three- headed dog, called Cerberbus, to guard the gate (Guerber 160). Other sources state that Cerberus was a monsterous dog-like creature with 50 heads, bristled with serpents, and a mouth dripping with black venom (Ames 125). Parado descibed him as having a tail like a dragon (n.p). Richardson stated that No more vicious a beast ever existed (196).
The mysteries held by the rivers of Hades struck fear in both the hearts of mortals and the Gods. According to Guerber all the rivers of Hades originated at the foot of Hade s throne (160). The Cocytus river , rolled salt waves, composed of the tears continually coming from the criminals condemed to Tartarus (Guerber 160). The Phlegethon was a river of fire surrounding Tartarus, separating it from the remainder of the Underworld (Guerber 161). The Acheron was a deep black stream that had to be passed over by all spirits to reach the place of judgement; its current was so swift that even the strongest swimmer could not conquer it (Guerber 161). The newly arrived spirits had to rely on Charon to transport them across in his worm-eaten boat (Guerber 161). The newly deceased had to present Charon with an obol to gain passage across Acheron, if the coin could not be presented the shodow was forced to wander the deserted shores forever (Ames 125). The river Lethe also held mysteries of the afterlife. It was said that drinking the waters of the Lethe made one forget all their past memories (Ames 125). According to Parado, drinking the waters of the Lethe made one forget all past wrong doings and prepared them for their new life on earth (n.p). The sacred river Styx was the river by which the gods swore all their irrevocable oaths, and the punishment for breaking these oaths was a year of being silenced as well as nine years of exile (Pinsent 17). Said to encirle Hades nine times, the river Styx recievd its name form a nymph who assisted the Olympians during the war with the Titans (Ames 125).
Ames, Delano. Greek Mythology. London: Paul Hamlyn Limited, 1963.
Benson, Sally. Stories of the Gods and Heroes. New York: Dial Press, 1940.
Graves, Robert. Greek Gods and Heroes. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1960.
Guerber, H.A. Myths of Greece and Rome. New York: American Book Company, 1921.
Parado, Carlos. Greek Mythology Link. (Sept. 1997): Online. Internet. 5 Jan. 2000.
Available http://has.brown.edu/ maicar/index.html.
Pinsent, John. Greek Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1982.
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