The Ancient Greek pantheon is one of the most well-known and popular mythologies. Several stories have been inspired by the myths and legends of the Ancient Greeks. Even today pop culture keeps creating works in literature and film that are directly influenced by it. But though several gods like Zeus or Athena or Apollo are relatively straightforward, Hades is not!
Hades is the god of the Underworld, the king of the dead. And because of our modern considerations, especially due to the influences of Christianity, modern readers and authors tend to automatically cast Hades as some kind of devil or evil deity and his kingdom the underworld something Dante could have visited.
That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth! Hades is nothing like the Christian Devil nor is his kingdom Hell.
So what is the truth about Hades? Here are some basic facts to set things straight!
14 Fun Facts About the Greek God Hades
He is the oldest brother
Hades is the son of Cronus and Rhea, the king and queen of the Titans. In fact, he is the firstborn! After him, his siblings Poseidon, Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Chiron, and Zeus were born.
So, Hades is the older brother of Zeus, king of the gods, and Poseidon, king of the seas!
You might also like: Family tree of the Olympian Gods.
His youngest brother saved him
Hades’ life didn’t start very well. The moment he was born his father, Cronus, swallowed him whole for fear of a prophecy by Gaia, the primordial goddess of the Earth and Cronus’ mom, that one of his children would topple him and steal his throne.
Overcome with fear that he would lose his power, Cronus set out to eat every single one of his children the moment his wife Rhea gave birth to them. So after Hades, five of his siblings followed down Cronus’ gullet.
Tired of giving birth to children but having none to raise, Rhea decided to go against Cronus when Zeus, the youngest, was born. She disguised a big stone as a newborn baby and gave it to Cronus while she hid Zeus away.
When Zeus was old enough, he rose against his father. With the help of the Titan Metis, the goddess of wisdom, Zeus tricked Cronus into drinking a potion that forced him to vomit out all his children.
Hades emerged along with his siblings, now fully grown, and joined Zeus in the war against the Titans.
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He got his kingdom after the Titanomachy
Cronus wouldn’t give up the throne without a fight. In fact, he wouldn’t give up his throne to Zeus without a war, and that war was called the “Titanomachy”, the battle of the Titans.
Zeus and his siblings, including Hades, fought against Cronus and the other Titans ruling with him. After a huge war that lasted ten years, Zeus won and became the new king of the gods.
Together with Hades and Poseidon they divided up the world into separate kingdoms. Zeus got the sky and air, Poseidon got the sea, water, and earthquakes, and Hades got the kingdom of the dead, the Underworld.
The earth was considered common possession of all the gods, unless one of the three brothers intervened.
He is not the god of death
Though Hades is the god of the dead, he is not the god of death. That is Thanatos, a primordial winged god who was the twin of the god of sleep, Hypnos. Thanatos is who sweeps down to take the soul and cause a person to die and become a member of Hades’ kingdom.
He is not (always) one of the 12 Olympians
Because Hades’ kingdom is so far away from Olympus, he isn’t always considered as one of the 12 Olympian gods who live or spend most of their time in the divine quarters at the top of the mountain. Hades seems content to stay in his kingdom, where everyone eventually ends up.
He has a pet
Hades has a dog, the monstrous and giant Cerberus. Cerberus guards the gates of the Underworld, not allowing anyone to leave.
Cerberus had three heads and the tail of a snake. He was the offspring of the monsters Echidna and Typhon.
There are many attempts to analyze what Cerberus’ name means, but none of them have gained common consensus. Among the most prevalent ones, however, are that Cerberus’ name means “spotted” or “growly”.
Check out: Animal symbols of the Greek gods.
He has a wife, Persephone
The myth of how Hades got Persephone for his wife is perhaps the most famous one about him.
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of spring and harvest. Hades saw her and fell in love with her, so he went to Zeus to ask for her hand in marriage.
Zeus was all for it, but he was afraid that Demeter would never agree to the match because she wanted to keep her daughter with her. So he suggested to Hades to kidnap her.
So, one day, Persephone was at a beautiful meadow when she saw the most beautiful flower. Some myths say that the flower was asphodel. As soon as Persephone went near, the earth split up, and from within Hades emerged in his chariot and carried Persephone away into Hades.
When Demeter realized that Persephone was gone, she looked for her everywhere to no avail. Nobody knew what had happened to her. Eventually, Helios the god of the sun who sees everything told her what had happened. Demeter was so devastated that she stopped seeing to her duties.
Winter came to the land, and everything died under heavy snow. Zeus then sent Hermes down to the underworld to tell Hades of the problem. Hades agreed to allow Persephone to return to see her mother. By then he and Persephone had already married, and he once again promised to be a good husband to her.
Before Persephone returned, afraid that Demeter would never let her return to his kingdom, he offered Persephone pomegranate seeds, which Persephone ate.
When Demeter got Persephone back, her joy and happiness made spring come again. For a good while, mother and daughter were reunited. But then, Demeter realized that Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds, which bound her to the underworld because it was food from the underworld.
Scared that the earth may die again, Zeus struck a deal with her. Persephone would spend a third of the year in the underworld, a third with her mother, and a third she would do as she pleased. Other myths say half of the year was with Hades and another half with Demeter. This arrangement explains the seasons, as winter comes when Persephone is in the underworld and Demeter is sad again.
He has children
Though some think that Hades was infertile since he is the god of the dead, that’s not true. He has several children, depending on the myth, but the ones established are Melinoe, the goddess/nymph of appeasement of the gods, Zagreus, a strong god of the underworld, Macaria, goddess of the blessed death, and sometimes Plutus, god of wealth and the Erinyes, goddesses of vengeance.
He and his wife are equals
As Hades’ wife, Persephone became queen of the dead and the underworld. Often she is the one who takes initiative in myths rather than Hades. They are generally portrayed as a loving couple that stays loyal to each other, a rarity among the Greek gods.
There was only one time that Hades was tempted with another woman, Minthe, and Persephone turned her into the mint plant. Some myths also mention a second one, Leuke, whom Persephone turned into a poplar tree, but only after she lived out her life, in honor of Hades.
The same goes for Persephone- she was accosted only by one man, Theseus’ brother Pirithous, whom Hades forever punished in Tartarus. Another myth wants her to have fallen in love with Adonis whom she raised in the underworld, but Hades never takes issue with this just like Persephone with Leuke.
His kingdom is vast and diverse
The underworld, also called ‘hades’ at times, is a vast place with several different areas. It is not hell nor a place of punishment. It is merely where mortals go when they die.
The underworld was split into three major areas: the Asphodel Fields, the Elysian Fields, and Tartarus.
The Asphodel Fields were where most people went. They became shades, spirit versions of the persons they were in life, and wandered around there.
The Elysian Fields were where especially heroic, good, or virtuous people went. They were bright places full of beauty, music, merriment, and cheer. The dead who could enter here had lives of bliss and happy activity. This is the closest to the Christian heaven.
Tartarus, on the other hand, was where particularly evil people went. To end up in Tartarus, severe atrocities or insults to the gods had to have been committed in life. In Tartarus, a horridly black and cold place, only punishments were meted out.
The underworld was separated from the world of the living by the sacred river Styx. Its waters were awe-inspiring even to the gods, who could be bound by oath if they made the oath with Styx’s waters.
There were several entrances to the underworld, usually from caves.
He likes peace and balance
Though feared because he was king of the dead, Hades is portrayed as a benign ruler with a lot of compassion. He is interested in keeping balance and peace in his kingdom, and he is often moved by the plights of mortals.
There are several myths where he and Persephone grant chances for mortal souls to return to the land of the living. Some examples are Eurydice, Orpheus’ lover, Sisyphus, Admetus and Alcestis, and many more.
The only time when Hades becomes enraged is if others try to cheat him or cheat their way out of death or try to escape without his permission.
One of his names is “Zeus Katachthonios”
The name basically means “Zeus of the Underworld” because he was absolute king and master in the Underworld, the greatest of all kingdoms since everyone eventually ends up there.
He has a magical cap (or helmet)
Hades has a cap or helmet which makes you invisible when you wear it, even to other gods. It was also called “the dog skin of Hades”. It is said that he got it from the Uranian Cyclops, together when Zeus got his lightning and Poseidon his trident in order to fight in the Titanomachy.
Hades has lent this cap to other gods, such as Athena and Hermes, but also to some demigods, like Perseus.
His and Persephone’s names were not mentioned
The ancient Greeks avoided calling Hades or Persephone by name, in fear that they would attract their attention and invite a faster death. Instead, they used monikers and descriptives to refer to them. For example, Hades was called aidoneus or aides which means “the unseen”, or polydectes which means “the receiver of many”. Persephone was called kore which means “maiden” but also “daughter”. She also was called despoina which means “the noble lady” or “noble maiden” or the pale queen.