House of Hades
Dwellings of Hades
THE DOMOS HAIDOU (House of Hades) was the land of the dead in Greek myth and religion. The ancient Mystery Cults refined the concepts of the afterlife first presented in the works of the archaic poets. The Eleusinian Mysteries envisaged a blessed Elysian realm where initiates who had lived a virtuous life would be sent after death. The Orphics and Pythagoreans introduced the concepts of reincarnation, an underworld purgatory, and two constrasting afterlife realms--Elysion (Elysium) for the good and Tartaros for the wicked.
The specifics of the different mystic belief systems varied somewhat but using the structure of Plato's Dialogues, in combination with the writings of several other ancient writers, a generic "mystic underworld" can be construed:--
When a man died his soul was drawn from his body by the peaceful daimon of death, Thanatos, or the violent Keres. Hermes Psykhopompos (Guide of the Dead) gathered together the souls and led them down to the underworld where they are received by Kharon (Charon), ferryman of the dead, on the banks of the Akherousian (Acherusian) mere.
Some dead refused to follow--lingering upon the earth as haunting ghosts until banished and brought to the underworld by force. A few--like the mythical king Sisyphos and the legendary Philinnion--might reinhabited their corpses as undead ghouls
Those dead who had not received a proper burial would linger on shores of the Akheron (Acheron) unable to cross over in the skiff of Kharon. These restless dead were led forth from the underworld at night by Hekate (Hecate) to haunt the upper world. Some passed through the Gate of Dreams to visit men in their sleep to demand a proper burial.
Kharon ferried the souls to the gates of Haides, a portal guarded by the hound Kerberos (Cerberus). Passing through thy entered the court of Haides and presented themselves before the king of the dead, his queen Persephone and the three Judges of the Dead--Minos, Rhadamanthys, Aiakos (Aeacus)--who decided their fate in the underworld. The demi-god Triptolemos acted as a fourth, beneficent judge for the blessed Initiates of the Mysteries. After judgement was pronounced the souls were handed over to the Erinyes who purified the good of their sins and dragged the wicked off to the dungeon of the damned Tartaros. The good were led to the paradise realm of Elysion (Elysium) by the Mystery-god Iakkhos (Iacchus) or Zagreus where they would reside for a time.
Of the souls despatched to Tartaros, the redeemable ones were held in rough purgatory for a period of one year before being returned to the Akherousian mere via the rivers Kokytos (Cocytus) or Pyriphlegethon where they were judged by the souls of those they have wronged--a favourable verdict won them reincarnation, a negative one sent them back to Tartaros for a repeat of the process. The irredeemably wicked, however, receive no purgatory but were instead confined in the Tartarean dungeon for eternity.
Souls which had been reincarnated three times and with each life had earned a place in Elysion were sent to the Islands of the Blessed following their fourth reincarnation to reside with the heroes of myth for all eternity.
Finally the mystics spoke of the creation of new souls. These were drawn forth from the depths of Tartarean pit by the Titanes, received at the gate by the Hekatonkheires Tritopatores ("The Hundred-Handed Three-Fathers") and delivered upon the winds to their birth. As the spawn of Titanes new souls required redemption through the cycles of reincarnation. Later writers, such as the Roman Virgil, locate new souls in a holding pen near Elysion.
N.B. The afterlife in ancient Greek religion, the Mystery Cults, and the Orphic and Pythagorean traditions is an extremely complex subject. This page only offers a very brief glance at the subject.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
The lyric poet Pindar described the realm of Hades.
[Pindar section incomplete.]
Plato, Republic 386a - 387c (trans. Shorey) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"‘What then of this? If they [the youth] are to be brave, must we not extend our prescription to include also the sayings that will make them least likely to fear death? Or do you suppose that anyone could ever become brave who had that dread in his heart?’
‘No indeed, I do not,‘ he replied. ‘And again if he believes in the reality of the underworld and its terrors, do you think that any man will be fearless of death and in battle will prefer death to defeat and slavery? . . . Then it seems we must exercise supervision also, in the matter of such tales as these, over those who undertake to supply them and request them not to dispraise in this undiscriminating fashion the life in Haides (Hades) but rather praise it, since what they now tell us is neither true nor edifying to men who are destined to be warriors . . . Then beginning with this verse we will expunge everything of the same kind : "Liefer were I in the fields up above to be serf to another tiller of some poor plot which yields him a scanty subsistence, than to be ruler and king over all the dead who have perished," [Aeschylus, fragment] and this : "Lest unto men and immortals the homes of the dead be uncovered horrible, noisome, dank, that the gods too hold in abhorrence," [Homer, Iliad 20.64] and : "Ah me! so it is true that e'en in the dwellings of Haides spirit there is and wraith, but within there is no understanding," [Iliad 10.495] and this : "Sole to have wisdom and wit, but the others are shadowy phantoms," [Iliad 23.103] and : "Forth from his limbs unwilling his spirit flitted to Haides, wailing its doom and its lustihood lost and the May of its manhood," [Iliad 16.856] and : "Under the earth like a vapor vanished the gibbering soul," [Iliad 23.180] and : "Even as bats in the hollow of some mysterious grotto fly with a flittermouse shriek when one of them falls from the cluster whereby they hold to the rock and are clinging the one to the other, flitted their gibbering ghosts." [Odyssey 24.6-10] We will beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we cancel those and all similar passages, not that they are not poetic and pleasing to most hearers, but because the more poetic they are the less are they suited to the ears of boys and men who are destined to be free and to be more afraid of slavery than of death . . . Then we must further taboo in these matters the entire vocabulary of terror and fear, Kokytos named of lamentation loud, abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate, the eneroi (the people of the infernal pit) and of the charnel-house, and all other terms of this type, whose very names send a shudder through all the hearers every year. And they may be excellent for other purposes, but we are in fear for our guardians lest the habit of such thrills make them more sensitive and soft than we would have them.’ ‘And we are right in so fearing.’ ‘We must remove those things then?’ ‘Yes.’"
Plato, Meno 81a ff (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Sokrates (Socrates) : There were certain priests and priestesses who have studied so as to be able to give a reasoned account of their ministry [i.e. the priests of the Mysteries]; and Pindar also and many another poet of heavenly gifts. As to their words, they are these : mark now, if you judge them to be true. They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes [i.e. the soul is reincarnated]. Consequently one ought to live all one's life in the utmost holiness. ‘For from whomsoever Persephone shall accept requital for ancient wrong, the souls of these she restores in the ninth year to the upper sun again; from them arise glorious kings and men of splendid might and surpassing wisdom, and for all remaining time are they called holy heroes amongst mankind.’
Seeing then that the soul is immortal and has been born many times, and has beheld all things both in this world and in the nether realms, she has acquired knowledge of all and everything; so that it is no wonder that she should be able to recollect all that she knew before about virtue and other things. For as all nature is akin, and the soul has learned all things, there is no reason why we should not, by remembering but one single thing--an act which men call learning--discover everything else, if we have courage and faint not in the search; since, it would seem, research and learning are wholly recollection."
[N.B. "Ancient wrongs"--in Greek penthos"affliction"--means something like "fall" or "sin" in the language of the mystics. These lines probably come from one of Pindar's Dirges. The "holy heroes" are the best of souls who dwell in the Islands of the Blessed, the penultimate Elysian paradise.]
Plato, Phaedo 69c (trans. Fowler) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Sokrates : And I fancy that those men who established the Mysteries were not unenlightened, but in reality had a hidden meaning when they said long ago that whoever goes uninitiated and unsanctified to the other world will lie in the mire, but he who arrives there initiated and purified will dwell with the gods. For as they say in the mysteries, ‘the thyrsos-bearers are many, but the mystics few’; and these mystics are, I believe, those who have been true philosophers."
Plato, Phaedo 81c - 82c (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[On ghosts and reincarnation.] [Sokrates (Socrates) converses with Kebes (Cebes) on the day of his execution :] ‘And, my friend, we must believe that the corporeal is burdensome and heavy and earthly and visible. And such a soul is weighed down by this and is dragged back into the visible world, through fear of the invisible and of the other world, and so, as they say, it flits [as a ghost] about the monuments and the tombs, where shadowy shapes of souls (skioeidês psychê) have been seen, figures of those souls which were not set free in purity but retain something of the visible; and this is why they are seen.’ ‘That is likely, Sokrates.’ ‘It is likely, Kebes. And it is likely that those are not the souls of the good, but those of the base, which are compelled to flit about such places as a punishment for their former evil mode of life. And they flit about until through the desire of the corporeal which clings to them they are again imprisoned in a body. And they [i.e. when they are reincarnated] are likely to be imprisoned in natures which correspond to the practices of their former life.’ ‘What natures do you mean Sokrates?’ ‘I mean, for example, that those who have indulged in gluttony and violence and drunkenness, and have taken no pains to avoid them, are likely to pass into the bodies of asses and other beasts of that sort.’ ‘Do you not think so?’ ‘Certainly that is very likely.’ ‘And those who have chosen injustice and tyranny and robbery pass into the bodies of wolves and hawks and kites. Where else can we imagine that they go?’ ‘Beyond a doubt,’ said Kebes, ‘they pass into such creatures.’ ‘Then,’ said he, ‘it is clear where all the others go, each in accordance with its own habits?’ ‘Yes,’ said Kebes, ‘of course.’ ‘Then,’ said he, ‘the happiest of those, and those who go to the best place, are those who have practiced, by nature and habit, without philosophy or reason, the social and civil virtues which are called moderation and justice?’ ‘How are these happiest?’ ‘Don't you see? Is it not likely that they pass again into some such social and gentle species as that of bees or of wasps or ants, or into the human race again, and that worthy men spring from them?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And no one who has not been a philosopher and who is not wholly pure when he departs, is allowed to enter into the communion of the gods, but only the lover of knowledge. It is for this reason, dear Simmias and Kebes, that those who truly love wisdom refrain from all bodily desires and resist them firmly and do not give themselves up to them.’"
Plato, Phaedo 107c - 108c (trans. Fowler) :
"Sokrates : But now, since the soul is seen to be immortal, it cannot escape from evil or be saved in any other way than by becoming as good and wise as possible. For the soul takes with it to the other world nothing but its education and nurture, and these are said to benefit or injure the departed greatly from the very beginning of his journey thither. And so it is said that after death, the tutelary genius (daimon) of each person, to whom he had been allotted in life, leads him to a place where the dead are gathered together [i.e. the daimon-guide is Plato's equivalent of Hermes Psykhopompos (Guide of the Dead)]; then they are judged and depart to the other world with the guide whose task it is to conduct thither those who come from this world [i.e. the spirit Iakkhos (Iacchus)]; and when they have there received their due and remained through the time appointed, another guide [probably Dionysos] brings them back after many long periods of time [i.e. they are reincarnated into a new life].
And the journey is not as Telephos (Telephus) says in the play of Aiskhylos (Aeschylus); for he says a simple path leads to Haides (the lower world), but I think the path is neither simple nor single, for if it were, there would be no need of guides, since no one could miss the way to any place if there were only one road. But really there seem to be many forks of the road and many windings; this I infer from the rites and ceremonies practiced here on earth [i.e. the Mystery cults]. Now the orderly and wise soul follows its guide and understands its circumstances; but the soul that is desirous of the body, as I said before, flits about it, and in the visible world for a long time [i.e. as a haunting ghost], and after much resistance and many sufferings is led away with violence and with difficulty by its appointed genius (daimon). And when it arrives at the place where the other souls are, the soul which is impure and has done wrong, by committing wicked murders or other deeds akin to those and the works of kindred souls, is avoided and shunned by all, and no one is willing to be its companion or its guide, but it wanders about alone in utter bewilderment, during certain fixed times, after which it is carried by necessity to its fitting habitation [i.e. by the Erinyes to Tartaros]. But the soul that has passed through life in purity and righteousness, finds gods for companions and guides, and goes to dwell in its proper dwelling [i.e. happy Elysion (Elysium)]."
Plato, Phaedo 111 - 115a :
"[111c The hollows of the earth :]
Sokrates : Round about the whole earth, in the hollows of it, are many regions, some deeper and wider than that in which we live, some deeper but with a narrower opening than ours, and some also less in depth and wider. Now all these are connected with one another by many subterranean channels, some larger and some smaller, which are bored in all of them, and there are passages through which much water flows from one to another as into mixing bowls; and there are everlasting rivers of huge size under the earth, flowing with hot and cold water; and there is much fire, and great rivers of fire, and many streams of mud, some thinner and some thicker, like the rivers of mud that flow before the lava in Sikelia (Sicily), and the lava itself. These fill the various regions as they happen to flow to one or another at any time. Now a kind of oscillation within the earth moves all these up and down. And the nature of the oscillation is as follows.
[111d Haides-Tartaros and the passage of water through the underworld :]
One of the chasms of the earth is greater than the rest [i.e. the realm of Haides], and is bored right through the whole earth; this is the one which Homer means when he says : ‘Far off, the lowest abyss beneath the earth’; and which elsewhere he and many other poets have called Tartaros (Tartarus). For all the rivers flow together into this chasm and flow out of it again, and they have each the nature of the earth through which they flow. And the reason why all the streams flow in and out here is that this liquid matter has no bottom or foundation. So it oscillates and waves up and down, and the air and wind about it do the same; for they follow the liquid both when it moves toward the other side of the earth and when it moves toward this side, and just as the breath of those who breathe blows in and out, so the wind there oscillates with the liquid and causes terrible and irresistible blasts as it rushes in and out
And when the water retires to the region which we call the lower, it flows into the rivers there and fills them up, as if it were pumped into them; and when it leaves that region and comes back to this side, it fills the rivers here; and when the streams are filled they flow through the passages and through the earth and come to the various places to which their different paths lead, where they make seas and marshes, and rivers and springs. Thence they go down again under the earth, some passing around many great regions and others around fewer and smaller places, and flow again into Tartaros, some much below the point where they were sucked out, and some only a little; but all flow in below their exit. Some flow in on the side from which they flowed out, others on the opposite side; and some pass completely around in a circle, coiling about the earth once or several times, like serpents, then descend to the lowest possible depth and fall again into the chasm. Now it is possible to go down from each side to the center, but not beyond, for there the slope rises forward in front of the streams from either side of the earth.
[112e The underworld rivers Akheron (Acheron), Pyriphlegethon and Styx :]
Now these streams are many and great and of all sorts, but among the many are four streams, the greatest and outermost of which is that called Okeanos (Oceanus), which flows round in a circle, and opposite this, flowing in the opposite direction, is Akheron (Acheron), which flows through various desert places and, passing under the earth, comes to the Akherousian (Acherusian) Lake. To this lake the souls of most of the dead go and, after remaining there the appointed time, which is for some longer and for others shorter, are sent back to be born again into living beings. The third river flows out between these two, and near the place whence it issues it falls into a vast region burning with a great fire and makes a lake larger than our Mediterranean sea, boiling with water and mud. Thence it flows in a circle, turbid and muddy, and comes in its winding course, among other places, to the edge of the Akherousian Lake, but does not mingle with its water. Then, after winding about many times underground, it flows into Tartaros at a lower level. This is the river which is called Pyriphlegethon, and the streams of lava which spout up at various places on earth are offshoots from it. Opposite this the fourth river issues, it is said, first into a wild and awful place, which is all of a dark blue color, like lapis lazuli. This is called the Stygios (Stygian river), and the lake which it forms by flowing in is the Styx. And when the river has flowed in here and has received fearful powers into its waters, it passes under the earth and, circling round in the direction opposed to that of Pyriphlegethon, it meets it coming from the other way in the Akherousian Lake. And the water of this river also mingles with no other water, but this also passes round in a circle and falls into Tartaros opposite Pyriphlegethon. And the name of this river, as the Poets say, is Kokytos. Such is the nature of these things.
[113d The journey of the spirits of the dead :]
Now when the dead have come to the place where each is led by his genius (daimon) [i.e. Plato's equivalent of Hermes Psykhopompos (Guide of the Dead)], first they are judged and sentenced [i.e. by the Judges of the Dead], as they have lived well and piously, or not. And those who are found to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the Akheron and, embarking upon vessels provided for them [i.e. the equivalent of Kharon's (Charon's) skiff], arrive in them at the lake; there they dwell and are purified [i.e. by the equivalent of the Erinyes], and if they have done any wrong they are absolved by paying the penalty for their wrong doings, and for their good deeds they receive rewards [i.e. in Elysion (Elysium)], each according to his merits. But those who appear to be incurable, on account of the greatness of their wrongdoings, because they have committed many great deeds of sacrilege, or wicked and abominable murders, or any other such crimes, are cast by their fitting destiny into Tartaros, whence they never emerge. Those, however, who are curable, but are found to have committed great sin--who have, for example, in a moment of passion done some act of violence against father or mother and have lived in repentance the rest of their lives, or who have slain some other person under similar conditions--these must needs be thrown into Tartaros, and when they have been there a year the wave casts them out, the homicides by way of [the river] Kokytos (Cocytus), those who have outraged their parents by way of Pyriphlegethon. And when they have been brought by the current to the Akherousian Lake, they shout and cry out, calling to those whom they have slain or outraged, begging and beseeching them to be gracious and to let them come out into the lake; and if they prevail they come out and cease from their ills, but if not, they are borne away again to Tartaros and thence back into the rivers, and this goes on until they prevail upon those whom they have wronged; for this is the penalty imposed upon them by the judges.
But those who are found to have excelled in holy living are freed from these regions within the earth and are released as from prisons; they mount upward into their pure abode and dwell upon the earth [i.e. in the Islands of the Blessed--the higher Elysion]. And of these, all who have duly purified themselves by philosophy live henceforth altogether without bodies, and pass to still more beautiful abodes which it is not easy to describe, nor have we now time enough.
But, Simmias, because of all these things which we have recounted we ought to do our best to acquire virtue and wisdom in life. For the prize is fair and the hope great. Now it would not be fitting for a man of sense to maintain that all this is just as I have described it, but that this or something like it is true concerning our souls and their abodes, since the soul is shown to be immortal, I think he may properly and worthily venture to believe; for the venture is well worth while; and he ought to repeat such things to himself as if they were magic charms, which is the reason why I have been lengthening out the story so long. This then is why a man should be of good cheer about his soul, who in his life has rejected the pleasures and ornaments of the body, thinking they are alien to him and more likely to do him harm than good, and has sought eagerly for those of learning, and after adorning his soul with no alien ornaments, but with its own proper adornment of self-restraint and justice and courage and freedom and truth, awaits his departure to the other world, ready to go when fate calls him."
Plato, Crito 54c (trans. Fowler) :
"If you escape after so disgracefully requiting wrong with wrong and evil with evil, breaking your compacts and agreements with us, and injuring those whom you least ought to injure--yourself, your friends, your country and us--we shall be angry with you while you live, and there our brothers, the laws in Haides' realm, will not receive you graciously; for they will know that you tried, so far as in you lay, to destroy us."
Plato, Gorgias 523a - 527a (trans. Lamb) :
"[On the Judges of the Dead :] Sokrates : Give ear then, as they say, to a right fine story, which you will regard as a fable, I fancy, but I as an actual account; for what I am about to tell you I mean to offer as the truth. By Homer's account, Zeus, Poseidon, and Plouton (Pluton) [Haides] divided the sovereignty amongst them when they took it over from their father. Now in the time of Kronos (Cronus) there was a law concerning mankind, and it holds to this very day amongst the gods, that every man who has passed a just and holy life departs after his decease to the Isles of the Blest (Nesoi Makaron), and dwells in all happiness apart from ill; but whoever has lived unjustly and impiously goes to the dungeon of requital and penance which, you know, they call Tartaros (Tartarus). Of these men there were judges in Kronos' time, and still of late in the reign of Zeus--living men to judge the living upon the day when each was to breathe his last; and thus the cases were being decided amiss. So Plouton [Haides] and the overseers from the Isles of the Blest came before Zeus with the report that they found men passing over to either abode undeserving. Then spake Zeus : ‘Nay,’ said he, ‘I will put a stop to these proceedings. The cases are now indeed judged ill and it is because they who are on trial are tried in their clothing, for they are tried alive. Now many,’ said he, ‘who have wicked souls are clad in fair bodies and ancestry and wealth, and at their judgement appear many witnesses to testify that their lives have been just. Now, the judges are confounded not only by their evidence but at the same time by being clothed themselves while they sit in judgement, having their own soul muffled in the veil of eyes and ears and the whole body. Thus all these are a hindrance to them, their own habiliments no less than those of the judged. Well, first of all,’ he said, ‘we must put a stop to their foreknowledge of their death; for this they at present foreknow. However, Prometheus has already been given the word to stop this in them. Next they must be stripped bare of all those things before they are tried; for they must stand their trial dead. Their judge also must be naked, dead, beholding with very soul the very soul of each immediately upon his death, bereft of all his kin and having left behind on earth all that fine array, to the end that the judgement may be just. Now I, knowing all this before you, have appointed sons of my own to be judges; two from Asia, Minos and Rhadamanthus, and one from Europe, Aiakos (Aeacus). These, when their life is ended, shall give judgement in the meadow at the dividing of the road, whence are the two ways leading, one to the Isles of the Blest (Nesoi Makaron), and the other to Tartaros. And those who come from Asia shall Rhadamanthys try, and those from Europe, Aiakos; and to Minos I will give the privilege of the final decision, if the other two be in any doubt; that the judgement upon this journey of mankind may be supremely just.’
This, Kallikles (Callicles), is what I have heard and believe to be true; and from these stories, on my reckoning, we must draw some such moral as this: death, as it seems to me, is actually nothing but the disconnection of two things, the soul and the body, from each other. And so when they are disconnected from one another, each of them keeps its own condition very much as it was when the man was alive, the body having its own nature, with its treatments and experiences all manifest upon it. For instance, if anyone's body was large by nature or by feeding or by both when he was alive, his corpse will be large also when he is dead; and if he was fat, it will be fat too after his death, and so on for the rest; or again, if he used to follow the fashion of long hair, long-haired also will be his corpse. Again, if anyone had been a sturdy rogue, and bore traces of his stripes in scars on his body, either from the whip or from other wounds, while yet alive, then after death too his body has these marks visible upon it; or if anyone's limbs were broken or distorted in life, these same effects are manifest in death. In a word, whatever sort of bodily appearance a man had acquired in life, that is manifest also after his death either wholly or in the main for some time. And so it seems to me that the same is the case with the soul too, Kallikles : when a man's soul is stripped bare of the body, all its natural gifts, and the experiences added to that soul as the result of his various pursuits, are manifest in it. So when they have arrived in presence of their judge, they of Asia before Rhadamanthys, these Rhadamanthys sets before him and surveys the soul of each, not knowing whose it is; nay, often when he has laid hold of the Great King or some other prince or potentate, he perceives the utter unhealthiness of his soul, striped all over with the scourge, and a mass of wounds, the work of perjuries and injustice; where every act has left its smirch upon his soul, where all is awry through falsehood and imposture, and nothing straight because of a nurture that knew not truth: or, as the result of an unbridled course of fastidiousness, insolence, and incontinence, he finds the soul full fraught with disproportion and ugliness. Beholding this he sends it away in dishonor straight to the place of custody, where on its arrival it is to endure the sufferings that are fitting. And it is fitting that every one under punishment rightly inflicted on him by another should either be made better and profit thereby, or serve as an example to the rest, that others seeing the sufferings he endures may in fear amend themselves. Those who are benefited by the punishment they get from gods and men are they who have committed remediable offences; but still it is through bitter throes of pain that they receive their benefit both here and in Haides (the nether world); for in no other way can there be riddance of iniquity. But of those who have done extreme wrong and, as a result of such crimes, have become incurable, of those are the examples made; no longer are they profited at all themselves, since they are incurable, but others are profited who behold them undergoing for their transgressions the greatest, sharpest, and most fearful sufferings evermore, actually hung up as examples there in the infernal dungeon, a spectacle and a lesson to such of the wrongdoers as arrive from time to time . . . And I think, moreover, that most of these examples have come from despots and kings and potentates and public administrators; for these, since they have a free hand, commit the greatest and most impious offences. Homer also testifies to this; for he has represented kings and potentates that we find the specially wicked men as those who are punished everlastingly in the nether world--Tantalos (Tantalus) and Sisyphos (Sisyphus) and Tityos (Tityus) . . .
So, as I was saying, whenever the judge Rhadamanthys has to deal with such a one, he knows nothing else of him at all, neither who he is nor of what descent, but only that he is a wicked person and on perceiving this he sends him away to Tartaros, first setting a mark on him to show whether he deems it a curable or an incurable case; and when the man arrives there he suffers what is fitting. Sometimes, when he discerns another soul that has lived a holy life in company with truth, a private man's or any others . . . he is struck with admiration and sends it off to the Isles of the Blest (Nesoi Makaron). And exactly the same is the procedure of Aiakos (Aeacus) : each of these two holds a rod in his hand as he gives judgement; but Minos sits as supervisor, distinguished by the golden scepter that he holds, as Odysseus in Homer tells how he saw him--`Holding a golden scepter, speaking dooms to the dead.'
Now for my part, Kallikles, I am convinced by these accounts, and I consider how I may be able to show my judge that my soul is in the best of health. So giving the go-by to the honors that most men seek I shall try, by inquiry into the truth, to be really good in as high a degree as I am able, both in my life and, when I come to die, in my death. And I invite all other men likewise, to the best of my power, and you particularly I invite in return, to this life and this contest, which I say is worth all other contests on this earth; and I make it a reproach to you, that you will not be able to deliver yourself when your trial comes and the judgement of which I told you just now; but when you go before your judge, [Aiakos] the son of Aigina (Aegina), and he grips you and drags you up, you will gape and feel dizzy there no less than I do here, and some one perhaps will give you, yes, a degrading box on the ear, and will treat you with every kind of contumely.
Possibly, however, you regard this as an old wife's tale, and despise it."
Plato, Apology 40e (trans. Fowler) :
"Sokrates : If death is, as it were, a change of habitation from here to some other place, and if what we are told is true, that all the dead are there, what greater blessing could there be, judges? For if a man when he reaches the other world, after leaving behind these who claim to be judges, shall find those who are really judges who are said to sit in judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthys, and Aiakos (Aeacus) and Triptolemos (Triptolemus), and all the other demigods who were just men in their lives, would the change of habitation be undesirable? Or again, what would any of you give to meet with Orpheus and Musaios (Musaeus) and Hesiod and Homer? I am willing to die many times over, if these things are true; for I personally should find the life there wonderful, when I met Palamedes or Aias (Ajax), the son of Telamon, or any other men of old who lost their lives through an unjust judgement, and compared my experience with theirs. I think that would not be unpleasant. And the greatest pleasure would be to pass my time in examining and investigating the people there, as I do those here, to find out who among them is wise and who thinks he is when he is not. What price would any of you pay, judges, to examine him who led the great army against Troy, or Odysseus, or Sisyphos, or countless others, both men and women, whom I might mention? To converse and associate with them and examine them would be immeasurable happiness. At any rate, the folk there do not kill people for it; since, if what we are told is true, they are immortal for all future time, besides being happier in other respects than men are here."
Plato, The Republic 363d ff (trans. Shorey) :
"And Musaios (Musaeus) and his son [Eumolpos--poets of hymns of the Eleusinian Mysteries] have a more excellent song than these of the blessings that the gods bestow on the righteous. For they conduct them to the house of Haides in their tale and arrange a symposium of the saints, where, reclined on couches crowned with wreaths, they entertain the time henceforth with wine, as if the fairest meed of virtue were an everlasting drunk. And others extend still further the rewards of virtue from the gods. For they say that the children's children of the pious and oath-keeping man and his race thereafter never fail. Such and such-like are their praises of justice. But the impious and the unjust they bury in mud in the house of Haides and compel them to fetch water in a sieve, and, while they still live, they bring them into evil repute, and all the sufferings that Glaukon (Glaucon) enumerated as befalling just men who are thought to be unjust, these they recite about the unjust, but they have nothing else to say. Such is the praise and the censure of the just and of the unjust."
Plato, The Republic 364b-d :
"But the strangest of all these speeches are the things they [the gnomic poets] say about the gods and virtue, how so it is that the gods themselves assign to many good men misfortunes and an evil life but to their opposites a contrary lot; and Agyrtai (begging priests) and Mantoi (soothsayers) go to rich men's doors and make them believe that they by means of sacrifices and incantations have accumulated a treasure of power from the gods that can expiate and cure with pleasurable festivals any misdeed of a man or his ancestors . . . And they produce a bushel of books of Musaios (Musaeus) and Orpheus, the offspring of Selene (the Moon) and of the Mousa (Muse), as they affirm, and these books they use in their ritual, and make not only ordinary men but states believe that there really are remissions of sins and purifications for deeds of injustice, by means of sacrifice and pleasant sport for the living, and that there are also special rites for the defunct, which they call functions, that deliver us from evils in that other world [i.e. the afterlife], while terrible things await those who have neglected to sacrifice."
Plato, Republic 533d :
"And it is literally true that when the eye of the soul is sunk in the barbaric slough of the Orphic myth." [N.B. Orphism imagined the impious souls buried in mud in the world below.]
Plato, Republic 365d - 366b :
"But against the gods, it may be said, neither secrecy nor force can avail. Well, if there are no gods, or they do not concern themselves with the doings of men, neither need we concern ourselves with eluding their observation. If they do exist and pay heed, we know and hear of them only from such discourses and from the poets who. . . tell us that the gods are capable of being persuaded and swerved from their course by ‘sacrifice and soothing vows’ and dedications. We must believe them in both or neither. And if we are to believe them, the thing to do is to commit injustice and offer sacrifice from fruits of our wrongdoing. For if we are just, we shall, it is true, be unscathed by the gods, but we shall be putting away from us the profits of injustice; but if we are unjust, we shall win those profits, and, by the importunity of our prayers, when we transgress and sin, we shall persuade them and escape scot-free. Yes, it will be objected, but we shall be brought to judgement in Haides (the world below) for our unjust deeds here, we or our children's children. ‘Nay, my dear sir,’ our calculating friend will say, `here again the teletai (initiations or rites for the dead) have much efficacy, and the absolving divinities, as the greatest cities declare, and the sons of gods, who became the poets and prophets of the gods, and who reveal that this is the truth. On what further ground, then, could we prefer justice to supreme injustice? If we combine this with a counterfeit decorum, we shall prosper to our heart's desire, with gods and men in life and death, as the words of the multitude and of men of the highest authority declare."
Plato, Republic 427b (trans. Shorey) :
"The burial of the dead and the services we must render to the dwellers in the world beyond to keep them gracious." [I.e. the gods of the dead and the ghosts of men.]
Plato, Symposium 179b ff (trans. Lamb) :
"Furthermore, only such as are in love will consent to die for others; not merely men will do it, but women too. Sufficient witness is borne to this statement before the people of Greece by Alkestis (Alcestis), daughter of Pelias, who alone was willing to die for her husband, though he had both father and mother. So high did her love exalt her over them in kindness, that they were proved alien to their son and but nominal relations; and when she achieved this deed, it was judged so noble by gods as well as men that, although among all the many doers of noble deeds they are few and soon counted to whom the gods have granted the privilege of having their souls sent up again from Haides, hers they thus restored in admiration of her act. In this manner even the gods give special honor to zeal and courage in concerns of love.
But Orpheus, son of Oiagros (Oeagrus), they sent back with failure from Haides, showing him only a wraith of the woman [Eurydike (Eurydice)] for whom he came; her real self they would not bestow, for he was accounted to have gone upon a coward's quest, too like the minstrel that he was, and to have lacked the spirit to die as Alkestis did for the sake of love, when he contrived the means of entering Haides alive. Wherefore they laid upon him the penalty he deserved, and caused him to meet his death at the hands of women : whereas Akhilleus (Achilles), son of Thetis, they honored and sent to his place in the Nesoi Makaron (Isles of the Blest)."
Aristophanes described the realm of Hades in his comedy The Frogs.
[Aristophanes section incomplete.]
- Plato, Apology - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Plato, Gorgias - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Plato, Meno - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Plato, Phaedo - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Plato, Republic - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Plato, Symposium - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Plato, Theaetetus - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.