What The Hades?


Image source: public domain

Disassembling an iconic villain and taking the romanticized evil out of one of the world’s most beloved and equally hated stories of all time: The Rape of Persephone.

It’s all Greek to us

The first and most important thing to consider about the famous Rape of Persephone is that it derives from the Homeric poem “Hymn to Demeter,” and follows Demeter’s anguished quest to find her missing daughter. The main purpose for the hymn, like many mythological tales was to explain the otherwise inexplicable in a time before scientific discovery. In this case: The Changing of the Seasons.

Why is this important?

1) The Hymn to Demeter was created in the late 7th to early 6th century BC, which means language, traditions, world views, and how women were perceived were all entirely different from modern times. Therefore, by superimposing modern views onto it, there’s no way for it to “measure up” to the current ideas of what’s right and wrong.

2) The word “rape” in ancient literary form meant “to carry off” or to “seize away” and had absolutely nothing to do with the criminal sexual act of forced intercourse as it is used today.

In the Hymn to Demeter, the very first line is the most relevant no matter which translation is used:

“I begin to sing of Demeter, the divine goddess with the beautiful hair. And her daughter [Kore] too. The one with delicate ankles, whom Aidoneus (Hades) has rapt away, given to him by Zeus, the loud-thunderer one who sees far and wide. Demeter did not have part in this…” *

So, this is where we start to dismantle the alleged villainous acts of Hades because Persephone was actually “given to him” by Zeus, her father, as was the custom in Ancient Greece—and most other cultures of that time. Hades did not, as is depicted in many works of fiction and articles about this story “See her and fall instantly in love/lust with her and THEN decide to take her back to the Underworld.” He already knew why he was there. It was an arranged marriage.

This also discredits the rare versions that claim Eros (Cupid) shot Hades with an arrow (either out of vengeance or at the urgency of Aphrodite) making him fall in love with Persephone on sight. I think these accounts were made up much later as a way to paint Hades in a better light, which is completely unnecessary, as he wasn’t doing anything that would’ve been deemed “wrong” in the 7th century BC, let alone by Greek mythology standards. Hi, have you met Zeus?

In fact, in the hymn, Hades is only seen as the villain by Demeter, who would, of course, view him as such. Yet, even Helios, who was finally the one to tell her where Persephone had gone, spoke on Hades’s behalf:

“I urge you, goddess to stop your loud cry of lamentation. You should not have an anger without bounds, all in vain. It is not unseemly to have, of all the deathless gods, such a son-in-law as Aidoneus (Hades), the one who makes many signs (or has many guests). He is the brother, whose seed is from the same place (this would refer to both Demeter and Zeus, as Hades was brother to them both). And as for honor [bestowed upon the divine], he has his share, going back to the very beginning, when the three-way division of inheritance was made. He dwells with those whose king he was destined by lot to be.”

And by this same token, Demeter’s daughter was made queen—a title she never would’ve held, otherwise. Without Hades, Persephone would have been doomed to live as little more than a nymph of spring, a personification of rebirth. She had no claims to a throne or realm and wasn’t even worshiped as a goddess by mortals before this incident happened. She was actually nameless, called Kore to denote that she was still an unwed maiden. Kore means young girl or maiden. Only as the wife of Hades, does Kore take on the name Persephone, which means “Bringer of Destruction” (likely to highlight the barren wasteland Demeter wrought on earth during her daughter’s absence).

Now, even by Ancient Greek tradition, both parents are usually aware of who their daughter is going to marry. But in the hymn, Demeter’s ignorance was not only explainable by the simple fact that she wasn’t Zeus’s wife, but it was crucial as a plot point.

Demeter needed to be enraged and grief-stricken for this mythology to work as an explanation for why Fall and Winter are so cold and desolate compared to Spring and Summer. Likewise, there had to be just cause for the “compromise,” which would allow warmth and flowers to return to earth along with Persephone for half the year.

Persephone was taken against her will, so how does that absolve Hades from being a villain?

In Ancient Greece and possibly every other culture of that time, brides didn’t meet their husbands before the wedding, they were carried off to the groom’s home to be married and left there. This had to be terrifying for them, especially considering that most grooms were 30 and most brides were 12 to 16 years old. In most cases brides were literally taken against their will to their husband by their own parents. Thus, this would not have been seen as “wrong” or as “bad” when the hymn was written, but as commonplace.

In ancient Sparta there was even a tradition of the bride being kidnapped on the wedding day by the groom or members of his party. In those times, the only thing that legitimatized a “marriage” was living together, so wedding ceremonies weren’t even necessary.

But Hades tricked Persephone into eating the Pomegranate seed!

All right, you get that one. He did. But once again, this “plot twist” was necessary for the overall story to ensure “the compromise” would take place and thus explain the changing of the seasons. Plus, it wasn’t a ‘trick’ against Persephone so much as the only way Hades could guarantee that he wouldn’t get screwed over–yet again–by his siblings. Have a look…

The Least Favorite Brother

Known by many names, to include Aides, Aidoneus, Haides, Hades, and later, Pluton, he was the oldest son of Cronus and Rhea, which means he spent the longest time inside of Cronus’s gut and was the last to be regurgitated. Meanwhile, Zeus who was never even swallowed, got to play the main hero of the Olympians. Then, when they were all granted magical weapons to aid in their battle against the Titans, Hades ended up with a lousy helmet that could make him invisible, whereas Zeus got thunderbolts and Poseidon got his trident. Lame.

There was some obscure mention that Hades and Hera may have grown fond of each other, which Zeus quickly nipped in the bud by claiming her for his wife.

After they defeated the Titans, by all order of things, Hades should have been given the Throne of Olympus because he was the oldest son. But to keep a repeat of the Titans from happening, they decided to draw lots to see who would rule. Of course, Zeus declared he would go first and made sure he got the throne and could rule the Sky. Poseidon went second and claimed the Seas, leaving Hades with no other choice but to rule the Underworld. Naturally, Gaia shared her realm of Earth with all three equally.

In every reference I’ve read about this, it’s noted that Hades was aware of his brothers’ cheating to win the better realms for themselves but didn’t argue or call them out on it. Perhaps, he longed for the solitude of the Underworld after being crammed in his father’s stomach with all but one of his siblings for so long? Could you imagine being that close to all of your brothers and sisters for decades without reprieve? No, thanks.

Lost Loves

Hades’s first love was Leuce, a water nymph and daughter of Oceanus. Much like with Persephone, Hades rode out of the Underworld in his chariot and abducted Leuce, though it’s never explained whether or not it was an arranged marriage.

According to most sources, Leuce lived out her life with Hades in the Underworld and when she died, he created the white Poplar tree in the Elysian Fields (The Greek version of Paradise that all good people went to in the Underworld) as a memorial to their love and time together. Later on, many sources cite the Poplar as becoming sacred to Persephone who was seen as either the same as Leuce or a reincarnation of her.

Minthe was a River Nymph in the Underworld, but her story has two completely different versions. One version claims she was a lover of Hades before he abducted Persephone and became so jealous about being replaced that she loudly declared that she was better looking than the “dark-eyed” Persephone and soon Hades would grow bored and return to her. Hearing the bold claim, Demeter became enraged and stamped Minthe underfoot, turning her into the Mint plant. (Again, going back to the main theme of all mythology: explaining how things came to be).

Another version claims that upon seeing Hades in his golden chariot, Minthe was so awestruck, she set out to seduce Hades and was caught by Persephone who turned her into ash, which Hades coaxed the Mint plant to sprout from.

In both versions, Hades is depicted as showing an undeniable affection toward Minthe and the Mint plant became sacred to him and used during funeral rites. Mount Minthi in southern Elis, Greece was named after her, and reportedly held one of the rare temples of Hades (or Pluto, his Roman counterpart).

Hades as a Husband

In the Hymn to Demeter, when Hades agrees to allow Persephone to return to her mother, he says:

“Go now, Persephone, to your mother, the dark-robed one. Have a kindly disposition [toward me] and heart in your breast. Do not be too upset, excessively cast down. I will not be an unseemly husband to you, in the company of the immortal gods. I am the brother of Zeus, the father. If you are here, you will be queen of everything that lives and moves about, and you will have the greatest honor in the company of the deathless gods. Those who defraud you and do not supplicate your power/force with offerings, reverently executing rites and paying gifts, will get punished for all days to come.”

Of all the Greek Gods, Hades is the only one never depicted as being unfaithful to his wife, though some mistakenly try to name Minthe and Leuce as extramarital lovers, rather than coming before Persephone (or in Minthe’s case, possibly not at all). It’s true there were far less mentions of Hades in general than any of the other Gods, but for a deity that had to go half the year without his wife, I’d say that’s some damn good restraint. Zeus could barely go 5 minutes without cheating on Hera.

Hades as a God/Ruler

In every rare account that Hades is mentioned, he is depicted as an unyielding, but fair ruler of the Underworld who’s anger is only roused when the laws of his kingdom are broken or challenged. He’s a champion for balance, thus his greatest concern is keeping the dead where they belong and making sure those who attempt to cheat death are punished.

But, Hades is not Death. That honor belongs to Thanatos.

When Herakles (Hercules) is sent to take Cerberus (Hades’s three-headed dog) for one of his Labors, Hades could have attempted to strike him down, but only requested that Herakles not use any weapons or harm Cerberus in any way. And Herakles was his number one rule-breaker, constantly in and out of the Underworld.

One of the times Herakles was there was to rescue Theseus, who’d gone with Pirithous into the Underworld to kidnap Persephone from Hades and claim her as his own bride. Another instance in which Hades could have justifiably used violence against the offenders, yet merely detained them.

He also uncharacteristically permitted Orpheus to take his dead wife back to the mortal realm, persuaded to the kindness by Persephone. Of course, he made the condition of not looking, which Orpheus failed to obey, but had Orpheus listened he would have gotten his wife back.

Children of Persephone

In Orphism, Persephone is the mother of the first Dionysus, fathered by Zeus or Chthonic Zeus (Zeus and Hades as the same deity) who snuck into her bedchamber in the form of a serpent (or dragon) and lay with her. She bore him a son who the Titans feared and therefore dismembered. The only part Zeus could save was his heart, which he placed into the womb of Semele (sometimes by turning it into a potion first for her to drink), and then Dionysus was born again.

These tales of Persephone’s children are the least reliable and most varied. I read quite a few different versions. One was that Demeter had kept Kore in a cave guarded by dragons wile she slept, and Zeus snuck into it disguised as a dragon and she bore him a son, Zagreus, who was dismembered and reborn as Dionysus and this all took place before she was abducted by Hades.

Another tale says that Zeus disguised himself as Hades to lay with Persephone in the Underworld and she bore either Zagreus or Ploutos from that union. Again in these tales the authors are uncertain if it was Zeus in disguise or if it was Zeus as Chthonic Zeus (lit. Subterranean Zeus) Zeus in his role as the God of Hades (the Underworld). Ploutos is listed as a son of Persephone and Hades–OR–Demeter and Iasion.

The only child with a certain birth story is her daughter, Melinoë, who’s source is only found in Orphism, and therefore she is known as the daughter of both Zeus and Hades in their dual-deity version. Melinoë inflicted people with nightmares and madness.

The only reason I included these references to her children was to further highlight how much Zeus should be seen as the biggest villain of the entire Hades & Persephone legend. Orphic dual-god version aside, Zeus was notorious for disguising himself to sleep with women he lusted after, and it didn’t matter who they were or how they were related to him. He was the most arrogant, spoiled, jealous, entitled, corrupt, manipulative tyrant, who constantly cheated on his wife and abused his power. Yet, Hades was the one who ended up with the bad reputation simply because he was the ruler of the Underworld and reminded people of their mortality.

I might add that in Greek Mythology, the Underworld was the place where ALL of the dead went, not just the bad people. It had many planes, one being Elysium (Paradise). There was no Heaven, for the heavens were meant only for the deathless gods, not the spirits of mortals.

In conclusion, I feel it’s only right to highlight that by debating whether or not Hades was a villain based off this tale is to miss the point of it entirely. It’s not about Hades. It’s about Persephone. As a nymph of spring, and the daughter of the Harvest, Persephone could only ever be in the Underworld to make this myth work as a reason for the seasons. She had to be abducted and forced to remain in Hades because all seeds lie dormant underground during the winter, until they rush forth to the surface once more in spring.

#TeamHades

4 responses to “What The Hades?”

  1. This is an excellent breakdown/analysis, A.C.! Many thanks for sharing – I feel smarter! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awesome, love that! I always worry people think I’m too much of a neurotic nerd when I pick things apart that way. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re not a neurotic nerd! I love your commentaries. Wait. Does that make us BOTH neurotic nerds? 😀 😀 😀

        Hope all is well! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      2. LOL Thanks, Fle. And if we are then we’ll just rock that like we rock everything else, right? Just embrace it, lol. Hope all is well with you, too! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: