Classical Mythology Images and Insight, Third Edition

Following is an outline of the chapter along with the main learning objectives.  To help coordinate your studies, this outline and the learning objectives are organized to match your textbook.  This organization is also utilized in the chapter review section.

Part 1: Key themes

    1. You should recognize Hades as the God of the Underworld; he is half-brother to The God Zeus and the God Poseidon, the son of Cronos and Rhea. You should be able to locate his kingdom in the Greek cosmology, below the earth landmass and above the great Chasm, Tartarus. You should be aware that Hades is both the name of the Underworld and the name of the God.
    2. You should recognize the Goddess Persephone as the Wife and Goddess of Hades, and who spends half the year in the underworld with her husband and half the year on earth with her mother the Goddess Demeter.
    3. You should be aware that the ancient Greek culture viewed the cosmos as containing realms that were beyond the reach of mortal humans, and that Hades was the realm of human after they had ceased to live on earth and that as Greek culture evolved, so too, did their view of the afterlife.
    4. You should be able to discuss the significance of the changes in attitude from the early cultural beliefs regarding the shadowy realm of the dead -- as a inevitable prison to all dead souls and, alter, as one of fates awaiting the souls of the dead -- Hades to those who were evil and Heaven or Elysium for those who were good; you should also integrate concepts such as the belief in reincarnation, millennium-long resting periods for souls, judgment places.

Part 2: The Homeric View of the Afterlife

    1. You should be able to discuss the inherent tension represented by the existence of the immortal Gods in most ancient Greek mythology; as they simultaneously represent all the humans desire and all that is ultimately denied them in "painful awareness that death imposes on all human striving."
    2. You should be able to discuss the relevance of ancient Greek beliefs that the afterlife was a shadowy existence, mindlessness, eternal and hopeless and inevitable for all mortal souls after death to the concept of heroes, their "passionate" desire to seize every opportunity for fame.
    3. You should be able to discuss the significance of the heroes' descent into Hades as part of their journey, both literal and symbolic and why heroes are defined as those who challenge death.
    4. You should recognize the implications to ancient cultures such as the Hebrew and Greeks, of an afterlife that is shades of souls that are "neither doing nor thinking", an afterlife that has very little (and that harsh and pitiless) geographical topography and be able to discuss the difference it might make to have the good and the bad all there together rather than just the wicked being tormented.
    5. You should be able to discuss the implications of the ancient Greek beliefs in the gulf that divides the living souls from the dead -- as evidenced by the story of Odysseus who, in his descent into Hades, tried to hug his mother who could not feel his arms; the significance of the blood sacrificed to the gibbering shades that they might be able to speak; and the importance of proper respect shown the dead (i.e. in terms of burial).

Part 3: The Location and Geography of Hades' Realm

    1. You should recognize the overall shape of the Greek cosmos as created in the myths of Hesiod, Homer and other ancient writers is called a "Three-storied Universe" containing heaven, Earth and Hades, the realm of the Gods is above the vault of heaven and the Great Chasm Tartarus is beneath the realm of Hades; that the landform of earth is surrounded by the River of ocean.
    2. You should be aware of the cultural significance of the concept that to reach Hades, you must sail across the River of Ocean or, in most myths, across one of five Rivers -- the Styx, the Acheron, the minor rivers of Cocytus and Phlegethon, and the River Lethe, whose liquid is water of oath for the Gods and Goddesses and who waters humans partake before reincarnating.
    3. You should be aware of the basic elements of the Greek concept of heaven as a later addition to the fates that might await mortals after death, in terms of a garden, a paradise of "earthly delights" and a "continuance of sensual pleasures"; a home for souls especially favored by Zeus (even before the concept of the Elysium as a heaven for the good); the geographic location of west at the extreme edge of the world, beneath the realm of the Gods and Goddesses.
    4. You should be able to discuss the later concepts of the afterlife in myths such as those in which there is a place of judgment and souls are directed up to heaven or down to Hades according to the justness (good or evil) of the previous life; and the concepts that most souls choose their next life accordingly and how that evolution of belief in the afterlife reflects the contextual culture.
    5. You should be aware of the several creatures that are mythically tied to the Realm of Hades, including; the three-headed dog, Cerebus, who guards the entrance to and from Hades; the Furies, monstrous female creatures generated from the blood of Uranus' castration; Charon, the ferryman who takes (for a fee) the souls of the dead to Hades; the brothers of Death and Sleep -- and also including the frequent visitors, Hermes (who also guides souls across the boundary of the Underworld and Morpheus (Sleep).

Part 3: Tartarus

    1. You should be able to discuss the mythic origins of Tartarus, either as an elemental deity born of Gaea or as a great primal Chasm which becomes the regions lying below Hades.
    2. You should be aware of the significance of Tartarus being as "far below Hades as Olympus is above the Earth -- and be able to relate that to the myths that Zeus chained the Titans there in "oppressive darkness".
    3. You should be able to discuss some of the dominant myths concerning notorious residents of Hades -- including such symbolic figures as Sisyphus, doomed by Zeus to roll a stone almost to the top of an mountain just to have it fall back down over and over eternally, or Tantalus, who forever thirsts and famishes within reach of water and food -- in terms of cultural values and ethics and in terms of the concept of human destiny.
    4. You should be able to discuss Tartarus as concept in terms of such mythic descriptions as "bottomless pit of anguish" and a "torture chamber" and relate those concepts to those of the realm of Hades.
    5. You should be able to discuss the significant elements in the myths of heroic descent into Hades, including those of Hercules who goes to get the dog, Cerebus, as one of his twelve Labors; of Orpheus who defies death to bring back his beloved wife only to lose her again at a glance.
    6. You should be able to compare the fate of Theseus who descends into Hades' realm, attempting to kidnap the Goddess Persephone, and the fate of Orpheus who descends into Hades for love's sake in terms of cultural values concerning such forces as love and lust, mortality of all human endeavors, and the natural forces of Hades.

Part 3: Plato's "Myth of Er"

    1. You should be aware of the basic elements of Plato's "Myth of Er"; the soldier named Er, who is given a look at the Afterlife so that he could warn other mortals; the message that the "soul reaps the consequences of its deeds", both good and evil; that after death the soul goes to be judged and sent, accordingly, to heaven or Hades; that the soul remains there in pleasure or torment for a millennium, then returns to the place of judgment to choose the circumstances of the next incarnation.
    2. You should be able to discuss Plato's contention that souls from heaven generally choose foolishly because their "virtue is by habit…without the discipline of suffering" and the concept that the test is more about one's character than one's circumstances.
    3. You should be able to discuss the cultural implications of the later myth that Jesus Christ goes, on Good Friday, down into the realm of Hades and releases the souls "of righteous persons who died before Christ ascended".
    4. You should be able to discuss the choices of new incarnations by such figures as Odysseus, who chose a new life of quiet obscurity, the warrior Ajax' decision to become an eagle rather than a human, Orpheus' decision to become a swan -- so he would no have to be "born of woman".
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