Hades is NOT the Bad Guy
If you look at popular culture interpretations of Greek Mythology, you see a lot of stories in which Hades is the archetypal devil-figure, hell-bent on destroying the hero because… dead guys are creepy…or something. That’s because these interpretations often equate the realm of Hades with Hell; thus the ruler becomes aligned with Satan. And that’s just not right.
The most classic example is Disney’s Hercules. Now, I understand how it might be a problem to make a children’s movie that starts with a man cheating on his wife and then the wife trying to murder the resulting child. That’s right: Hera is the bad guy of the Herakles/Hercules tale. But Disney made an iconic villain out of someone who hardly features in the myth until the 12th labor. This version of Hades is simply a jealous brother, and the character is even elementally associate with fire (like Christian hellfire.)
This thread likely started thousands of years ago when Christianity was spread across Europe. Other cultures’ festivities were appropriated and adapted to fit the faith, and their gods were demonized. That’s also the reason so many people picture the devil with goat horns and hooves, even though that’s not supported in the Bible: Pan. In fact, the word demon comes from “daimone,” the Ancient Greek term for spirit. Many of these daimones were friendly household protectors. Hardly any were evil. Pure evil just wasn’t a concept the Ancient Greeks dealt in.
Hades was not the bad guy in very many of the stories. Every god took turns playing antagonistic roles in one story or another because the religion was a polytheistic system with many gods that often came into conflict with one another. The realm of Hades was not a punishment, either. It’s where everyone went. Some were blessed with an eternity of paradise in the Elysian Fields, the worst of the worst were punished for eternity in Tartaros, and some (according to late-period beliefs) were reincarnated. Others just hung around being dead. But it was not entirely hell for the Ancient Greeks, nor was it entirely heaven.
Hades may have been seen as a bit whiny (and hey, who wouldn’t be if they found out that only luck of the draw had separated them from being able to hurl lightning bolts or reign over all the oceans?), but he was not a villain. Yes, he kidnapped Persephone, but that had a very different connotation in those times. Persephone was promised to him, but Zeus went back on his word. The Rape of Persephone story, in ancient times, would be akin to a heist movie today where the hero steals back a fortune that was rightfully his.
Now to say that Hades was not the devil doesn’t mean that the Ancient Greeks didn’t have some sort of fear and respect for him. His name was not often spoken aloud. Sacrifices to him were made at night. He held domain over funeral rites and mourning, so he wasn’t a cheery subject that you wanted to talk about a lot. Still, he was vital. He was not an antagonist to the Ancient Greeks, but a necessary if unpleasant part of the cosmic balance.
Read more about Hades at Theoi.com.
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