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Hi, everybody.


Welcome to Dan snow's history hit. The Ancients is our second oldest podcast at history. It's presented by Tristan Hughes. The tristorian. And here's an episode for you. It's a good one, so I thought I'd share it over here. This is all about Hades, the king of the dead, king of the Underworld, ancient Greek god, brother of Zeus. And it was not an easy relationship. Well, tristan and his guest, professor sarah isles johnson of ohio state university, have dived into this shadowy underworld. Together, they're unearthing Hades'origin. Boom. They're describing what the ancient Greeks meant by an underworld. And they're discussing how the ancient Greeks thought about life after death. Plus, no mention of Hades is complete without delving into the iconic myths orpheus and Eurydice, Achilles, the Trojan War, Odysseus and the labor of Heracles. Enjoy.


Muses, sing to me a story of Olympus and the deathless gods who govern earth, sea and sky. But there is no response to Orpheus's invocation this is the Underworld, the Muses singing, they're dancing, they're playing of the liar and the flute. None of it can pierce the deathly veil. So Orpheus must sing alone and he must not stop. So Hades, lord of the dead, has warned him, for Orpheus's song is not merely a guide, a candle in the dark for his wife, darling Eurydice, to follow as they wind their way back past the rivers and the forests and out of the Underworld entirely. No, his song is the only thing that gives Eurydice form, clarity. Its familiar tune is the only thing to separate her from the fog, from the formless dead revenants little more than whispers and curling vapor. And if Orpheus stops even for a moment, she will fade again and forever. He dares not even look back at her for fear of distraction. But without the Muse's inspiration, what will Orpheus sing of? Sing of your journey to my kingdom, instructs Hades. Sing a dirge, a keen, a coronac. Sing appean to the Underworld itself.


It's the ancients on history hit. I'm Tristan Hughes, your host. And in today's episode, where we are continuing our special Greek gods and goddesses mini series, today, it's the turn of Hades, god of the Underworld. Now, as with all of these special episodes, well, we're going to kick it off with a story with a retelling of one of the myths associated with Hades. The one we've chosen is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice and that man's descent into the Underworld to try and retrieve his beloved. Now, following this, we have a great interview with Professor Sarah Iles Johnston from the Ohio State University. We cover all parts of Hades'story, from his origins to the geography of the Underworld and the people. Those figures associated with Hades in this other realm think figures such as Charon and Cerberus, the three headed dog I really do hope you enjoy.


Where else could Orpheus's Peon to the Underworld begin but with a death? It is not a glorious hero falling in the melee. It is not a great king betrayed in his palace. No, it is a more cadidian cruelty. An accident, a misstep in the forest, a youth breathing her last as a snake's venom floods her veins. That is how his wife, darling Eurydice, dies. It is Hermes who comes to her first. A soul is to the body, as a message is to the words that convey it. And so who better to guide souls to the Underworld than the messenger of the gods? Distance is meaningless to him. Rolling fields, towering peaks. They pleat like fabric beneath the god's feet till their journey to the edge of the world is but a single step from grass onto the muddy riverbank of the Sticks, and a footprint that pools with liquid gold. For Orpheus, the journey is not nearly so quick. By boat, by horse, by carriage and wagon, for ten years, he barters his way with songs, until he stands upon the bank, too, and leaves his own footprints in the mud. Orpheus's Peon continues with the waters of the Sticks, a river still as any mirror.


And then its glass begins to shift, to bend, to warp its form like quicksilver. A rowboat rises from the reflection. Her hull is all withered wood and rusted rivets, but she sails true. It is the same for her oarsman. The flesh clings to his bones like wax to an armature. But just one pull of the oars brings him straight to the bank. His face is so weathered it almost seems to blur. His eyes are to their sockets as distant consolations to a clouded night. He is Karon death's ferryman. He speaks no words. The ghastly tongue hardly looks capable of them. But when he stretches out the shadow of a hand, the demand is clear, payment. Orpheus is not deterred. Songs have charmed him halfway across the world. Why not off the edge of it, too? His voice brings clarity. It is like the grinding of a mirror, the polish of bronze. Karon's wan visage becomes something fixed and firm, his eyes blazing stars. The ferryman's hand lowers to a beckon, an invitation across the veil of death. Orpheus's Peon continues, and for a moment he fancies. He hears an echo from the fog behind. Across the veil of death.


Chiron is not the Underworld's only gatekeeper. As Orpheus rose deeper, all manner of creatures sense the intrusion of something living, something corporeal. In the dark, they come to harry him with wing and tooth and talon. But Orpheus whistles a tune, and his music is a charm. The creatures cease to be mere shadow they become the thing that casts it, and they revel in their newfound clarity. Even Cerberus, the great three headed guard dog, abandons his post. And so the boat passes out of darkness and into that meander where the river Styx divides, a great delta flowing into endless oceanus. Each distributory bears a name the oily acron, the bubbling Flagathon, the silted leafy, and a hundred others. The delta plays host to a great forest of mangroves, too. It is amidst the dripping branches that the dead make their homes, their villages, their towns and cities. But it is a fleeting habitation. This necropolis in the canopies is only for the newly dead. A soul is to the body as a message is to the words that convey it. Without those words, the message loses meaning. The inhabitants begin to fade. First their identities, then their sanity, and finally their form altogether.


They sink into the endless, sweltering fog that lingers about the forest floor and settles over the rivers, indivisible, amorphous, meaningless. But I was not daunted, Orpheus sings to Euridity as they head back up the sticks. I set my eye upon the furthest island of the Delta, and the ashen timbers that stood upon it pale as bone. The hall of Hades. And this time he is sure. A voice in the fog behind him repeats it. The whole of Hades, the rivers of the Underworld, are not silent. They babble, they trickle. And so Hades knows to expect his visitor. He greets the musician with interest. His arrival is novelty. The first mortal to pass the veil of death still living, orpheus graces Hades hall with his song, hoping to charm the lord of the dead as he has the Underworld's other denizens. But there is no clarity to sing into being. He is not shadow. He is substance. He leaves footprints that pool with liquid gold. You see, when Zeus and his brothers divided up the world, hades was named the Underworld's custodian and its king. But while he may direct its rivers, tend its forests and manage its structures and bureaucracies, he is not of the Underworld.


He is not of death. And so what is resurrection to a deathless god? Nothing more than a curiosity. That is why he allows Orpheus his attempt to save Eurydice. That is why he instructs and warns him. Curiosity. And the fog's echo is agreement, curiosity. As Orpheus nears the end of his song on the banks of the sticks, it is all but a duet. The voice behind him echoes every line. And though he has not heard her for ten years, he knows it is Eurydice. How could he ever forget that voice that would sing with him, soothe him, placate him, plan with him, whisper in the dark of their bed to him? Is it not proof? Proof that Orpheus has done as Hades instructed? Proof that he has drawn her from the fog like his fingers would draw a tune from the liar? He has brought his darling wife back from death itself, whole and living. So surely now Orpheus can stop singing. Surely now he can turn and look at her. Surely, surely.


Sarah, it is wonderful to have you on the podcast today.


It's wonderful to be here. I love talking about Hades.


Well, you've mentioned the name to kick it all off, who is Hades?


Hades is the lord of the Underworld. And the Underworld is also called Hades, which is in Greek shorthand for house of Hades. In other words, it's simply being named after the guy who's living down there. But as I started to say, he is the lord of the underworld, which means he is the ruler over all the dead, which means that sooner or later he's the ruler over all of us.


And how does he become lord of the dead? Do we know much about his origin story or are there different origin stories? Almost.


We know quite a bit about it and in fact some of the crucial information comes from one of our very oldest sources for Greek myth, which is the Iliad. In the 15th book of the Iliad, we learn that after Zeus and his siblings, and Hades is one of his siblings, have overturned the Titans and are beginning to run the universe on their own. Zeus realizes that if he doesn't figure out a way that they can rule that is not violent, as was the rule of his father and his grandfather, then things are just going to continue to go very badly. So Zeus, since he had led the Olympians in the rebellion against the Titans, zeus kind of takes charge and he says, okay, we're going to distribute equally all the honors and nice things in the universe. But Zeus realizes that of course the biggest prize of all is to have the heavens under your control, which automatically comes with the kingship. And Zeus also realizes he has two brothers, Poseidon and Hades. He's not so worried about his sisters, but he, huh, if I don't settle this with Hades and Poseidon in a way that seems fair to them, I've got trouble from the start.


So they draw lots, which is basically like drawings draws. Zeus gets the heavens, Poseidon gets the waters, and Hades gets the Underworld. So you can say it's sheer chance that Hades is the ruler of the Underworld, but the Greeks wouldn't really have said that. They didn't have the same concept of chance or random chance that we do. They would have said something like it was fated that Hades become ruler of the Underworld.


When we say the Underworld, there's no such thing as a silly question. I mean, what do we actually mean by the underworld?


That's literally a translation of the Greek word and it is what the word says that they believed that there was this place underneath the Earth and of course they did not have a view of the Earth as being a globe like we do. They thought there was land stretching out more or less flat in all directions, and that underneath that there was this other place, which was the underworld, and that's where Hades was ruling. He had a palace down there and all of the hordes of the dead, which of course got larger and larger as time went on, were milling around. And there were lots of other details which authors and artists just love to think about. We have a lot of vase paintings from antiquity where artists are showing everything in the underworld, and authors talked about parts of it now and again. One of the basic elements actually from a very early time in these pictures and in these descriptions is the fact that Hades has a queen and her name is Persephone.


So were there these entrances to the underworld from the world above? Almost. If they go down further enough that they will enter the underworld even if they weren't dead?


Yes, there were places, particularly in caves, that were thought to be entrances to the underworld. And various heroes found where those entrances are and managed to get to the underworld. And it was also thought that certain rivers went into the underworld. And some of those rivers, we now realize, are what we know as underground rivers, rivers that run for a while overground and then underground and then above ground again. And so the Greeks more or less knew that the rivers were doing that, but they thought that while they were underground, they were running through Hades. And there weren't only rivers in Hades. There were all kinds of other features that we see in the upper world. There were meadows of a certain flower called aspidil. There were cypresses. There were various other kinds of trees. There were large rocks that were understood as landmarks. There were springs of water. And in fact, there was one religious group in antiquity, those who thought that the god Dionysus could give them a better afterlife, who as part of their process of aligning themselves with Dionysus so that they'd have a better afterlife, would be given these little roadmaps of the underworld.


And they would have these roadmaps, or abbreviated versions of them, engraved on little gold tablets that would be buried with them so that when they woke up in the underworld, if they forgot what they had been told, they could read the tablet and remember. And the tablets say things like, when you first get to Hades, on the right, you're going to see a spring of water and you're going to be thirsty, but don't drink from that spring, et cetera. So if they followed these little roadmaps, they'd get to the nicer part of the underworld.


I'll definitely delve more into that almost the geography of the underworld, what the Greeks believed as we go on. But, I mean, let's go back to what you did mention there before I went on that small tangent, which was that you said that Hades does have a wife called Persephone. This is another interesting part of Hades's story, isn't it, as to how Persephone becomes his wife in the Underworld.


It's extremely interesting. It was one of the Greek's favorite myths, and we have quite a few versions of it. Again, artistically as well as in the written word. The oldest version comes from a text which we think is 6th century before Christ, called the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. And it tells about how Zeus gave Hades, his brother, permission to kidnap Persephone, who was Zeus's daughter. So here's a father giving his brother permission to kidnap his daughter. So Hades does. So he bursts through the Earth in a chariot and snatches Persephone when she reaches out to pick a flower. Now, that flower is itself significant. The Earth has sent up that flower in collusion with Zeus and Hades to tempt Persephone away from her friends. So the moment Persephone wanders away to look at that flower and touches it, hades bursts out of the Earth, grabs Persephone, drags her back to the Underworld. Now, that doesn't settle things because her mother Demeter is very upset, as you might imagine. And Demeter eventually decides she's going to stop the crops from growing. And since she's the goddess of agriculture, that's easy for her to do. And after the Earth has been in famine and the people start to die, and that means the gods aren't getting sacrifices anymore, zeus realizes that something has to be done.


So he sends Hermes to the underworld. And Hermes says to Hades, you've got to let Persephone go. Well, this is where the story gets really interesting, according to the home Arachim to Demeter, because Hades says to Persephone, okay, if you want to leave, go make your mother happy. Let's put an end to this mess. But he says, you've got to realize something, Persephone. You're married to one of the most important people in the universe. I've got a really impressive lineage, and I rule over this mass number of souls. If you stay here, you're going to have a lot of power. And the next line of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter is very interesting because it says, persephone leapt up with joy at what she heard. And it's not clear whether she's filled with joy because she's heard Hermes say, you get to go home, or because she has realized, AHA, as Queen of the Underworld, I've got a good deal. So in the very next scene, when Hades gives her this pomegranate seed that is going to bind her to the Underworld, the author of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter has been very clever in the way he wrote that line.


It's not clear whether Persephone takes the pomegranate seed without knowing what it is, or in fact takes it quite willingly, knowing that it will give her the right to return to the Underworld.


I know that with so many myths in Greek mythology that there are various versions, but is that the main story as to how Persephone ends up as the wife of Hades?


This one sort of looms over all the others because it's one of the oldest and because it is a very beautifully written poem. And so certainly I would think every single ancient author, both the Greeks and the Romans knew that poem, but they play with it as any good author will. So in some retellings, Persephone really doesn't want to be there, and she's very happy when she gets to the upper world every year. There is one later telling, though, in which a witch is trying to revive the corpse of a soldier, and the witch is doing this spell, but she needs Persephone's help to revive the dead soldier. And the witch threatens Persephone and says, if you do not revive this soldier, I'm going to tell your mother the truth about what happened down in Hades. And the text does not come right out and say, yeah, you ate the pomegranate seed willingly. But that's what most of us infer the witch is threatening Persephone with. So there's both potential interpretations that go on in ancient Greek and Latin literature, interpretations of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.


I'd like to ask one more question about Hades before exploring one of the myths that's closely associated with him in detail. That's the Orpheus and Euridici myth, and that is in regards to objects associated with Hades. You've already mentioned how in that story of him abducting Persephone, he comes out of the ground in his chariot. You've also mentioned he's got this throne room as well. Are there any key objects that Hades is depicted with time and time again?


That's a really good question, because with most gods it would be really easy to answer that. If you had asked me about Athena, I would have said yes, she's always wearing the aegis and she's usually wearing a helmet, et cetera. There aren't that many associated with Hades. Probably the most consistent one is the rooster. And that raises another question why in the world a rooster? And I don't have a good answer to that. We just know that in a lot of vase paintings, the rooster is, for example, sitting under his throne, or the rooster is next to the throne. What it means, we have no idea, or at least I don't have any idea. And if someone else does, I haven't read it.


Sarah, let's explore this Orpheus and Eurydicy myth. I mean, talk us through what is this myth which seems to have Hades at its center?


Yeah, Hades does end up at the center, but it certainly starts differently. Just to kind of recap the story, orpheus and Eurydice fall in love at their wedding. This really crude guy named Aristaeus drinks too much, is overwhelmed with lust for the bride, and begins to chase her. Now, normally that wouldn't be a problem because Eurydice is a nymph and nymphs are very, very fast footed. So Eurydice should have been able to outrun this potential Rapist without any problem. The hitch was as she was running and the wedding was being held outdoors, so she's running through a meadow and she steps on a poisonous snake and the snake bites her. So before Orpheus can even reach her side, eurydice has died. And Orpheus is overwhelmed with grief. And he decides, well, I'm not going to put up with this, I'm going to get her back. Orpheus has a very particular talent, and that is that he's an absolutely fabulous musician. So he uses the wonderfulness of his music to get past all of the normal roadblocks to Hades. For example, he uses it to make the ferryman Caraon carry him across the river. He uses it to charm the dog that would otherwise prevent him from getting into the Underworld.


And most importantly, he uses his music and the beautiful words that he sings to that music to convince Hades and Persephone to give him Eurydice back. The only hitch is that he is not allowed to look at her until they reach the upper world. And that ties into a motif we find in myths around the world that you can't look at the dead, but something bad is going to happen if you look at the dead. So they begin walking to the upper world. They're almost there. She stumbles. And when he hears her stumble, without thinking, he turns around. And that's it. Eurydice is gone. He repeats the process. He goes to the Underworld again, but this time Hades and Persephone say, no, we gave you one chance, that's it. So he returns to the upper world a broken man. According to one version of the myth, he swears off women, and invents homosexuality, he begins sleeping with men. And in that version of the myth, this is what gets him into trouble, because he's a very good looking man. And the women say, well, why is he ignoring us? What's wrong with us? And some of them, in a drunken rage, tear Orpheus limb from limb.


And that's the end of Orpheus. So one interesting part of the story that I think is often not brought out is that his failure to bring Eurydice back from Hades leads not only to the permanence of her death, but indirectly, it leads to his death as well. These three people knew each other and they're all either dead or missing. There's something big about what's going on.


There's something crazy about this case.


Just somebody tell me where they are.


We will go get them.


I will go dig and I will find them. I got to find her to hold her one last time, even if it is just her bones. This is the story of the Bakersfield Three a Case File Presents podcast, available now wherever you get your podcasts. Acast is home to the world's best podcasts, including the David McWilliams podcast. I'm Grand Mam and the one you're listening to right now.


Do we know what this myth can kind of tell us about ancient Greek society and the people who would have told this myth to others back in ancient Greek times?


It tells us a couple of things. One which is very particular to this myth is the power of music. In other words, the fact that he could use his musical ability to do that. That really tells us how central music was to the Greeks feeling that a cultured life really requires that. But as far as what it tells us about death, it doesn't tell us anything very different from what we'd say about any other culture, that death is inevitable, that this is another myth about death being inevitable. The Greeks had a lot of these and I can tell you about more of them in just a moment. But the orpheus one really captured people's attention because I think he was not just an ordinary guy. He was a guy with extraordinary talent, as his music showed. He was also a guy who was descended from the gods. And depending on what version of the myth you read, either he's the son of Apollo or he's the grandson of Zeus, et cetera, et cetera. But whatever version you read, he's related to the gods and even he with that and with his music could not overcome death.


You mentioned something really interesting there, which is, of course, in society how with know no one escapes death. If you are mortal, you will die. And so death is always present in ancient Greece as it is down to the present day, when these ancient Greeks are thinking about death and what happens next, going to Hades, was there a feeling that you would go to the underworld no matter what? Or were there certain things that you had to do to ensure that someone who had died did end up in the underworld?


The people who have problems, let's call it that, the dead people who have problems are those who either die in really weird circumstances. Let's say they die far away from home, so no one is there to bury them, or if they are murdered, they've died under unfortunate circumstances. In that sense, special things had to be done to make sure that the souls of all the dead, but particularly these dead who die under problematic circumstances, even make it to the underworld. Because the alternative is that you get to the river that separates the underworld from the upper world. And the boatman Teron, whom I mentioned earlier, just says, I'm not going to take you across. And then you spend eternity wandering on the banks of that river, neither alive nor dead. Some of those dead, in fact, were so unhappy that they would return to the upper world as ghosts and cause all kinds of problems for the living. So it's in the interest of the living as well as the dead that when someone dies, the living makes sure that they get to the underworld. Burial is the most important element, and when I say burial, I also include cremation.


You could either bury the body or you could burn the body, but one way or another, you had to get the body out of here. Another thing was making sure that they had a certain amount of honor. And a moment ago, I talked about people who were murdered. If you've been murdered, you have to be avenged. And typically you're going to be avenged by your son. And if you don't have a son, then some other man in your family better avenge you. So if you've been murdered and no one avenges you, your ghost might similarly end up wandering on the banks of the river forever and again might return to haunt those who should be avenging the person. So those are some of the ways of not getting into the underworld. But the average person, the person who's been buried, the person who wasn't murdered, they get into the underworld. And for most of them, it's then sort of like your worst memory of being trapped in a large department store at Christmas time or something. There's hordes and hordes of dead. You can't really get anywhere. It's actually worse than a department store at Christmas time because your memory is vague.


You barely remember who you are. You can't necessarily remember who other ghosts are. So it's really not at all a pleasant sort of circumstance. You're not being punished. It's not meant to punish you for your sins, as in the Christian tradition, for example. It's a lack of life, is what it amounts to.


So that's a really interesting point to highlight there, isn't it? Because I know I do. Having grown up like a very Christian society, as you say, you think of either heaven and hell, whether you're almost rewarded or punished in death. Those types of thoughts. I know you've just mentioned it, but I want to kind of restress it. In the ancient Greek mindset, those types of thoughts, they didn't exist or they weren't as prominent.


Yeah, there was a part of the underworld called Tartarus. It's always hard to explain who these people are as a group. People who had done very bad things, and usually these are very bad things against the gods. A few people end up there. So, for example, a guy named Tantalus who killed his own son, cooked him up in a kettle and then tried to trick the gods into eating that. And the gods, who know everything, they knew right away what was in the kettle, and they punished Tantalus by putting him in this really bad part of the underworld called Tartarus and torturing him that although he stands in a stream of fresh water, every time he bends over to drink, the water runs away and. Although there's fruit dangling from trees over his head, if he reaches for the fruit, the fruit disappears. So there's a few people like that, but by and large, everyone ends up in that kind of dank, dark, boring part of the underworld. Now, a little earlier, I mentioned that some people who worship Dionysus were buried with these little gold tablets that had roadmaps. Dionysus is promising those who join his special group by being initiated into it that he will explain to them how to get to a good part of the underworld.


A part of the underworld where it's sunny all the time, where there's food, where there's drink, where there's dancing. So if while you're alive, you get initiated into this special cult of Dionysus, you get that knowledge, and you also can be buried with one of these tablets that tells you how to get there. So there are ways out. And Demeter, by the way, and Persephone also had a version of this special club. Dionysus had one, demeter and Persephone had one, which was called the Elysinian mysteries. So if you want to pay a little extra money, you might get a better deal in the underworld once you're gone.


As you mentioned, gold tablets, if we go and talk about grave goods a little bit longer, and those people who were burying one of the deceased and helping them get to the underworld, I see time and time again. And I think as we go on to the figure of karon, we'll see it with this this idea of coins on the eyes that seems super important.


A classicist looks at Greece as starting somewhere at around 900 BCE. The coins don't start showing up until more like 500 BCE. But that's still plenty early. That was thought to be a way of ensuring that the soul of the dead person could get into that boat and cross the river. In other words, you had to pay the boatman karon to get across. So, yeah, that might be a grave good. You often would bury people with things that you thought they'd like. There's implicit behind this the idea that whatever you are, when you die, that's what you are forever. So if you die as a child, you're a child ghost. So you might bury a child with toys that it had while it was alive. You might bury a woman with a spindle and loom weights, which always cracks me up, because it's as if you're saying you must love to weave, and so we're going to give you more work to do after you're dead. I'm making a little bit of a joke, but I'm trying to underscore the idea that the logic was, you're going to be what you were while you were alive, even though you're going to be kind of dim and wandering around in the dark.


So those were grave goods. There are interesting stories about what happens if you don't give a person adequate grave goods. One of them is about the tyrant Periander. This is a real person, tyrant of Corinth. And his wife Melissa died. And since he was a tyrant, they were very, very wealthy and she had lots of stuff. Well, later, he needs the help of her ghost. He has lost something. He's put something somewhere and he can't remember where. And so he thinks, I know Melissa will remember where that is. And he sends his envoys to the oracle of the dead and they ask Melissa, where is this thing that Periander has lost? And she basically says, Well, I'm not going to tell him where it is until he gives me more clothes. I'm down here in the underworld, nearly cold and naked, because he did not give me enough clothes when he performed my funeral. Right. So Periander actually tricks all the women of Corinth into gathering in one place. He says, we're going to have a big party. And once they're in that place, his guards strip all the women of Corinth of their finest clothing.


They then burn that clothing so that it goes to the underworld and Melissa tells Periander where the lost object was.


It's interesting there, Sarah, isn't it? How you have stories like that where they have to give more clothes to make someone warmer in the underworld. But also, on the flip side, how someone, if they had, let's say, they possessed the body of an enemy or someone that they didn't like, they could deliberately bury someone with not enough grave goods or without the proper funeral rights in their minds to make them suffer in the world following.


Yeah. And the best example of that is the myth of Agamemnon and clydem Nestra, who are a married couple. And clydem Nestra murders. Agamemnon. But that's not enough. She cuts off his hands and feet and performs this ritual that, if you translate the Greek, it's called the arm pitting ritual, because you tie a leather thong under the arms of the corpse and then around its neck and on the leather thong, you string its extremities. So the hands and the feet, sometimes the nose in extreme cases, even the phallus in the case of a man. And what you're trying to do is essentially hobble the ghost. Well, humiliate the ghost, too, because it's going to arrive in the underworld looking pretty darn bad, but also hobble the ghost in the sense that if it doesn't have any hands or feet, it can't really do much. So in the great tellings of the myth of Agamemnon and clydem Nestra, such as the one by Ischulus, when the ghost of Agamemnon is telling his adult son, arrestes, you have got to avenge me, this comes out, this is what your mother did to me. She didn't just kill me, she armpitted me.


And this idea sometimes of Mutilation or an example where that person who's died either had extremities parts of their body cut off afterwards or they are left unburied. Do you think this is important in understanding the importance? When you look at the military, when you look at battles, when one side loses and a lot of their comrades if you survive the battle and you're on a losing army, a lot of your comrades are out there in the field and they don't have the proper burial right or they've lost an arm or something like that. Does that help get you into the mindset of those soldiers as to how disastrous this would have been if your comrades weren't able to access the afterlife and therefore deciding to mutiny or betray your commander because you feel that that, commander, they haven't fulfilled one of the absolute necessities of being in charge of your men, which was to make sure that those soldiers who did perish under your command that they were able to.


Reach the world after absolutely decent people would periodically call truces so that both sides could come and gather their dead. And in fact, a lot of what drives the Iliad is the fact that not everyone is decent. First in the Iliad, Patroclus, the great friend lover of Achilles, depending on how you want to understand that relationship, Patroclus dies and the Greeks go to a huge amount of effort to retrieve Patroclus'corpse and ensure that Petrochlus is buried. As it happens, once they get the corpse back to the Greek camp, achilles is so overwhelmed with grief that he refuses to bury his friend. He just can't do it, until finally Patroclus's ghost appears to Achilles and says, dude, if you really loved me, bury me because I can't get into Hades. And then the very last part of the Iliad, achilles has killed Hector, who killed Patroclus, and Achilles is refusing to give Hector's corpse back to his family, the Trojans, because Achilles hates Hector so much and the gods finally have to intervene. And first of all, send Hermes to escort Hector's father, Priam to the tent of Achilles. And also tell Achilles, you will be giving back this corpse.


Now, you can tell Hector's father that you want a lot of good stuff in return for giving back the corpse, but you will be giving back this corpse.


Let's go back down into the underworld now. And I'd like to focus on a bit of these other figures alongside Hades and Persephone that we've mentioned in passing already. If we start with Karan the ferryman, do we actually know much about who this figure was?


No, almost nothing. He's basically one of these characters who exists to perform a particular function and that's it. So I'm afraid I'm at a dead end there. I can't tell you any fascinating backstory for how Chiron gets his job or who Chiron is. Similarly, Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the gates of Hades. Really cool. And he has a little bit of a genealogy and he sees the agony. We know that Cerberus is descended from these two sort of archetypical. I don't want to call them monsters exactly, but very strange gods at the beginning of the cosmos whose offspring, and really all the way down to their great grandchildren, tend to be things such as Cerberus, part animal, part human type gods or animals with more than one head. So Cerberus belongs to a family that he resembles, put it that way.


Well, so we've got the River Styx. Seems an important part in the whole geography of the underworld. You've mentioned that there is Tartarus, there's the throne room, there's the hall of Hades, and some people have this map, if they are good with Dionysus, to find a nicer part of the underworld. Do we know much else from the mythology or ancient Greek mindset as to? Were there other areas of the underworld? Did people have an idea from ancient Greek literature how other parts of this realm looks like the geography?


Almost not really. That part that I told you about where those who had joined Dionysus's cult end up, or those who had joined the cult of Demeter and Persephone. This nice part, that's a sunny meadow where people feasted that has different names. You can hear the hesitation in my voice because I'm not sure that's the best way to say it. What I really mean is there were also rumored to be these places in the underworld called the Elision Fields, which similarly were very happy. And in some strands of ancient Greek tradition, the Elision Fields was where the great heroes went. So, for example, that's where perhaps Achilles ended up, or that's where the hero Cadmus perhaps ended up. In other strands of Greek literature, achilles and Cadmus instead go to a place called the White Island. And then there's overlap between the White Island, the Elision Fields, and those meadows of Dionysus where I told you that humans who joined his cult could go. This sort of vague sense that there are good parts of the afterlife, but no one ever sits down to bring it all into order.


You mentioned Elysian Fields there. Is this the basis for that famous part of the movie Gladiator? You see him walking through the Elysian Fields. Does it have its origins, therefore, in Greek mythology?


I think so. Gladiator is a wonderful movie. I love that movie. But I got to say, as a scholar of ancient religion, there was a lot of creativity there as well. But yes, I think that's what they mean us to be thinking.


So if we go back to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice that we focused on mean, is Orpheus the only figure from Greek mythology that we hear of descending into the underworld? Or are there other figures, too?


There are other figures, and I'll tell you about them in a moment. But I'll start by saying this is a very interesting point because if you look at other cultures around the world, most of them have a story about a person going to the underworld, but they don't have more than one. What is remarkable about Greek myth is that three heroes other than Orpheus go to the underworld. We've got Odysseus, we've got Heracles, we've got Theseus and his best friend Proithuus. I'm counting them as one. And then we've got Orpheus. So that's four trips. And you could actually even add the Roman hero Aeneas. Even though he's officially, I guess, a Roman hero, he is certainly part of Greek mythology as well. He makes a trip to the underworld. So the Greeks seem to have this fascination with the potential permeability of Hades or the potential for the great heroes, at least, to be able to make that trip and return from it.


Well, let's explore these different stories. Let's start with Odysseus. Why does Odysseus go to the underworld?


He goes because the goddess Circe, with whom he's been staying, tells him that if he wants to get home, he has to get information from the great prophet Tiresius. And inconveniently enough, Tiresius is dead. So to get that information, Odysseus is going to have to go to the underworld. So he's going sort of as a reconnaissance mission to get particular information while he's down there.


And so he's successful in returning as well. And Heracles, he's similarly successful, but this is for one of his labors.


Yes, Heracles is sent down, in fact, to get that three headed dog, Cerberus. This is last of his labors. And since King Eurystheus would really love to get rid of Heracles, and he keeps giving him more and more difficult labors in hopes that Heracles will not return, this is the final chance. And Eurystheus thinks, surely Heracles cannot get to the underworld and come back successfully. But indeed he does. And he does it basically through sheer might, but also because he's the son of Zeus. And Hades more or less has been cued in by Zeus that you will allow my son to succeed in doing this. So Heracles gets the dog, returns to the upper world, shows the dog to Eurystheus, who is absolutely terrified, and jumps into a nearby empty wine jar. Wine jars were very large, so Eurystheus is terrified and dives into this nearby wine jar. This is a scene that ancient base painters love to illustrate, both Heracles carrying Cerberus, but also Eurystheus peeking out of the wine jar in utter terror. So, yes, Heracles succeeds as well if.


It'S portrayed on wine jars, on pottery. This scene, I mean, do we know much, either from the telling of the myth or from these various scenes that are depicted, how Hades reacts to this great hero coming down to the underworld, taking his dog back up to the land of the living and then him bringing him back a bit later?


We don't really know much about that. We have a poem by the ancient poet Bacillides, but we don't have it completely. We've got it in fragments. And the part we've got tells about Heracles on his way down, and he on his way down, runs into the ghost of his friend Meliger and says, oh, Meliger, I didn't even know you died. And Meliger and Heracles get into a very interesting conversation, but we never get to the part in what's left to us of Heracles and Hades themselves talking.


So you've got Odysseus, who goes down to the Underworld and he comes back and he's successful. Heracles goes down and he's able to return, orpheus and Theseus do too, I guess, to wrap it all up. What makes them so different from Eurydice, who is the one who is unable to escape the Underworld? It's interesting how Heracles, Odysseus, Theseus, they're all successful, but Eurydice is not.


Well, Theseus is not successful, actually. He and his friend Perwithuus go down there because Perwithheus has gotten the absolutely stupid idea that he's going to marry Persephone, that he's going to kidnap Persephone and marry her himself. And Theseus goes down because they are best friends. So while they're there, Perithus says, well, I'm here because I want your wife. And Hades says, oh, well, let me think about that. In the meantime, have a seat while I think about this. So Theseus and Pruathus sit down in these enchanted chairs, from which you cannot again rise. You're stuck to the chair, and they can't leave. And it's when Heracles goes down to get Cerberus that Heracles sees them, recognizes Theseus, whom he knew in the upper world, and tries to rescue them. And Heracles does this, being a very strong man, by pulling very hard, and he manages to finally get Theseus off the chair, but Heracles cannot rescue. So Perithuous is stuck in the Underworld forever, and the only reason that Theseus can return is that a greater hero rescued him. So that's a little bit more like the Eurydice story, insofar as Theseus returns, but he's lost one of the people he loves best in the world.


Right. Okay. So Eurydice is not exactly unique, then, if you also throw into the field the character of Peripherus.


Yes. And do you know the story of Protest Allowus?


No. Go ahead, take it away, Sarah.


So, Protest Allowus was a Greek who went off to the Trojan War, and there was a prophecy that whoever first leapt from a Greek ship onto the Trojan sand would also be the first to die. But no one knows this except Achilles. Achilles knows it because his mother is a goddess and she has told him. So Achilles is very careful not to be the first to leap out onto the sand, although he's very eager to. So poor, protest Allows is the first, and sure enough, protest Allows dies very quickly. Well, back home is Protest Allowos'wife, and they've only been married one day before he goes off to Troy. Her name is Laodamia. When word gets back to Laodemia that her husband has died. She goes into this horrible grief. She can hardly eat, he can't sleep. No one knows what to do. And her father, who's the king, is at his wits end. And then one of the palace craftsmen approaches her privately and says, I think I can help you. And the craftsman makes a life size statue of Protossalaus out of wax beeswax. And every night the statue sleeps next to Laodamia. And our ancient sources don't tell us whether she does interesting things with the statue or it simply sleeps next to her.


But this cheers her up. And then her father finds out what is happening and burns the statue. So she goes into grief again. Well, the gods have been watching all this and their hearts are touched and they say, gosh, dedication like that should be rewarded. So they decide that they're going to allow protest allows to come back from the dead for just one day, to spend one more day with his wife. And they put some effort into making sure that he's going to look good when he gets up above, that he won't look the way he looked when he died on the battlefield. The protests allows and Leo Demea have this wonderful day together, and she knows from the start that it's going to be just one day. Nonetheless, when the 24 hours is up and he disappears, she again sinks into this grief so deep that she cannot recover and she kills herself. So this sends sort of the same message as the Orifice and Eurydice story, that asking for the dead to return is a mistake. It's never really going to work, and you may yourself end up in a worse place than you were before they returned.


I guess that kind of leads into the last question, which is what we were kind of focusing on near the start, to believe that there were almost these entrances to the underworld in the world above if they believed it was underneath them. Do we think that there was always warnings from people who were living back in ancient Greek times that don't go searching for the underworld because you have all of these myths of people who did that and they lost friends or some of them never came back. This is something that you just don't want to do. You don't want to go exploring those deep caves because you may well find the entrance to the underworld and you may never come back.


Yeah, certainly that is one of the big purposes of these myths. And maybe one important thing I can add is we do that too. Stephen King's pet cemetery is a great example of a story about why you shouldn't be meddling around trying to bring back the dead and about what happens to a man who succeeds in doing it. And throughout that novel, there's a character who keeps saying, sometimes dead is better, sometimes dead is better. But this being a novel. The guy doesn't listen. And pet cemetery is not the only modern iteration of that. People love to hear stories about the possibility of the return of the dead, but those stories are also always sending that message that you shouldn't try.


Shouldn't try indeed. Well, Sarah, this has been absolutely fantastic. Last, but certainly not least, you have written a book about Greek myths which includes several myths which include the figure of Hades, and it is called it's.


Called Gods and Mortals ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers. And it came out earlier this year from Princeton University Press.


Fantastic. Well, Sarah, it just goes me to say thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast today.


Thank you, Tristan. I really enjoyed it.


Well, there you go. The latest episode of our special Greek Gods and Goddesses miniseries. This series has now been going on for over a year and we've still got several deities to do. Don't you worry, they're coming with the next one being Hades'wife Persephone. If you have enjoyed this episode and you want to help us out at the Ancients, well, you know what you can do? You can leave us a lovely rating on Apple podcasts on Spotify, wherever you get your podcasts from, it really helps us as we continue to grow the ancients and to share these amazing stories with as many people as possible. But that's enough from me and I will see you in the next episode.


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