February 10, 2023

#08-284: Go to Hades!

Hades and Persephone with Cerberus (Wikipedia)

Note: The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but here it features rivers, a boatman, and an unusual dog!

Get Ready: What mild curses do you sometimes use?

English speakers sometimes--whether joshing or in anger--tell each other to "Go to Hades!" (though they often use the Anglo-Saxon word "Hell" in place of the Greek "Hades"). But what exactly would one encounter if one really were to go to Hades?

One well-known feature is the river that must be crossed to reach the Underworld, the River Styx. "Styx" literally means "shuddering," a natural result of our loathing of death. There is an adjective form, "stygian" as well, as when we say, "The cemetery was steeped in stygian darkness."

Another, lesser-known, river, is the Acheron. This is a real river which the Greeks once considered to have an underground portion fulfilling the same function as the Styx: separating the living world from that of the dead. This river and others--the Cocytus, Lethe, and Phlegethon--were at one time thought to converge with the Styx and form a marsh, also known as the Styx.

Cocytus, meaning "lamentation," was the river where people would weep for the dead. Lethe, "oblivion" or "forgetfulness," is the river where memory of our life drops away. And Phlegethon, "fire-flaming," is similar to the "lake of fire" some imagine Hell to be.

Two figures greet the traveler to Hades. Charon, the ferryman, takes the soul across the Styx for the price of a coin. Archaeologists have discovered coins in burials, confirming some aspect of the myth. It is said that those who arrived without a coin--or who were not buried with the proper rites--were forced to wander the shore of the Styx for a hundred years before gaining admittance.

After crossing the river, one must enter the gates of Hades itself--but they are guarded by a most fearsome creature. Cerberus is well-known to be a three-headed dog, but few realize that he was also said to have a serpent for a tail, as well as snakes protruding from various parts of his body. This is the beast that Heracles (Hercules) had to subdue as the last of his "Twelve Labors" (see Lesson #08-027).

And now at last we have arrived in the realm of Hades, the first-generation God of the Underworld and brother to Zeus (God of the Sky) and Poseidon (God of the Sea). Here he reigns with Persephone (Roman Proserpine), the niece/bride he abducted. (See Lesson #08-248 for that story.)


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. archaeologists
  2. converge
  3. ferryman
  4. joshing
  5. loathing
  6. oblivion
  7. protruding
  8. shuddering
  9. steeped
  10. subdue

  1. the state of being forgotten
  2. trembling with fear
  3. soaked in something
  4. kidding around
  5. disgust or hatred
  6. come together
  7. sticking out
  8. person who pilots a kind of boat from one side of a body of water to the other
  9. people who dig for ancient objects
  10. conquer; bring under one's power

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 10, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. f; 3. h; 4. d; 5. e; 6. a; 7. g; 8. b; 9. c; 10. j