In Greek mythology, Hades was the god of the underworld and ruler of the dead. Along with his brothers Zeus, the god of the sky, and Poseidon, the god of the ocean, Hades ruled the universe. He was married to Persephone, whom he had abducted from the upper world, and who became known as the Queen of the Dead. Because the underworld was called “the house of Hades,” the name Hades came to refer to the underworld as well as to the god.

According to myth, the souls of dead mortals* entered the underworld after death, ferried across the River Styx by Charon, the boatman. The entrance to Hades was guarded by Cerberus, a huge, three-headed dog, who wagged his tail to greet those who entered but attacked anyone who tried to escape. Since almost everyone who died entered the underworld after death, it was not thought of as a place of torture reserved for the wicked. Only a small area of eternal blackness at the bottom of Hades was used for that purpose. Instead, the underworld was thought of as a drab, dreary prison, and Hades was sometimes portrayed as a jailor, holding a key.

Although Hades was considered a cold, domineering god, he was also thought to be just and fair. Some even believed that he occasionally sent living mortals a bountiful harvest, a windfall of money, or other good fortune. He was never regarded as evil or satanic. However, since saying his name was considered unlucky, Hades was referred to in other ways, such as “Zeus of the underworld” or Pluton, meaning “the rich.” Since Hades was interested only in the dead, the Greeks did not worship Hades or honor him with temples as they did their other gods. The Romans called him Pluto. (See also Afterlife; Death and Burial.)

* mortal human being; one who eventually will die

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